How Do I Choose the Right Graduate Degree?

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Updated August 4, 2020

A graduate degree is an option for many careers, but for others it has become a necessity. Your chosen career is the defining factor in knowing which graduate degree you should consider. However, many options may still exist within a specific career and field of study. For example, within a master's degree program for nurses you can specialize in advanced practice, nurse researchers, nurse educators, clinical nurse leaders, nurse administrators and public health nurses. Four considerations are critical before you commit yourself to a graduate degree program.

Know yourself

Before spending tens of thousands of dollars on a graduate degree that may prove unsatisfying you should take assessments tests to narrow down your areas of interest and what you are best at. If you are currently in college, your career counseling office often offers them free. If you have been out of college for a while these tests are easy to find and complete over the Internet according to Margaret Riley Dikel of the Wall Street Journal. The cost per test range from just a few dollars to over $100. Once you are satisfied that the career you have lined up for yourself is the best available you can begin to investigate the graduate degrees that will move you forward.

Research the Requirements

Research your potential graduate degree to see if you meet the entry-level requirements. Some require your passing specialized tests. For example, if you do poorly on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) you may not get into that graduate business program you desire. Other graduate programs require certain classes or other studies at the undergraduate level. If you choose a graduate degree for which you are missing vital requirements you might have to do extra study to qualify for the program.


The right graduate program for you may still be out of reach if you cannot attend the classes. You may live in a geographically inconvenient area, or your work commitments preclude you from taking tradition classes. Choosing the broadest degree available in this case allows you to find a matching program from an untraditional source. Long distance learning is giving many graduate students the opportunity to complete a degree but the offerings are often more general in nature to appeal to the widest selection of students. You may have to give up some specificity in the degree, but overall the quality of study should be the same.


The average cost of a top-tier business school graduate degree is $200,000 according to Forbes Magazine. A quality, law school degree is $285.000. While many local universities are much less than these even the lowest cost graduate degree program runs into the many thousands. Short-term economic realities may force you into a graduate degree that is affordable over another one out of financial reach. Setting down with a financial planner and working out a long-term goal and realistic budget might allow you to stretch enough to pick your preferred degree.

Whether you are continuing your education directly from an undergraduate program or going back to school after an absence, a careful, though-through process will serve you best. Choosing the right graduate degree can be a boon to your career and to your satisfaction in life.

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