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Deciding on Graduate School

April 12, 2019

Today, many students are considering graduate school for the increase in salary potential, competitive advantage against their peers and a deeper understanding of their field. Many that have been in the workforce for a while will opt for a graduate degree as well. This can help increase your chances of promotion, give you deeper understanding of your work, and simply advance your abilities in your current or aspiring positions. But, what should you be looking for when choosing a graduate school?  

The first step for many, is cost. The ultimate goal is to escape college with as little student debt as possible. It may be surprising to find that graduate programs offer great ways to save you money on tuition, even including federal aid through the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA program is a governmental program that gives financial aid to student who need it and the requirements are the same for graduate students as they are for undergrads. In addition to government assistance, many colleges offer their own form of financial assistance or scholarship programs. Check with your  colleges of interests’ graduate programs to see what kinds of programs they offer and how good they are. Generally, colleges in your state will be cheaper because they offer a lower tuition rate to those who are residents of the state than they do to those who are out-of-state students. Idaho State University is a great example of a college that can help reduce the cost of attendance as much as possible. Not only does it offer the lowest in-state graduate tuition of a public university in the state of Idaho, it also has plenty of scholarship and other financial aid opportunities to help you pay for your education. In addition, their programs offer Graduate Assistantship positions (GA), Lab Assistantship positions (LA), and various other jobs around campus to help fund your schooling and gain you additional experience in the field- that is if you are not already working. GA’s at ISU receive a varying stipend of $13,163 a year along fully paid tuition. LA’s can also work for 16 weeks during a semester for 19 hours a week earning $18 an hour while proctoring, grading, and other responsibilities as they assist different colleges in their labs. ISU also offers options like graduate student Non-Resident Tuition Waivers (NRTW) for out-of-state college students. According to heath.edu, students who attend an out-of-state college pay, on average, $8,990 more than if they were to attend an in-state school and that’s a huge difference. That amount could cover your groceries for your entire school life. The same goes for schools out-of-state. For example, some surrounding schools could charge upwards of $50,000 for full-time out-of-state graduate students to complete their degree.  Whereas at ISU, in-state tuition for graduates comes in at about $9,000 for two semesters of full-time schooling. This amount is only about $750 more per semester than undergraduate semester tuition at ISU at ISU. So is out-of-state really worth that?

The second consideration is flexibility. Do you work a full-time job, so night school is the only option for you or do you work funky hours? Schools that are flexible around a schedule can be very beneficial to those who maybe don’t have a solid day to just go to class. At places like ISU’s College of Business, they offer Masters of Business Administration (MBA) classes in the evening to accommodate folks like those mentioned above so that they can graduate in two years or less but also maintain having a job during the day. Or, students attending full-time at ISU can finish in just one year.If going to class after work also doesn’t suit your fancy, ISU offers an online MBA program. Other programs such as their Masters of Healthcare Administration (MHA) offer similar options so that students can get the most of their education without sacrificing other things. Many schools, like ISU also have a variety of satellite campuses where classes are either taught live or streamed through distance learning classrooms. For example, ISU’s MHA program is offered in both Pocatello and Meridian while many of the other graduate programs classes are also offered in Idaho Falls.

The next consideration is competitiveness. How competitive are the programs you want to attend at your chosen university and what are the requirements to get in? This can be a determining factor in where you get to go for school because some programs accept less students than others and emphasis is placed on different areas. Three general requirements for graduate school admission at ISU, is that you have to have a Bachelor’s degree, your GPA must be 2.5 or higher you must also take the GRE or GMAT test and your scores plus GPA will have to qualify using a formula.

You will also want to make sure you are selecting an institution of merit. Many online schools may have the flexibility and price you need, but they aren’t always viewed in the best light by employers. Choosing a school that is accredited will not only ensure you are getting an excellent education, but that the institution listed on your resume will be a reputable one. Some business colleges, like ISU, are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or the AACSB. The AACSB represents the most prestigious accrediting body for business programs in the world. Places like ISU, may even have a dual accreditation in both business and accounting, which is quite rare with less than 200 schools in the world holding that title. What exactly is accreditation? Accreditation is how a university or institution of higher education is evaluated. The acceptable standards are created by a review board that consists of professors and other faculty from a wade variety of accredited universities and institutions.

Another  factor of consideration, is size. How many students are in the program? Because while larger programs and campuses  may offer more state-of-the-art facilities, smaller schools can offer that one-on-one attention that many students need when attending college to help them be their best.

Next take a look at their faculty. Who works there, what kind of research do they do, what’s their specialty? Knowing this will help you determine which faculty can best help you with your academic goals in the long run. Check out websites like Rate My Professor to see what they’re like beforehand as well because that can be a determining factor of which college you decide to attend. Another good option is actually meeting some professors. Schedule a campus visit and reach out to particular professors in the field you are interested in. Many schools include bios about their faculty online. Here, you can learn more about which people you would like to have a conversation with before making your decision.

Then, what kind of opportunities is the school going to give you to make your education worth your while? Are you expected to read textbooks, write papers on case studies, and have very little interaction with actual business leaders and your classmates? Maybe that’s what you are all about. But, many students may prefer a more experiential approach that allows you to step outside of the textbook and apply what you are learning. Some graduate programs, like ISU for an example, utilize a very hands-on approach to education. The ISU College of Business is the only school within its surrounding states that participate in the International Collegiate Business Strategy Competition (ICBSC), which for participants has been the most impactful experience of their graduate education. This program allows students to break down the silos in business to see the connection between marketing, finance, accounting, and more within the functions of a business. Here, students work in executive roles running a fictitious company in a computer simulation. Their performance is measured against international schools and their quarterly decisions are expedited over a few weeks. Then, the team travels to California for a final and intense 48 competition against their peers. Another program offered by ISU, is the Bengal Solutions graduate assistantship position. Here, students actually get to work with real businesses in the community to do research and provide consulting in marketing, financing, and more.

Additionally, if you’re married, you will want to consider if  your spouse will be able to find work where you choose to go if it’s outside of where you currently live. That will be an important consideration, especially if they are already graduated and will be supporting you throughout the rest of your schooling.

That brings us to location. How far away is the college? Are there family or friends you’d like to stay close to? If so, you might want to consider where it is and if that will negatively impact you or your family. Or, again, you may have the option to do your program online or through distance learning.

There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a graduate program and degree but at the end of the day, you have to choose what’s best for you and your end goal in earning your graduate degree. It will be well worth the investigation because it’ll ensure that you receive the best education possible at a good value. It will also ensure that the institution you received it from is one you can be proud of including on your resume or CV.