5 tips on choosing a graduate school program

By Sean Williams posted 9 days ago

Maybe you've been thinking about it for a while. Going back to school. You're in your third job after college, and wondering how to differentiate yourself for promotion, or your next job. Perhaps you've been working with people with advanced degrees, and you're feeling a little less brilliant. Or maybe it's wanting to better understand the 'why?' that comes with the work. 

In any case, you've got hundreds of MBA programs out there, and almost as many Master's degrees in communication available as well. So, how do you choose? Here are five tips that I've found helpful over the years in my work first with Kent State, and now at Bowling Green State University. 

1. Choose based on your purpose. Simon Sinek says "Start with Why?" -- are you looking to beef up your business savvy, your financial knowledge? Looking to better understand why and how different communication tactics work? Polish your executive presence? Break into teaching? Find a program that fits most of your wants, but keep in mind that the "best" program is the one that fits for you and your aspirations. 

2. The path of least resistance isn't necessarily the best path. Higher education is changing, and the ongoing and accelerating decline in the pool of high school students in many areas of the U.S. is making more institutions turn to graduate education as a means of filling the gap. There are institutions spending a lot of ad dollars. So hunt around and check the faculty carefully. 

3. Look for a balance of practice and academics in the curriculum, particularly in online programs.  You're doing the work now, right? You want a program that pushes you to better understand what lies beneath, and what feeds your strategic knowledge. That's going to mean a theoretical base coupled with strong applied thinking. Keep in mind that nearly every department and function in an organization has a foundation of theory that grounds it and explains its actions. Communication is the same, and embracing that foundation makes you a stronger pro. 

4. Online or in-person? That's a salient question - objectively, most people will say that in-person is better: better for building relationships among students and teachers, better for peer learning, better for mutual support. But the online universe can be every bit as rich and fascinating, as long as the faculty has the online chops, and the university systems are up to the task. In-person can be tough for working pros, whereas online, being an asynchronous environment that lets you work at your own pace, can be much more convenient. (My own program at Kent State was both in-person and online.) 

5. Realize that time will pass whether you're in grad school or not. The demands of work and family can be significant, and you should realize that grad school is a fair amount of work. Realize, however, that the days and months will tick by regardless. A good online program can have you out in 2 years, same as full-time in person -- think about whether waiting really will make a difference. 

That's it - feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to talk about my experiences in grad school. I taught in the Kent State Master's programs, and now teach at BGSU and coordinate the online Master's in Strategic Communication. Check it out.