We all know that some decisions in life have greater ramifications than others – chocolate vs vanilla probably won’t change your life (no judgment if it does!), but moving across the country for a job, that’s a whole other level. If you are thinking about pursuing a bachelor or master’s degree, chances are you’re already wrestling with the gravity of that decision. Questions like, “What degree is right for me?”; “Which school is the best value for my money?”; “What if I get it wrong?” can all paralyze you from moving forward to pursue your dreams.
First of all, give yourself a little credit for taking control of your future career. It is possible to confidently make a responsible and informed decision. Basically, there are four things that will help ensure that you successfully meet your educational goals and prepare for a career:
1. evaluate your interests
2. identify careers that align with those interests
3. research which of those careers are currently and will be in demand over the next decade
4. find specific degrees and concentrations that will prepare you for the career you choose
When you’re done, you can be sure that you are making the decision that is right for YOU.
This is the first and most critical component for choosing a major and degree program. Maybe you already know exactly what career you want, and the degree needed to get there. Or maybe you have general career interests and a sense of the impact you want to make, but you just aren’t sure which degree is the right fit.
A good place to start, then, is to take a good hard look at your values. By determining your “why” for earning a degree, you’ll lay the foundation for all other decisions. For example, is it more important for you to have a 9-5 job that frees you to be home on a set schedule, or is climbing the ladder and putting in the needed hours the thing that motivates you? Is serving society or getting a bigger paycheck more important to you? Look at this list of common reasons for returning to school to see if any resonate with you.
- Career advancement in your current profession
- Increased earning potential to meet your needs and prepare for the future
- A new career path to better align with your interests or market demand
- The desire to move into an executive or leadership role
- Specialized skills to set you apart and make you more marketable
- Self-satisfaction – you made a promise to yourself that you want to keep, or you want to show your family the importance of education
- A move into academia
Once you’ve figured out why a degree is important to you, there are a few other values you will want to assess that will impact your degree program choice and future career. For example, do you value independent, online learning or face-to-face interaction? Do you prefer a combination? Can you go to school full-time or do you need a program that understands your work and family commitments? Is cost or quality more important? Are you okay with being a number in a large class, or do you want more personal attention and interaction with your professors? The answers to these and other self-examination questions will help guide you in choosing a field of interest and, ultimately, a degree program.
Know the Job Market
Another key factor to evaluate when choosing a field of interest is the current and projected job market. Your personal values and career aspirations can lead you to a variety of job choices, so it’s best to see which degrees are in high-growth fields for today’s AND tomorrow’s job market. This involves some additional self-analysis and research. For example, do you prefer to work in a hands-on, fast-paced environment (i.e. public safety, education), or are you an analytical problem solver (i.e. accountancy, business economics)? Do you want to directly help people (i.e. nursing, addictions counseling), or are you a behind-the-scenes person (i.e. management of information systems)?
Take the time to research the ever-widening array of careers available in the current job economy. Study the trends to see any jobs or skills that are being phased out, which are up and coming, and which are tried and true, i.e. will always be in demand. Then make a short list of those jobs that fit your aspirations, goals and values and identify what degrees are required to get those jobs.
Select a Degree
Once you’ve determined your personal and career interests, what degrees are in high growth fields, and which in-demand jobs require those degrees, it’s decision time (did you just get a headache?). Yes, choosing a major is a big decision. But remember, you’re making an informed decision. You’ve got this!
Selecting a degree will be based partly on whether you are seeking a bachelor or master’s degree. Many entry level jobs require an undergraduate degree as a baseline. Even here you will want to make sure you are choosing a major that is compatible with an advanced degree, should you decide to pursue one in the future for career advancement. For example, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration lays the foundation for choosing a more specialized track or concentration as part of a Master of Business Administration degree, such as Business Data Analytics, Accounting, or Leadership Development.
Whether you’ve developed a specialized interest through your work experience, or you knew going in where you wanted to land, a master’s degree helps you carve out a career niche to make you more marketable for that promotion or dream job. Some universities even offer dual-credit courses that apply to both undergraduate and graduate degree.
If you are still struggling with your degree choice, talking to an enrollment advisor can be extremely helpful since they often have much of the market data and degree information you are looking for.
Find a School
Now it’s time to find a school that not only offers the degrees in high growth fields that you’ve chosen but also a university that is in line with your values and goals.
Here are several things to consider when choosing the school that will help shape your future career success:
- Does it offer the degree you’ve chosen, and does the school offer a clear path to a graduate degree program?
- Is the university accredited? Does it meet the highest standards of academic excellence?
- What are graduates saying about their experience at the school, and your degree program specifically?
- Depending on your program needs, is your degree offered as an online program?
- Are the online courses developed by program experts specifically for online delivery?
- Are or have the professors been professionals in their areas of expertise? What is the faculty/student ratio? Will you be getting the personal attention you need?
- What are the requirements of the program and how long will it take to earn your degree?
- What kind of student support and services are offered? Who will be helping you get to the finish line?
- Which school is the best value for the quality of education you will receive?
There you have it – how to choose a degree program that’s right for you. There are many things to consider, for sure. But look at it this way – doing your homework to set you on the right career path is the perfect precursor to all the homework you’ll soon be doing to achieve your vocational goals. Hard? Yes. Worth it? Definitely!
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