How to Choose a Master's Program

Three Parts:Researching ProgramsDetermining the Best FitAffording a Master’s Degree

How to choose a master's program is similar to selecting a major for an undergraduate degree or choosing an undergraduate college. There are some key differences, though. Part of choosing a graduate school is looking for professors whose work you admire and with whom you'd like to study. Financial aid is another concern when choosing a program, as some offer full support while others do not.

Part 1
Researching Programs

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    Identify the career you are working for. Graduate school is an important next step in specializing in a field that you want to develop a career in. Choose a program that matches your career goals and has opportunities for specialization. Deciding to focus on a particular area, such as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Playwriting or Acting or a Master of Science (MS) in Biology will eliminate a number of schools that do not offer those specific master's programs.[1]
    • Choosing a graduate program is going to require some research on your part. Look at the types of degrees people in your field generally have.
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    Ask professors or advisors for assistance. Talk to mentors at your undergraduate institution for their opinions on various graduate programs in your field. If you've been out of school for some time, consider contacting former professors to ask their opinions.[2]
    • Ask them about the graduate schools they attended and ones where they know some faculty.
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    Seek an accredited graduate program. An accredited program means that it has been recognized by an official organization for providing a high level of education and training for the field. If you are serious about using your graduate degree to advance your career, you want to choose a program that has been fully accredited. [3]
    • For example, your chances of finding a position as a librarian in the United States are higher if you attend a school with a master's degree program that is accredited by the American Library Association.
    • Make sure the programs you are looking into are accredited for the degree you are seeking.
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    Ensure you have the prerequisites. Some master’s programs have very specific requirements for entry. You will need to have a certain score on the GMAT or GRE, an undergraduate degree in a related field, work experience for MBA programs, and specific coursework and lab experience for science programs. If you don’t meet this prerequisites, consider taking the necessary courses before applying to the program.[4]
    • Check with each program that you are considering and make sure that you meet all the requirements before applying.
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    Ask about career services at the school. You may be obtaining a master's degree to advance your career. Ask how many graduates from the program are employed and in what sort of careers. Many programs have specific career services related to the field.
    • Ask what the school does to help students find careers after graduation. Many schools connect students to alumni and host career fairs.
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    Be aware of special opportunities within the program. Some graduate programs have opportunities for internships, fellowships, fieldwork, and studying abroad. If any of these are of interest to you or considered essential to your education, narrow your focus to schools that have these prospects.[5]
    • Look for diversity in the program. The more a program has to offer, the better it is.

Part 2
Determining the Best Fit

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    Research the professors at each graduate school. Many graduate programs require you to have an advisor or mentor. This advisor will be a member of the faculty within the program that you choose. If a university does not have faculty that match your academic interests, the program won’t be a good fit for you no matter its reputation.[6]
    • Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate-level programs are more focused on specific areas, so it is in your best interests to find one that caters to your goals.
    • Look at what the faculty are researching, check out their publications, and any personal websites.
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    Contact professors you’d like to work with. Look at the departmental websites and find at least 5 professors whose work interests you and fits in with your academic goals. Write a letter or email to each professor expressing your interest in the master's program and his or her work. Include a copy of your resume with the letter. Be genuine in the letters, and make them meaningful. Express your interest in his or her work and how it relates to your academic interests.[7]
    • Always spell-check the letter before sending it.
    • Ask the professors if they would be available for a phone conference to discuss the master's program. You may need to be persistent. If you haven't received a response within about 3 weeks, follow up via phone or email.
    • For example, if you want to study playwriting, look for professors whose plays you've enjoyed. If you want to study genetics, look for professors who have made great strides in the field.
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    Visit each respective program. Many universities have open houses or days specifically available for you to visit the campus and meet the faculty.[8] Contact the professors you have been in touch with and see if you can meet with them in person.
    • Inquire about research opportunities, teaching fellowships, or internships at each school. If your goal is to become a professor, a program that includes teaching is an absolute must.
    • Check out the school's library and other relevant areas, such as the laboratories, theaters, or media centers. Ideally, a graduate school will offer up-to-date facilities and have a decent research library as well as access to relevant databases.
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    Consider the location of the school. Take a look around the city the school is in as well. You may like the school, but hate the area where it’s located. If you have a family to consider, you’ll want to look at programs in your local area. If weather is important to you, take a look at the climate and the type of weather that area tends to get.[9]
    • Remember, master’s degrees usually take two years to complete so these are all important things to keep in mind when making decisions.
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    Talk to current students in the programs. The best way to gauge if a program is a good fit for you is to talk to people who are currently in it. Ask them how they feel about studying there, are the students treated well and respected, do they have access to the resources they truly need, and any other specific questions you may have.[10]
    • Some schools look impressive on paper or have impressive faculty but are not a good fit for every personality.

Part 3
Affording a Master’s Degree

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    Determine the cost of attendance. Master’s programs can be quite costly so it’s a good idea to figure out how much the degree is going to cost. Knowing the cost can help you choose by narrowing down to the programs you can afford.[11]
    • If you are looking into a public school, look at in-state tuition if you are a resident. Otherwise, budget for out-of-state tuition.
    • Keep in mind that online schools can cost less than a brick-and-mortar school.
    • Don’t forget to factor in books and supplies, housing, and student fees in addition to tuition.
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    Consider scholarship possibilities. Student loans are not the only option to fund your master’s degree. Some schools have scholarships for specific programs that can help you with your finances. Scholarship opportunities are another aspect to consider when you decide where to apply.[12]
    • Inquire about financial aid as well. While many doctorate programs provide full funding, many master's programs do not.
    • You may need to take out student loans to attend the master's program if it does not offer fellowships or grants, which can impact your decision.
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    Ask about student loans. Student loans are always an option for affording your degree. The return on investment for a master’s degree is generally considered to be a 15% higher overall lifetime income.[13] It will take time to pay off the loans, but you will be able to do it with the higher income from the graduate degree.
    • Try to get a combination of scholarships and student loans.
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    Budget for your other financial obligations. When considering schools and programs don’t forget to take into account all of your financial obligations. If you have a family, your financial needs are going to be much different than an individual. If your finances are tight, look for places where you can spend less money.
    • If you live alone, try getting some roommates to lower your rent.
    • If you eat out a lot or get your coffee on the go, try making more meals at home and bringing coffee with you from your own kitchen.

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Categories: College University and Postgraduate