An accelerated masters degree program, as with any graduate program, requires inventiveness and self-discipline, along with a clear idea of goals and a heaping dose of realism.
As more people who have already obtained their undergraduate degree look at their job prospects and ponder a return to school for a master’s degree, more colleges are making accelerated masters degrees available with a wide variety of online courses for a diverse array of disciplines.
Accelerated Masters Programs and Concentrations
When you’re trying to decide which way to go, think about how your degree could apply to your current job, or if you want to take a completely different career path into something that gives you more satisfaction.
A recently published study from Georgetown University compared the starting salaries for various majors, and found that the boost from obtaining a postgraduate degree could vary by specialty from a scarcely noticeable three percent in Studio Arts to an atmospheric 190 percent in medical fields.
Popular master’s degree choices include:
- Information Technology
- Business Administration
- Computer Science
- Health Administration
- Public Administration
- Criminal Justice
Applying to a Master’s Degree Program
Different programs will have different prerequisites, and you’ll need to provide this information to the university before you’re admitted. In general, the minimum requirements for admission to any master’s program are the following:
- An official transcript from an accredited U.S. institution (or the equivalent from a foreign institution) where baccalaureate was completed. Please see the admitting school’s website to determine whether or not they accept the accreditation of your institution.
- A minimum GPA (Grade Point Average) of 2.0 to 3.0 on the four-point scale, depending on the school’s admission policies, or some schools will allow acceptable scores on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) tests.
- GRE and GMAT exams are often waived when certain minimum GPA requirements are met. This is a welcome relief to many who loathe standardized testing (myself included).
- The ability to speak, read, and write in English if the undergraduate degree was obtained from a foreign institution where the primary language of instruction was not English, or an acceptable score on TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and be a citizen or legal resident of the United States.
- Some schools may require that students seeking credit for experience in the workforce submit a current resume, be employed for at least five years of professional experience, and have letters of recommendation.
- Schools may also bar applicants from the program if they have been expelled by another institution.
Looking Before You Leap
Everyone remembers to look both ways before they cross the street, and to renew the registration on their car. There are just common sense steps that you take to protect yourself every day, ones that for the most part you never even think about.
So, when you’re looking for an accelerated masters degree program, why would you think about accreditation? Well, look at it this way. If someone came up to you and told you a piece of paper with the words “five dollars” printed on it was as good as the five dollar bill in your wallet, what would you say? Chances are, you would be pretty skeptical. So, when you are looking for a school, why would you take courses from a place that wasn’t accredited? Those credits you earned for your course work and the money you invested in your education would be worthless if you tried to transfer them to another institution. You might as well try handing them a paper with the words “course hours” on it.
Checking accreditation is important, and according to U.S. News, it’s something that a lot of students don’t do. Some institutions are misleadingly named, or look at first like legitimate schools, but unless you find accreditation information on their site – most reputable schools do post it – you’re going to have to go looking for it. Both the Department of Education and the non-governmental Council for Higher Education Accreditation can help you, with a lists of accredited institutions and programs recognized by the federal government and CHEA.
Speeding Things Up for Undergraduate Students
Did you know that at certain schools, you don’t even need to have your cap and gown before starting your master’s degree? Frequently, your local university will allow junior and senior year students to “jump start” their postgraduate education before having their baccalaureate degree formally conferred. Even better, the coursework in the accelerated masters degree program can count toward course hours required for your bachelor’s.
School requirements for course hours can vary, but such programs are often referred to as “4+1” or “five year programs”, meaning that the four years for the average undergraduate degree are followed by a single year of graduate school instead of the traditional two or even three that might be required otherwise.
If you are an undergraduate student receiving financial aid such as a federal Pell grant or a Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, these are not offered to graduate students, so pursuing an accelerated masters degree with these grants under your belt can help you out financially. And finally, if you are still in the middle of your undergraduate studies, this could give you a one or two year head start over your peers when entering the workforce.
Financing Your Education
With student loans in the news, the last thing you want to do is to end up saddled with a large amount of debt that could negate the financial advantages of a graduate degree. All the time and effort you put into obtaining an accelerated masters degree could be wiped out by huge payments and accruing interest over the principal of the loan.
Start by completing your FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid – online and getting in touch with the Financial Aid office at your school. Very often there are grants and scholarships either institutionally or donor funded that do not have to be repaid, or work/study programs at the school.
Private student loans should be closely scrutinized, and the terms should be discussed with someone who’s not with the institution originating the loan, so you can make sure you understand everything and that it agrees with the loan package that you were sold. Finally, the loans for graduate students are called Stafford Loans, and are either subsidized or unsubsidized.
The Benefits of Online Classes
Time is money, and nowadays it seems as if none of us have enough of either. With so many institutions offering online coursework, the stigma of “distance learning” is vanishing. Top-name accredited universities and colleges offer online access to accelerated masters degree programs, and the idea of online learning as the bastion of so-called diploma mills is falling, too. Some students even take online courses when they are on campus. Why? Because it saves time, and when they’re in one course in the morning, they can go back to their dorm in the afternoon and take another course, that due to scheduling, they might not have been able to attend.
Even after graduating, establishing a career path, starting a family, or changing career tracks after a job loss, an accelerated masters degree program can keep you climbing the ladder. The advantages to returning students who have been out in the working world and can’t find the time or money to return to a traditional, campus-based education are many.
You’re at work, or taking another class, or caring for a family member, but you can go to your computer and in a quiet hour or two attend your lecture, network with your work group, take tests, hand in and receive your assignments. All this can be done from the comfort of home, or another convenient location.
Other benefits include saving money versus attending courses on campus, no exhausting commute times or expenses, flexible class schedules, top instructors and professors, and the ability to network with other online students.
Classes can be taken back-to-back, or over a more extended schedule, allowing you to learn at your own pace whether you’re going start-to-finish in sixteen months or moving at a slower pace dictated by the needs of yourself and your family.
There’s also the confidence that comes from taking more advanced courses, of going further in your field instead of just taking it as it comes. An accelerated masters degree is earned by hard work and effort, and is something to be proud of. As you advance in your studies, you’ll feel it, too, and your employer will see that increased confidence and respond to it. Taking control of your life and finding satisfaction in your career direction starts with the desire to change, so take the first step today.