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Points to Consider Before Choosing a Graduate Program

While enrollment in graduate programs seemed to peak in several areas during Covide-19, so did the due diligence process. Adult students are interested in quality. A more affordable graduate degree may be possible to obtain online, but students are also reluctant to act without understanding what that degree may mean for their career potential. That’s understandable. Any investment in your future requires a certain level of research. We’ve gathered a few of our most often asked questions to assist you in your decision.

What makes up a quality graduate program?

Most neutral resources will recommend that you check multiple factors when considering a graduate program. Perhaps most important should be the success of recent graduates. Look at history over a 2- 3 year period to avoid information that may no longer be relevant. Don’t be afraid to look deeper into success stories and ask about alumni experiences. The school’s reputation should be easily researched online. It’s also advisable to look up the faculty in your potential program and look at their curriculum vitae online – sources like LinkedIn can prove invaluable when comparing faculty across schools. 

It’s also critical to consider faculty specializations when pursuing an advanced degree. Because an adviser will play a crucial role in pursuing your graduate degree, make sure that advisers are available in your field of interest. Adult students often feel that they did not understand the adviser situation until after they were already enrolled. 

Program delivery has become increasingly important with the advent of Covid-19. Ensuring that a program can be completed or mostly completed online is vital for many adult learners. This goes hand in hand with accelerated programs and flexibility. Be sure that you have a full grasp of your program and the available options. It is crucial to compare apples to apples across schools. 

How long does it take to earn a graduate degree? 

Most returning students can earn their master’s degree in one to three years, completing an average of 30-36 credits and whether or not they can attend full time or not. In addition, the advent of accelerated programs for students just finishing their bachelor’s degrees can often be completed in a 4 + 1 program. However, there is a maximum completion cap of 6 years. 

How do you know a career in your field will require (or prefer) advanced education?

Online research now provides an edge in knowing whether a graduate degree will enhance your career choices. We recommend that you find neutral sources who can provide income potential examples with or without advanced education. While there are always outlier exceptions in any industry, there should be solid income potential data available online. Common fields requiring advanced degrees and additional education like accounting, psychology, and higher education are now joined by the need for bioinformatics experts, data scientists, and organizational leadership in businesses across industries. These new business needs directly correlate to increased inquiries into graduate programs across the United States and abroad. 

It makes perfect sense for a potential student to inquire with their employer and to speak to professionals in their given field. Don’t just speak to people you know. Use sources like LinkedIn to connect with professionals who have already walked the path you are hoping to walk. They will give you the best answers. If you are going to pursue a doctorate or PhD, it’s essential to ask about acceptance rates and specific success stories relevant to your future focus. 

Juniata College alumna Lauren Lock shared just how important this information was when pursuing her PhD, “my Masters in Bioinformatics set me apart from other candidates applying for their PhD. That was a game-changer.”

In summary, the right graduate program is the one that fits your needs in budget and accessibility. Still, it must also offer real-world experience from faculty who remain deeply engaged and up-to-date in their disciplines. For example, the field of bioinformatics will be a constant necessity, as the amount of data keeps growing and its nature keeps changing. The right school will have faculty that can bring that to the classroom. 

At Juniata, many of our programs are interdisciplinary and include studies that enhance creative approaches to problem-solving, analytic and critical thinking and collaboration. Jason Moran, Vice President for Enrollment, shares the advice he gives potential graduate students on an almost daily basis, “consider both the practical reasons for getting your graduate degree – career and salary advancement, along with career requirements; then consider your dream. More often than not, I hear regrets about not doing it sooner, not about wishing you had never done it. The program fit is a big deal. If you’ve made up your mind to do it, it’s important to ask the enrollment team the tough questions. Generally,all colleges and universities have a tangible culture that defines them. At the graduate level, you want a culture of support and collaboration. We offer that.”