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Not everything in life is smooth sailing. There may be one or more reasons that drive people and professionals to seek new pastures and commit to a career change. It can be something pragmatic, like looking for better pay and work environment, or something more personal, like wanting to work in roles and fields that are more meaningful and fulfilling.
A career change is rarely a straightforward undertaking. Professionals looking to enter a new field and launch a new career may be faced with several bars to entry, like getting a master’s degree in order to qualify, for example.
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As professionals, your education days may be long behind you, so we’ve put together a brief list of major steps usually taken in terms of going for a career change, specifically in terms of pursuing a new graduate degree.
Questions to Consider Before Going for a Career Change
Many people looking at making a career change may have already had their minds up as to the whys and hows; after all, it isn’t a decision taken lightly, and the change itself can take a long time to complete, itself being a major investment.
Before jumping in, however, it’s worth going back on some major questions to consider regarding career change. Answering these helps solidify one’s decision further or helps clarify a number of important aspects of the decision. Let’s take a look at these points.
Do you really need to change careers?
Half of the time, a person is being hindered by their current career and its various aspects. Maybe the culture in the field is stifling, the nature of the work may lead to ennui or limiting personal development, or some other reason.
Other times, a person may do well to do some looking inward first. Maybe they need a change of perspective or a shift in their outlook and mindset, and the huge investment in time and effort in a career change may not be the most necessary step at the time.
There isn’t a simple or universal way to answer this question as this is deeply personal, but it is the first point that needs to be established and a very important question to settle, given the great importance of this decision.
Is it worth changing to a particular career path?
Changing a career means there is a certain set of benefits to be gained in making the change. In practical terms, this may mean better pay or a potentially more supportive work environment. This could mean the nature of the work is more personally fulfilling, or is more meaningful, or has a bigger social impact. The benefits do not necessarily have to be quantifiable; rather, it’s more of the case that they are tangible.
How will a career change impact those around you?
This point relates to more immediate and practical aspects of an impending career change and, like the other previous points for consideration, does not necessarily have a simple answer.
Opting for a career change is driven first and foremost by a set of perceived benefits, but it involves a set of risks. This is especially important for those who have dependents, such as family, since they will also feel the impact if things don’t work out or are off to a slow start.
In other practical terms, changing a career can also involve moving to a new city. For those who have a family to raise, this can entail a further set of practical considerations such as finding a new house, moving the kids to a new school and getting them adjusted to new environments, getting used to a new community and a potentially different culture, the list goes on.
Are you mentally prepared for any potential outcomes of an impending career change?
As said previously, a career change involves a certain amount of risk, as you have to essentially face a future with a lot of uncertainty and unknowns. This also requires you to be prepared to face potential failure in order to keep the right attitude towards it and eventually be able to keep moving forward should things not work out.
A career change is, in many ways, a risk-versus-rewards calculation and a successful career change requires individuals to always be on top of their mental capacity to not only handle failure with grace but also to be able to make the most of any successes and gains successfully.
Does the career change in mind involve moving to an entirely new field/discipline or one that’s close enough to your current one?
This point adds another level of complexity to the career change. Moving into a related field means one retains a certain level of familiarity with certain processes, terms, technology, and practices, and would make the career change somehow easier.
Moving into an entirely new field, meanwhile, means having to take on added training and education, and in terms of professions, this invariably involves taking on a new graduate degree, at the very least.
Is the target field/discipline hard to enter and get established in?
While some fields are projected to experience stagnation or negative growth over the next decade (especially by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), some fields are expected to experience higher-than-average growth.
Stagnation or a lack of growth in the field can mean that there is a general lack of interest in the field by many, or worse, a particular field may also be losing relevance in the country for one reason or another. In practical terms, this may prove to be a dead-end career move. This isn’t necessarily the case, as there may still be a need for practitioners or professionals, but there aren’t enough people entering the field.
On the other hand, a high-growth field generally signals a high demand and lots of room for future growth in the industry, but this may also signal high competition, requiring those who enter the field to be fully prepared with skills and credentials to boot. For career changers, this can be a blessing or a liability, depending on one’s existing skillset & experience, as well as how close the target field is to one’s current profession.
Will your existing professional network still be relevant to your new career in mind?
You will invariably have built up your network of friends and contacts over the years as you progress through your education and eventually through your current career. It is also important to consider your current network of contacts, partners and friends for a number of reasons.
- First, they can serve as an invaluable source of guidance and support as you find your way through your forthcoming career change.
- Second, someone from your current network may be of tangible help for your new career, as they may already be working in the same field or a closely related one.
It may also be that throughout your career change, you may have to build up your network of partners and contacts in a related field, and this can present another equally rewarding dimension to the career change since you can potentially get exposed to fresh perspectives in the process. In the end, a career change involves not only looking forward to potentially new partnerships but also looking at what one already has and how this can be helpful.
If the career change involves enrolling in a new graduate degree, is it welcoming to a wide range of backgrounds?
As we progress through the educational system, the level of advanced knowledge typically increases along with the level of specialization the closer we get to the post-graduate/terminal degrees.
By nature of their main content, master’s degrees in many fields have a high bar of entry, requiring students to have at least a mastery of many fundamental aspects of the field. Some examples are master’s degrees from the fields of computer science, finance, accounting, and the health sciences.
Some master’s degrees, meanwhile, are designed from the outset to be welcoming to as wide a range of disciplines as possible, a classic example being the typical Master of Business Administration degree.
Will the new career/field require licensure for professionals and practitioners?
Licensure ensures that practitioners are held to a set of high standards for a particular field, as this requires them to demonstrate thorough mastery of all aspects of their field. This is a particularly important point to consider for you as a career changer since earning licensure requires you not only to pass the exam but also to possess the necessary credentials, e.g., an appropriate Master’s degree.
Does the target field/discipline have a wide range of related careers or roles within it, or does it have a wide range of related sub-disciplines?
This point has more to do with increasing your options in terms of the range of roles you can explore in a new field. Some fields are highly specialized compared to others. For example, the field of education is not only limited to teaching roles; those looking to enter the field can take on leadership and administrative roles, work on policy or curriculum development, and even in theoretical aspects related to learning and cognition in children or adult learners.
Another example is working in environmental science, where, depending on your expertise, you can work as scientists, as policymakers, in government/regulatory agencies, or in community engagement.
Entering a field with a wide range of related roles means you get backups if things don’t go according to plan while staying within the field or discipline you wish to enter.
Step By Step Guide for Your Master’s Application
When you decide to attend graduate school to pursue your dream career, you may be unsure of how to get started. The process can be quite complex, especially if you have no idea of what to do in the first place.
Thankfully, the stressful process can be broken down into easy-to-follow steps. While the process may differ from university to university, there are general steps that you can follow to help you every step of the way.
Decide on the perfect master’s program.
Since you have decided to change careers, you will need to first think about the best graduate program that will fit around your professional goals. After all, pursuing a graduate program to help you move into a different field is a huge investment that requires time, effort, and financial resources. You have to be sure about your master’s degree choice before you can go through the next steps in the application process. Perhaps you can try asking yourself the following questions:
- What are your career goals? What are your whys?
- Do you have a timeframe for your pursuit of a graduate degree?
- What are your skills and experiences?
- How much are you willing to spend on your master’s degree?
- How are you going to learn – on-campus or online learning?
You may also want to determine the quality of a good graduate program, including the faculty and instructors. It is also ideal to discover whether you have access to resources to help you complete your degree without any impediments.
Find potential universities that offer the degree.
Once you have chosen the master’s degree for your planned career shift, you can start doing thorough research on the possible universities where the program of your choice is on offer. Deciding on a university you would like to attend can be challenging. Many factors can influence this important decision. This includes the following:
- Size of the campus
- Available classes, majors, or specializations
- Distance learning
- Accommodation and transportation options
- Learning environment
- Reputation of the university and graduate school
- Available graduate student resources
- Difficulty of admission
Keep an open mind when it comes to choosing a university. You may want to put the schools you have listed into categories. It can be based on your chances of admission, as you need to make sure you have a fighting chance to get admitted for your program choice. Another way is to consult graduate students who attend the university, as they have a wealth of insights into what it feels like to attend a graduate program there.
Determine the right time to apply.
Timing is everything. Choosing your graduate degree and applying for it takes careful consideration and requires enough motivation. It is often recommended that you give ample time when it comes to applying for your dream degree and start the career shift you have always wanted. This ensures you have enough timeframe to get all things done before the start of the semester.
Since most graduate programs start in the fall semester, the deadline for graduate school applications often falls from December to January. This is not true for all universities, as some may have early deadline applications. There are also a lot of graduate schools that do not set a deadline for processing applications for graduate admission, although international applicants may still need to submit requirements for admission four months before the start of the semester.
To be sure, applicants must contact the individual graduate program to ascertain application deadlines. As a rule of thumb, however, you will need to submit admission requirements as early as possible. Giving yourself a long timeframe before the start of the semester will ensure you will be able to meet all the needed requirements on time.
Check the graduate program’s admission requirements.
While the requirements will often differ from university to university, there are common admission requirements shared across many graduate programs. Some of the general requirements include the following:
- An undergraduate degree from a related field with a specific minimum GPA
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
- GRE or GMAT scores (if required)
- Research proposal (if required)
- Official transcript
- Work experience or updated resume
It is, however, advisable for you to check with the specific program to make sure you have the correct list of admission requirements. Be sure you have all the documents ready for the actual application process.
Prepare the necessary documents for the application process.
Since you have an idea of the common admission requirements, it is time for you to prepare them ahead of time. You may refer to the following to help you through this step:
- Ask for references. If the program requires you to provide letters of recommendation, you will be able to prepare this ahead of time. You can contact them in advance by sending them an email asking for permission to put their names down as your reference. Ideally, your reference should be someone who can vouch for your academic capabilities and work ethic.
- Show proof of academic qualifications. Your undergraduate degree certificate and official transcripts are often required. For international students whose first language is not English, an English language test score might be needed as well.
- Write a personal statement. As an important part of a master’s degree application, a personal statement will be able to highlight your skills, knowledge, and relevant experience that will help admission officers gauge your readiness and fit for a particular graduate program.
Begin applying to a graduate program.
Many universities that offer a master’s degree often expect students to lodge an online application through their website. It is only a matter of visiting the university website and checking how you can go about the application process. You may find that some will require an application fee, which is usually non-refundable, so it is important to keep this in mind before you begin the process.
The application is often done directly to your prospective university. In cases where the online portal is not available, you may need to print off the application form and send it with the relevant documents set by the graduate program.
There are no limits to the applications you can send out. However, time constraints might hinder you, so you might not be able to cover all the schools on your list. The trick here is to narrow down your list of universities and focus your energy, time, and resources on those that are most relevant to your career goals.
Explore funding opportunities.
A master’s degree is not cheap. If you want to make sure you will be able to afford your advanced degree, you should also start exploring financial aid opportunities.
While a student loan can be quite accessible to many accredited universities, it is still wiser to look for funding opportunities that will not give you added debt upon graduation. You will want to start your new career without the extra baggage of paying off a student loan.
You may start by checking the available financial aid options at a potential university. Think of scholarships and grants. Some graduate programs offer specific scholarships and grants to qualified students. This option will ensure you don’t have to incur debt as you pursue a graduate degree. There may also be the same option from professional organizations outside of the school.
6 Traits of Successful Master’s Degree Students
If you are seriously considering pursuing a master’s degree, you have to make sure you are prepared for the rigorous program requirements. After all, you will need to juggle your personal, academic, and professional responsibilities. Knowing if you are a good fit for the program of your choice is a good step towards the right decision.
This process involves looking into the essential traits that a graduate student should have.
Are you ready to prioritize your education? You will need dedication to approach the program requirements with discipline and determination.
As a graduate student, you must be flexible. This means being able to work on unexpected opportunities or not getting discouraged during failures. You mustn’t give up easily. Instead, you should be flexible enough to look for alternative ways to work things out.
3. Think Long Term
Since pursuing a different career can pose risks, you must mull over the long-term effects. This includes making sure that your choice of a master’s degree helps you meet your long-term goals.
Your sole motivation to earn a master’s degree should not only be confined to the possibility of joining a competitive field and earning a high salary. It is important that you love learning and gaining new skills.
5. Critical Thinking
A graduate program is not a walk in the park. You need to be proactive in wanting to solve complex problems and coming up with solutions. A lot of the course requirements will need you to employ the power of critical thinking.
6. Setting Priorities
There are numerous and rigorous requirements for most graduate programs. You might find yourself overwhelmed by your coursework. You can avoid this by being able to set your priorities straight. This involves organizing your tasks according to priority and even multi-tasking when needed.
The prospect of shifting to a different career path can be quite daunting and exciting at the same time. It can make or break your future. If you focus on the positive, however, you will think of new and fulfilling opportunities that may come your way should you take a step toward a career change. This takes courage and determination!
The primary consideration to be successful in this decision is to pursue a graduate degree that will improve your prospects, equip you with the necessary skills for your new career path, and boost your earning potential. You must choose a graduate program that aligns with your personal interests and career goals.