Earning a Master’s degree can open doors for your career and your personal development, but earning a Master’s degree takes a big investment of time, effort and money.
To make an investment with a good return, it’s vital that you decide why you want a Master’s degree before getting started.
There are two main reasons you might want a Master’s degree.
- Personal development. If you’re considering a Master’s degree that doesn’t relate to your job, you probably find learning deeply rewarding and want to take classes anyway. Why not earn a degree at the same time?
- Professional development. Continuing education is a best practice for any professional, whether you are an electrician, a therapist or a minister. You may also need a Master’s degree to teach at a high school or college in the US.
The two factors that have the greatest impact on what you get out of a Master’s degree are your professors and your investment of time, energy and engagement. You can improve investment as you go, even in the course of a semester, but your choice of professors involves more commitment.
Many professors post a summary of their professional experience online (usually called a curriculum vitae or CV). Google professors’ CVs to find out where they’ve taught and what they’ve published. The books or articles professors have published give you an idea of what they’re passionate about.
If you know people who studied under professors you’re considering, ask them about their experiences.
Talk to one of your trusted undergrad professors or someone who has the skills you’d like to get from a Master’s and ask them their opinion about schools. (While you’re at it, find out whether they might be willing to be a mentor, someone further up the same road you’re traveling who can speak into your life.)
Try to find recent alumni or current students at schools you’re interested in. How do they feel about the education they’re getting? Are they happy with their choice?
If your why is professional development, think about the places where you would like to work when you have your degree. Do they have a preference about where you get your degree?
How would you like to take classes? Most schools offer classes on campus, but almost all also offer classes online. Some schools offer classes online without any live class time. Others use an online approach that includes live video conference classes (you might see this called “synchronous”). Think about which format will help you get the most out of your Master’s degree.
- Do you learn best through in-person discussions and lectures?
- Would your job and family allow you to move somewhere to get a degree?
- Do you need your education to work around other parts of your life?
Look into the degrees schools offer, too. If you’re there to develop professional skills, that goal will limit your options, but check out what classes are in the degree you’re interested in. Find answers to these questions:
- Does the degree have electives?
- Can the electives be met by classes you care about?
- Does the school accept transfer credits? If so, you might be able to take classes that you find personally beneficial at another school, then transfer them in as electives.
Almost every program offers at least some flexibility in electives, and that flexibility offers you more chances to fulfill your why.
Let your why drive your search for a Master’s program. Find the right program with the right faculty and the right classes (and transfer policy!).
Jason Albertson works as an educational administrative assistant and part-time instructional designer. He earned a BA in Ministerial Education and an MA in Biblical Studies from a regionally-accredited institution.
His interests span from DC comics to philosophy (which he would argue isn’t such a leap) to web development.