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How I Found the Perfect Graduate Program

Sitafa Allen, MBA, SP, SA, SSM

Deciding whether to pursue a graduate degree is a tough choice on its own. Deciding on the right graduate school and program for that degree can prove to be even tougher; with over hundreds of graduate programs across the country to choose from, getting started can definitely become overwhelming fast.

 

Just a couple of years ago, I was in this exact position. I was just about to graduate from undergrad and decided that it would be best for me to work toward my Master’s. After a careful search around, I ended up getting into a fully funded program backed by a Fortune 500 company. I learned a lot throughout my search, and since I know firsthand that every little bit of advice helps, I came up with a few strategies for others facing the same tough decision.

 

Know Your Field of Study

By the time you are ready to pursue a graduate degree, you should have a good idea of the kind of career you want and the kind of degree you’ll need to get started. In undergrad, many of your classes take a broad-knowledge approach to topics and are not necessarily focused on one career or industry. Graduate school courses, however, are much more tailored for specific disciplines and interests, so it’s important to settle on a degree program geared toward your unique career path. This will also save you a lot of time and money during the application process; there are hundreds of schools to choose from, each with numerous graduate programs. Once you know exactly which path you’re going on, you can narrow your scope as you research and apply to the best programs for your field of study. Once I decided to get my Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), I was able to focus solely on finding the best quality MBA programs rather than sifting through hundreds of schools and programs without direction.

 

Choose the Location Wisely

Once you know what you want to study, you’ll want to find out where you want to study—where you can find the most beneficial programs in an area whose local industries are supportive of your career. Location is key in choosing a grad program, as you will more than likely want to participate in an internship to gain some work experience before graduation. And unless you take courses online, your internship opportunities will be limited to those in your immediate area.

Consider this: say a student is interested in a career in Sports Management. It would  be in their best interest, then, to enroll in a Master’s of Sports Management program at a university that either offers sports or is located in a city with competitive sports teams. This will allow them to get real experience in the sports industry while in school.

In my case, I chose the University of Memphis, which has an exclusive partnership with FedEx. With its global headquarters in Memphis, FedEx got UofM students like me the chance to intern while pursuing our MBAs. Local partnerships like these are crucial in any field, as they can even help secure job opportunities after graduation.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out

When you find a university and graduate program that you are interested in, don’t be afraid to reach out! Standard on most university websites, staff directories will include the contact information of key department members who can help you learn more about their program. These people can be great repositories of information, assist you in the application process, and even give you information about the program that isn’t shown online. In my experience, the Academic Advisor for UofM’s school of business was the most helpful resource on staff. She guided me through the application process, explained the full benefits and advantages of the program, and personally made sure that the department Director saw my application. Speaking with a representative individually can not only help you feel more confident in your decision to apply, but also give you an edge over someone who applied without making the extra effort to reach out.

 

Ultimately, It’s a Very Rewarding Experience 

Finding the right graduate program can be daunting, but it will ultimately prove to be a very rewarding experience and positive step in your professional and educational development. In my personal experience, my Master’s degree really put me a step ahead professionally. With a postgraduate degree, I was able to start my career at FedEx in a senior role, which wouldn’t have been nearly as feasible with just a bachelor’s. This advantage is also in line with a reassuring statistic: studies show that having a grad degree significantly increases one’s earning potential on the job market. On average, employees with a bachelor’s degree earn a median of $50,360 per year, while those with a master’s earn a median annual income of $68,064 (sheeo.org).

 

Why hesitate? And why wait? I benefited immensely from pursuing graduate school, especially enrolling right after undergrad. While some people may opt to wait a few years between undergrad and graduate school, it might be best to start thinking about it early; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 percent of all jobs will require a Master’s degree by 2022. Regardless of the timing, you will not regret taking the time to get your postgraduate degree. And of course, that journey starts with choosing the perfect school for you. Take heed to some of these strategies, and you will be well on your way to the grad program of your dreams!

 

Wish to Connect with the Writer? Connect with Sitafa Allen

 

More Helpful Reads:

7 Tips to Help You Balance School and Work

9 Reasons to Go Back to School for Your Master’s Degree

My Experience with College Rankings

5 Steps to Take When You’re Thinking About Going to Grad School

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