Any decision to go to graduate school or pursue an advanced degree must start with a career plan analysis. It is an important step to help define the graduate degree plans that will help you achieve your career goals. Without it, you may end up in the wrong kind of program or even make an unanticipated career change later in life when the consequences are even higher.
A starting point is to do a candid and thorough self assessment that includes:
- Defining your values as parameters for career choices
- Understanding what role makes you happy
- Whether you are interested in work that takes advantage of your skills and aptitudes
- What kind of setting you like to work in (organizationally and geographically)
- Skills you want to develop
- The practical reality of what you need to live the life you want
Chances are pretty high that you will gloss over most of the self assessment step. Most people do. Besides, who knows you better than yourself, right? I’ve done it myself. If you have discipline and can look at your own career plan objectively, from the third person, or like a project manager, you will be more confident in your plan than otherwise. Think of this as a research project like you would face in graduate school and pursue it with enthusiasm.
You probably have developed a pretty good idea of what you want to do by talking to other people in the field, experiencing internships, seeing examples of that work, school projects that let you experience it, getting advice from other career planners, etc. If you feel sufficiently researched, turn that into a few positions in organizations you would like to work for. Ideally, you then go talk to people holding that kind of position now so you can validate your plans. Realistically, most people don’t do that. With resources like LinkedIn, today you have no excuse not to reach out to people already in your future position.
The first two steps are the hardest to actually do because they require discipline to perform a self evaluation when most of the time, we jump right to the conclusion and start deciding what graduate degree we need. Ideally, you have done a self evaluation using some objective tools like the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and used the results to inform this step.
Now it is completely possible to search for a graduate degree program that will meet your “requirements”. Whether you choose a masters, professional degree like an MBA, MD or PhD is entirely the function of what skill and educational requirements are for the career goal you have already outlined. You see, the career / education equation is quite simple:
Skills and education requirements for your future career – your skills and education today = the gap you can cover in graduate school.
The bottom line is that you should be objective about your career plans and let that guide you to appropriate advanced education needs. This approach will allow you to create a good shortlist of programs that will meet your needs and eliminate lots of the distractions you face when researching graduate programs. A basic career plan analysis will serve you very well when choosing graduate degree programs.