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Choose Your Own Adventure: Find the Right Degree


There are a lot of people I’ve talked to recently that are finding it difficult to decide on a degree program though they’ve already decided to go back to school. And I must admit–I’m going through the same experience. I’ve got solid business experience and an MBA would be nice, but maybe a management degree would be better, and I’m also interested in Information Technology. Which to choose?

This conundrum is more akin to opportunity cost (giving one thing up for another). And when you’ve got a job and family responsibilities to juggle, people must carefully consider what their time is worth and which degree is worth giving up their extra time to complete. This deliberation can cause hesitation to the point that people postpone enrolling altogether. The last thing you want to do is commit money and give up precious time to enroll in a program that doesn’t excite you when you start taking classes. In fact, when this happens, often it can dissuade students from continuing their degree at all.

What’s your story?

So, while I’m unable to decide my own fate, here’s some blind advice. Don’t approach your degree selection process like you’re reading a choose-your-own-adventure book. In life, you can’t flip to the end and get the ending you want. You must set your expectations. No degree program will absolutely and perfectly fit into your ideal image. Higher education is inherently designed to challenge your expectations and expose you to new ideas.

Instead, first decide whether you’re getting your degree because:

  1. You want to develop professionally.
  2. You have a specific academic interest.

[Explore available degree options online at APU.]

Look, these choices aren’t mutually exclusive. There are folks who absolutely love what they do at their jobs. But let’s get serious. According to a 2012 online survey, only 19 percent of respondents are satisfied with their job, and we’ve all had to take our lumps to earn a better position. So the question you have to ask yourself is whether the degree you’re considering is a must need or a nice to have?

Go to your development plan

If you’re unsure, but you know you want to earn a degree to grow professionally, you have a helpful and often overlooked tool at your disposal–the development section of your performance review. Or just talk to your boss or a mentor whom you trust. Together, identify your strengths or weakness. A story should begin to unfold. For example, if you’re strong functionally, but you could use more polish leading teams, a management degree might be ideal. As much as we might not always like constructive feedback, we can empower ourselves by using it to our advantage.

It has been my experience that in the end, my academic interests generally align with my professional pursuits. There have been times when I knew I needed a boost to my professional skills, so I enrolled in a certificate program and the knowledge I gained went all along way. And although selecting a degree from a wide variety of options can sometimes be challenging, just remember that–oh wait–I see that I can also get a M.A. Capstone in History?

Here we go again.

By J. Thompson
Online Learning Tips Staff