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How to Choose a Master's Degree Program

Choosing a master's degree program requires some research and thought. There are master's degree programs in just about any subject, and candidates have the option of attending campus-based programs or online programs.

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If you are serious about getting a master's degree, do your homework and learn all you can about a school before you apply. Ask questions and compare schools to find the best fit for you.

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Some Questions to Ask to Help You Choose a Master's Degree Program

The sky is the limit when it comes to master's degree options. Filtering through the options can be a daunting task, so the following are questions that can assist you in finding the best option for you.

What Are the Admission Requirements?

If you had some difficulties in your undergraduate courses and your grade point average does not meet the minimum requirements for admission to a school or program, keep looking. Many colleges and universities will factor in your work experience and the fact that you have matured since your college days. A thoroughly completed application, a resume that shows a successful career, a carefully written essay, a decent score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and stellar letters of recommendation should help you get accepted by an institution that meets your needs. In fact, graduate schools often provide provisional admission.

If your undergraduate record is not strong, this option allows you to take nine or more semester hours of graduate work as a non-degree student. if you pass those courses with a B or higher, you can move right into your graduate program and the courses will count toward your master's degree.

How Much Will It Cost?

There are several factors to consider when you select a master's degree program. For many people cost is a major consideration. Graduate students often pay for tuition and fees out-of-pocket. Thanks to technology, the number of highly-regarded, accredited schools that offer online master's degree programs has grown over the years. It is possible to reduce some costs of attending graduate school by completing all or part of the work online. While some private college online programs may be out of your price range, many state universities offer comparable master's degrees online. An advantage to studying online is the flexibility and ability to work full-time while earning the degree.

Is the Program Accredited?

If you are going to invest your time in getting a master's degree, do your homework and make sure that the institution you choose is accredited. An accredited school is one that has been assessed by a regional or state accrediting agency and determined to meet certain standards of quality. Accreditation agencies must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education, which also maintains a database of accredited colleges and universities.

Choosing an accredited institution is important because accredited schools that remain in good standing can administer federal financial aid programs. Whether a school is accredited can also impact your ability to transfer credits should you change schools. Also, employers prefer applicants with degrees from accredited institutions. Individual programs may also be accredited. For example, if you are seeking a master's degree in nursing, the program might be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).

What is the School's Reputation?

Research the reputation of a school before you apply. Even if the school is accredited, you want to know if there have been any issues. Has accreditation ever been in jeopardy? Does the department in which you will seek your master's degree have a good track record of preparing students to get better jobs or pursue a PhDs or other terminal degrees?

How Long Will It Take to Earn the Degree?

If you choose a master's degree in your undergraduate field, you may be able to complete your degree in as little as one year. If you'll be getting a degree in a new field, it may take two years of full-time study, and with part-time study, it could take three to four years to earn your degree.

Should I Choose an Online or Campus-based Program?

Whether you choose an online or campus-based program depends on your graduate major. If your major requires labs or clinical practice, most of your work will probably be done on campus. If you are seeking a master's degree in a field such as occupational therapy and your undergraduate degree is not in that field, you would attend most of your classes on campus. If the degree you choose does not require labs or work in a clinical setting, you can usually find a program that offers all courses online. Many schools offer Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administration and Master of Education degrees entirely online.

Before you invest your time and money into a master's program, learn all you can about it. Exercising due diligence and asking the right questions can help you find a program that will help you reach your personal and professional goals.

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