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Graduate Degree Programs Must-Haves

  • Funding
  • Faculty Reputation
  • Faculty Reputation
  • Student Outcomes
  • The Right Fit

Knowing the components of a solid graduate degree program is important because grad school can be expensive and time-consuming. Students should look at the five elements below when choosing a graduate program.

Ranking: 50 Best Value Alternative Graduate Schools in the West

1. Funding

Some people will say that no one should attend a grad school that does not offer funding. This is the case in certain disciplines and career paths, such as someone pursuing a doctoral degree with an eye toward a career in academia. However, for people pursuing a master's degree, who are going into a professional program or who plan to work outside of academia, funding can come from other sources including scholarships or employers. It is important that the program is financially within the student's reach and does not require the student to take on excessive loans.

2. Faculty Reputation

This is another element that will depend in part on the aims of the student. If the student hopes to pursue a particular line of research, it is best if there are faculty members who also specialize in this area. For students on an academic track, faculty reputation can be particularly important in ensuring that they are able to make the necessary connections in this competitive field. Students entering professional programs may want to look for faculty members with extensive experience in industry as well as those who may be able to act as professional mentors.

3. Resources

What are the school's libraries and laboratories like? More importantly, are these resources available in the field the student plans to pursue? Does the school publish any journals related to the student's field? Does it receive many grants and endowments? Does its budget allow it to attract and retain top faculty? All of these are important components of a solid graduate degree program.

4. Student Outcomes

It's important to make sure that the students graduating from the program are going on to do what they attended school for in the first place, whether that is a job in the private sector, pursuing a career in academia, government work or something else. It is also important to look at what types of programs lead to what specific outcomes. As CNN notes, a student who has an interest in a specific field, such as healthcare administration, might be better off pursuing a master's in that field rather than a more generic degree like an MBA. A school that has a poor record in the latter field might be strong in the former.

5. The Right Fit

This last criteria is one of the hardest to quantify but just as important as the others. For a person to succeed, the grad school must be the right fit. This could be expressed in part as the school's culture and may include factors such as how competitive the school is, what kind of careers students are pursuing and how closely students work with faculty. However, part of it is also just a gut feeling. It's one that should be backed up with careful attention to the other criteria above, but it should also be given considerable weight.

A graduate degree should help a person meet the objectives that prompted the return to school in the first place. Researching these components of a solid graduate degree program can ensure that the student makes the right choice.

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