How to Choose the Best Master’s Degree Program for You

Michael T. Coleman
Michael T. Coleman
Elementary school principal; M.A. in K-12 Educational Leadership
Young women sitting at a desk thinking about something.

Advancing your education is an excellent way to become more specialized in your career field and advance to that position you have always aspired to. Figuring out what path you want to take after your bachelor’s degree is a necessity when deciding what master’s degree program is right for you. Getting your master’s degree can open up many new job opportunities so you must make sure that you are interested in these possibilities before you commit to the program.

Career Goals

Figuring out your career goals will help guide you in this selection. Many people do not go into a career in the field in which they received their bachelor’s degree. Sometimes they end up pursuing something different because they realize that profession may not be a good fit for them.

So, by prioritizing your career goals, you will be able to pinpoint the area in which you want to get your master’s degree. You need to identify both short-term career goals and long-term career goals. An example would be a person who has a degree in biology. Perhaps, she thought she wanted to work in a laboratory setting, but has now realized that she wants a more social type of job. Her short-term goals would be to see what other positions there are available in her company that she could pursue. Her long-term goals would be that she actually would like to teach biology. By setting these goals, she can then identify possible master’s programs that could best fit her future plans.

Another example could be a classroom teacher who has aspirations to step outside of the classroom in the future. Perhaps they would like to transition to an administrative position or become a reading specialist or lead the curriculum development in their building. Depending on their goals, they would choose a master’s program that is suited to that position or area of expertise.

Format

Master’s programs and higher education in general have changed a lot over the past decade, and not just because of COVID-19. The format of many programs is not just your traditional face-to-face courses. When investigating different programs, make sure that you note how the program is going to be given.

Programs can be traditional face-to-face, hybrid, or completely online. If a program says that it is a hybrid format, that means some of your courses will meet face-to-face in a classroom while other classes will just be given online. A completely virtual program means that all of your courses will be online.

Through your research, you may also see that the program is going to run synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous programs mean that you will meet every week on the same day and time whether online or in-person. Asynchronously means that assignments, videos, discussion forums, etc. can be completed on your own time during the week. Hence, it is particularly important to decide which kind of program will work out best for you and your other time commitments, such as your employment and family responsibilities.

There are pros and cons to each of those three formats. Taking the time to email admissions and faculty in those programs that you are interested in can be beneficial as they will give you more information about how the hybrid or fully online programs run.

Academic Resources and Opportunities

Another area that you want to look into when choosing a master’s program is what kind of academic resources and opportunities the program offers. If you have been out of school for a while, you will want to see what kind of writing supports that may be in place for your program. Academic programs vary in writing styles that are required so you may not be familiar and will need to use this type of resource.

Also, make sure that you look into what kinds of opportunities they have for you to experience in the program. Does the program offer internship possibilities or field placements? Does the program require a certain amount of service or observation hours? Do they assist you in finding these types of placements? All of these need to be considered when you are choosing your master’s program.

Faculty and Staff

Another area students often overlook is the faculty and staff in the program. Although we are all so busy with our daily lives, taking the time to really research and reach out to those working in the program can be very helpful to you in the long run.

First, faculty and staff can share things about the program that you may not find on their websites. This can help you make your decision and make personal connections before you even start your master’s education.

Second, you want to plan on how you might work with these faculty members in the future, whether in research or other opportunities. Make sure you see what their research areas are and see if it matches with your career goals.

Finally, find out if they are available for you to work with in the future. Are they on campus? Do they only meet with students virtually? Finding the answers to these questions will help in your decision.

Affordability

The last area but definitely not the least important is the affordability of the program. Do your due diligence and find out how much it is going to cost you to complete the master’s program. There often are fees in addition to tuition so be sure to factor those into your final costs.

Also, take the time to find scholarships offered to students entering into that program. Apply to as many scholarships as possible. You will be surprised by how many there are out there. You just have to find them.

Also, inquire about whether or not the university to which you are applying offers graduate assistantships. These often pay for your tuition and you work in a department on campus where you will receive a stipend. This stipend can help you with cost of living, books, or anywhere that you may need to spend it in your life.

Lastly, be sure to look into whether or not your school or district offers any kind of tuition reimbursement. Often, you can reduce your tuition costs substantially.

Once you have narrowed down your choices and researched the various programs, you will be able to find the best master’s degree program for you and your future career.

 

*Updated November, 2020
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