The Final Step: Find a School and Program
Now that you’ve had a chance to fully evaluate what you want to accomplish, what’s feasible for your lifestyle, and what course of study would best suit your goals, you’re ready to look for your ideal school and program.
If you’ve been thinking about going back to school, you probably already have a general idea of what you want to study, so this segment will focus more on how to find the best program that suits your interests. If you feel like you still can’t decide what to study, but you definitely want to return to school, consider taking an aptitude test or seek career counseling. Careerbuilder.com offers some fun and insightful career matching tests to help you begin the process.
Choosing where to study can be overwhelming, especially now that online and distance programs allow us to have our pick of schools from around the world. So how do you narrow your choices? Start by investigating the following:
- Top schools for your field of interest
- Schools in your geographic region with programs in your field of interest
- Schools with online or distance programs in your field of interest
- “Best value” schools that cover your field of interest
Try to keep an open mind during this process. Even if you’ve had your heart set on one school from the beginning, or you’re adamant about taking only online or only on-campus courses, take a look at your other options. You may be surprised with the programs you discover.
List the schools/programs that appear to be good fits for your needs (only list schools you know will be feasible for you to afford, and for you to attend either in-person or virtually). Then, consider the following for each school:
What is the school’s accreditation?
The level of a school’s accreditation is a good indicator of its quality. You can read more about what accreditation means on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. For example, CSU is regionally-accredited, which is actually the highest level of accreditation possible.
Who are the faculty in the program I’m considering?
Most reputable schools publish professors’ and instructors’ CVs on their websites. Investigate the faculty members’ credentials. Do they have field experience? What research have they published? Can you identify professors/instructors with whom you’d be interested in studying?
Is the school/program, highly-ranked?
One of the best resources to search rankings is US News.
Do I meet the minimum qualifications for the program?
Before you apply to any program, make sure you meet the qualifications. Do you have an appropriate academic background? Have you taken the required tests (e.g. the SAT or the GRE), and do you have high enough scores?
Can I transfer some of my existing credits?
If you’ve already earned some college credits, transferring them can give you a strong head start toward a degree (not to mention save you time and money). While not all programs accept transfer credits, and not all credits are transferrable, it’s worth looking into.
How much does tuition cost per semester?
This is always a practical thing to consider when narrowing choices. Do you think the program is worth its tuition costs?
When is the deadline for applications?
Can you feasibly meet it? Or are you okay with waiting until the next application cycle?
Once you’ve answered the questions for each school/program, identify which of these elements are most important to you. Which programs stand out to you? Which have the most positive qualities? When you’ve narrowed your choices to one or a few, it’s time to begin the application process!
Click here to get the free worksheet that accompanies this article, and start assessing your thoughts on going back to school.