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7 Tips for Choosing the Right Graduate Program

Advice on selecting the master’s degree or doctorate program that best fits your educational and professional goals.

Choosing the right accredited graduate program can seem a bit overwhelming without a plan. The first step is identifying your reasons for going back to school to get an advanced degree. Some people want to perform better in their current jobs and earn greater respect and recognition. Others want to launch, advance, or even change their careers.

  1. Don’t rush your decision.
    The more time you take now doing careful research into different graduate schools and programs, the more confident and satisfied you’ll be with your final decision. Attending graduate school—whether online or on campus—takes a serious investment of time and money, so making the right choice is critical. Start your research several months before the approximate time you want to begin taking classes.

    7 Tips for Choosing the Right Graduate Program

  2. Research which type of degree or program will help you achieve your goals.
    Master’s degree programs—In some fields, a master’s may be the minimum requirement for entry-level jobs or a credential that can qualify you for a raise or a promotion. It can also set you apart from other candidates when you’re job hunting. Master’s degree programs taught online can make it easier to pursue your graduate degree while working.

    Doctorate programs—If you have a master’s degree and several years of experience, you may be ready to enroll in a doctoral program. By attaining your profession’s top academic degree, you can become better qualified for key positions of leadership and influence in your field.

  3. Look for graduate programs that offer specialized degree tracks.
    Specializations provide concentrated coursework that focuses on a specific area of your profession, in contrast with the comprehensive, broad approach of a general program. For example, if you’re getting an MBA, you may prefer an MBA with a finance specialization or a global marketing specialization.

  4. Compare the pros and cons of each graduate program.
    Make a list of the online graduate programs that impress you the most, and pay close attention to the faculty’s education, experience, accomplishments, and publication history—particularly at the doctoral level. Note the pros and cons of each program and then compare them side by side. This analytical approach will ultimately help you confidently choose the best program for your needs.

  5. Explore a “typical day” for professionals in the positions you seek.
    Sometimes people finally get the job of their dreams, only to discover that the everyday reality isn’t what they had envisioned. Avoid unpleasant surprises by researching what actual workdays are like for professionals in positions you desire. Check job review sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster to read employee feedback. The more you learn now, the happier you’ll be as your career progresses. A word of caution: please be aware that reading others’ job experiences can have its benefits and its downfalls.

  6. Narrow down your selection to five choices or fewer.
    It’s time to create a short list of the finalists. Begin by eliminating graduate schools and programs that don’t align with your personal and/or professional goals. Trim your list until you have five choices or less. With all the careful research you’ve done, the final candidates will all look very interesting. Now you’re ready to reach out.

  7. Call each graduate school and talk to an Enrollment Specialist.
    Advisors have a wealth of information to share with you. For example, they’ll provide you with information on the various options for financing your education. You’ll also find out about each graduate school’s policy for transferring college credits as well as “life experience credits.” This last point is very important because transferred credits play a crucial role in lowering tuition costs and shortening the time for completing your degree.

To further ease your decision-making process, Walden University invites you to visit our online Walden community of faculty, students, and alumni. They’ve all been where you are right now, so feel free to join conversations and ask questions. You’ll be surprised by the quick, helpful responses.

Our Walden community is just one of many resources available to help you at every stage of your educational journey—from right now, throughout your graduate studies, and beyond.

Explore Walden University's online graduate programs to launch, advance, or change your career. Earn your graduate degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.