Exploring & Focusing

Occupational Research

When thinking what degree to pursue you need to start with the end goal – what profession or career you want to achieve. Some profession require graduate degree to start – e.g. school psychologist or counselor, others prefer experience before further education as business, and while some fields allow you to enter at both undergraduate and graduate levels, such as nursing, social work, or education. This information is not simple and requires some efforts. That means that you would have to start with occupational research.

  • Occupational Outlook Handbook – http://www.bls.gov/oco/ - published by the US government this website has information about thousands of profession with salary statistics and educational requirements
  • Professional Associations –e.g. accredited doctoral psychology programs are only available from APA.org
  • Talk to professionals in the field (conduct informational interviews) about what types of degrees are valued
  • Consult a Career Counselor

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Finding Programs

You need to review what programs exists, where are they located, what are their costs and admission criteria

  • Petersons.com, Gradschools.com – only for general information, NOT for specifics
  • Talk to professors and grad students in the academic field you are interested in – informational interview
  • Professional Associations websites – usually education sections have program lists
  • Individual programs websites, study admission criteria and classes you will be taking
  • Contact programs directly, request more information & schedule a meeting if possible

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Identifying your Choices:

Doctoral programs
A good way to find a fit for students considering PhD programs is to speak with your faculty mentors/ potential recommenders about your chances and programs they recommend. Hopefully if you are interested in doctoral degree, you are already involved in some type of research. Whenever you come across an article which is interesting for you always pay attention to what universities authors come from, and look up these programs. That is how you start your list.

Master level programs
These programs often offer open houses, would welcome inquires, and would make an appointment when possible. Although they won’t tell you what are your admission chances you can get a sense by asking questions such as What can I do to make my candidacy stronger?

You need to consider combinations of all or some of the following factors:

  • Admission Requirements – GPA, test scores, strength of undergraduate coursework, pre-requisites, experience. Take an honest look at your credentials and compare them to admission criteria and statistics of accepted students. Keep in mind that minimal requirements do not reflect the profile of the typical admitted student. We suggest using the notion of reach, target, and safety program.
    • Target school is a school where your credentials fit right in the middle. We understand you may not know your GRE scores yet but you probably have an idea how strong you are with standardized testing. It’s a good idea to take a practice test to estimate your performance level.
    • Reach is a program where your credentials lie below the median of the school’s admission statistics, but you really want to be there and are passionate about the program for valid reasons.
    • Safety is a graduate program where your credentials are considered clearly superior to their regularly admitted class.
  • Expertise of the Faculty - What are their academic degrees/credentials and research specialties? Does it align with your interests? Can you see potential mentor (s)? Look at faculty CVs and personal websites if available.
  • Available Course Offerings - Are courses you need to fulfill degree requirements frequently offered? Will the course offerings help you meet your professional or educational goals? Are these the classes you wanted to take?
  • Quality of the Program - This is measured by many different factors, many of which are mentioned below. You may choose to look at graduate school rankings to help you assess a program's quality; however, the rankings may be based on criteria that are different from your own. What's more, many scholars, deans, and advisors question the validity of such rankings.
  • Accreditation – it is another rather confusing category since there are national, regional, professional, and all other sorts of accreditation. It can be very important or even required for licensing in one field, and not significant in another. Go back to occupational research.
  • Financial Costs - What are the opportunities for fellowships, assistantships, or scholarships? What other sources of financial aid are available?
  • Employment - Where are graduates of the program working, and how much are they earning?
  • Geographic Location and Facilities - Will studying in a particular location help you meet personal or professional goals? Sometimes people also consider the quality of on-site facilities such as libraries, computer labs, and research facilities.
  • Student Life - Consider the diversity of the student body, available student organizations, and available housing for graduate students.

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