Choosing a graduate school

Daniel Weihs - Choosing a graduate school

Our world is changing thanks to the coronavirus at a rate never experienced before. Careers will be broken on the one hand, with new opportunities in other areas blooming.

In such times, one should first ask oneself – what would I love to do? What would I do that will make me satisfied at the end of every day?

There’s a population of recent graduates from colleges who now have a better view of their real deep-down likes and dislikes, making it easier for them to choose a direction.

Once they have identified such areas, it narrows down the choices and allows them to move to the second phase.

Many fulfilling careers require a master’s degree for deeper understanding, and more importantly, getting certification to work in these areas, all the way from social work, through accounting and legal work, to business administration.

So, the question arises how to choose a school, whether on-campus or online? Some things to think about at the time of making up the candidate’s  mind are:

Personal circumstances

A single person has to consider whether they want to change back into a “student mode”, even if part-time, and sometimes moving to a new geographic area, which may mean disconnecting from their known environment, family, friends, regular hangouts, and even language. If the college is in a different locale, one needs to ask: Is this new place more expensive to live in? Can they afford it? Is the lifestyle right?

People with personal relationships, whether formal (marriage) or informal, have to consider the “two-body problem”. In other words, what does the partner think about this change in lifestyle and location, and if children or other dependent are within the personal sphere, how will they be affected?

Financial aspects

Any course of study, even if part-time, will affect the standard of living, as emphasis is shifted form gainful work. Can they afford full-time study, can they take breaks for practical work, as required in many areas? This, as mentioned above, will obviously also affect those living in the student’s personal sphere.

Personal preferences

Now it is down to the candidate. What are their dreams and expectations of a career? They need to be very honest with themselves about their character at this stage. Some people like running things. Others see helping other people as an essential part of their career. How important is financial security? Is becoming independently wealthy at some stage significant? How important is being self-employed, or on the other hand, have tenured job security? All of these questions come into play at this point, after having obtained the basic education. Now it is time to focus.

This white paper tries to help the would-be student to best consider the options and possibilities in choosing the right venue for further study.

This requires being honest with oneself, which is very important but difficult.

So, considering the questions above can help make the cardinal decision of what, and where to take a professional advanced degree.

Starting in reverse order, we will try to help identify the reader’s personal wishes, so that their choice has a good chance of making them satisfied  during a large chunk of their continuing life.

Looking at the personal preferences as outlined above

One very important sector of further education has to do with administration – starting from what is probably the best known – the Master of Business Administration (MBA). This is the stepping stone to management and executive positions, giving a wide range of scope for advancement. The MBA has evolved into a whole family of expert niches, and while very expensive in many schools, has been a moneymaker for many graduates. This type of work is fitting for extroverted people, and those who plan to become leaders. It is important to choose the right school, as, in addition to the education and knowledge, the network of co-students and lecturers made while studying is an important bonus.

Another sector is caregiving, which includes nursing, hospital staff, and gerontology, in addition to more general social work. We can divide caregiving into four categories – of treating the sick, the old, the very young and the underprivileged. Each of these has a different character fit, and the student needs to consider their preferences. For example, very emotional people may not want to choose nursing as sights may be a hard experience. On the other hand, caring for the helpless can be very gratifying to such people. Again, it is important to recognize one’s character.

The next point to consider is full-time vs part-time study. Can the student afford the time off for full-time? This includes the income lost due to the time it takes to finish a part-time course. Also, some people cannot “time-share” their attention, and have to select full-time, but others may prefer having breaks in their day. In these days of COVID 19, remote learning will be a significant part of any educational process, so that home study should be considered at this stage of decision.  

If full-time is chosen, the location becomes important. As mentioned above, deciding to move to a new location with living circumstances such as nice living quarters and good weather, usually means a higher cost of living.  Another issue that is becoming important is openness to diversity which can make a big difference in how the time spent as a student is perceived. This obviously is important to racial issues, but also to size of common population, which can mean availability of ethnic food and culture, that can be important for both minorities and the rest of the population.

In short, a well thought-out decision on professional, post-graduate study can have a lasting effect on a person’s life. Think well!

Daniel Weihs is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Aeronautical Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He is a Member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Daniel brings years  of experience on all things Academics and advises us frequently.