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Advanced degree, advanced decision

Choosing the right grad school and master’s degree program

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By: Lisa Wicker
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Choosing (Well)

Looking for more school after graduation, eh? Additional smarts await you – along with some important decisions. Think carefully before you choose, because this is one long-term relationship you can’t end via text message. Take your time and find the right fit, using these tips.

Narrowing it down

Decide up front: Wading or diving?

Figure out now if you’re going full-time or part-time. Full-time programs get you on your way sooner, but they usually cost more, too. A part-time program can let you keep your 9-to-5 (and have them pay some of your tuition, potentially), but the school you want may not offer it. See which ones on your wish list offer an accelerated option.

Be a Boy Scout

Prepare yourself: applying to grad school is intense. You may be asked for standardized test scores, recommendation letters, even in-person interviews. And you want to ace them all. Start by checking the websites for graduate admission requirements, then talk with an admissions counselor about what you can do to increase your chances of getting in.

Second-guess Uncle Bob

Picking a school based on where your family or friends went can be a big blunder. Research it yourself – ask, “Is this really how I see myself spending the next few years?

Affirm accreditation

You’re planning to sit for the CPA Exam, right? Verify that the program you’re considering allows you to meet the necessary requirements. (Trust us, this is important.) Your state board of accountancy can set you straight.

Snoop around

Visit the school’s website. Visit the campus. Google that sucker and find some community discussion boards. You should also attend any informational sessions the college offers; that’s often your chance to meet faculty and representatives. Dig up stats on their CPA Exam pass rates, job placements after graduation, and faculty-to-student ratio. Consider how much one-to-one mentoring you’re likely (or unlikely) to get.

Brace for brilliance

Considering going all the way to a Ph.D.? Pick a program that’s appropriately rigorous, academically, and competitive. Again, do some detective work to find out placement rates of recent grads – start by checking with the school. You can even talk to accounting professors to find out who shares your interests. For instance, if you’re simply fascinated by the latest IRS rulings (you know who you are), make sure to find a school with a strong tax accounting program.

Buttoning it up

Weigh the pros and cons

Got your final list of candidates? Great! Make a list of the positives and negatives associated with each. If you find it difficult to stay impartial, sit down with a trusted friend or advisor who can help weigh the options accurately.

Get the story firsthand

Make time to talk with people who have been there and done that. Alumni can offer you some valuable insights, as can the college placement office.

Consider the scenery

Depending on where your potential schools are, you could be looking at a big change of pace. Going from a big city to a small town (or vice versa) isn’t always seamless – especially if you’re far from home. Consider what support systems you can put in place to insulate against culture shock.

Map out the money

It’s a much comfier transition if you know how you’ll be paying for all this. Research and pursue available scholarships – we happen to know of a great place to start looking.

Not sure? Don’t say

You don’t have to commit to a specialization right off the bat. Start with the general electives the first semester (or two) and find out what interests you. Giving yourself time to explore stuff like forensic accounting, audit, and supply chain management may reveal the path that totally inspires you.

Question your motives

Lastly, ask yourself: why am I doing this, *really*? When you look at the programs you’re about to study, do you feel passionate? Will they speak to your true interests? Make you into someone you’d want to have coffee with? Now’s your chance for soul-searching. If you get all tingly just picturing yourself knowing this stuff, you’re probably on the right track.

For some surefire inspiration about tons of possibilities to pursue, meet some real CPAs who’ve walked this path already. They asked themselves all these questions too – see how their answers turned out.

Lisa Wicker is the Manager of Chapter Services with Beta Alpha Psi. She’s got no fewer than three degrees, including a master’s-level diplomas, and is working on a fourth.
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