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Graduate School: Where do I start?

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Recently, a reader indicated that she has graduated with a Liberal Studies major and a Multiple Subject Credential that allows her to teach Kindergarten to 8th Grade. She is having "great doubts" about whether she wants to pursue elementary school teaching and wonders what other career options she might pursue. She adds, "I am thinking of continuing my education and receiving my Master's Degree, but I am confused as to what field of education fits me best. If you could help by guiding me towards different routes and directions to go to for help, it would be greatly appreciated."

There are two questions to consider in this situation: a) graduate school options, and b) education-related career options. I'll address graduate school options in this blog post and outline career areas outside of traditional classroom teaching in a posting next week.

Start with your strengths and interests. What did you learn about yourself from your student teaching? What activities are energizing and gratifying for you? Are you interested in adding another certification, pursuing administration, counseling students, etc.? This step is important to sort out before you start factoring in other variables in the decision-making process. For more assistance with your "self-inventory," contact your university career center.

During a challenging job market, it is particularly helpful to consider the marketability of an advanced degree. As you have experienced, obtaining a job teaching children in grades K-8 is challenging. What other certifications are in demand? Again, your university career center can assist you with this data; specifically, the American Association for Employment in Education publishes a helpful report on Supply and Demand. According to the current AAEE report, here are some of the teacher certification areas with the greatest demand: special education (hearing impaired, visually impaired, severe/profound disabilities, emotional/behavioral disabilities), physics, chemistry, math, languages (bilingual education, ESL/ELL, Spanish, Chinese, Greek, Latin, and Japanese), earth/physical science, and biology. Additionally, educational support services need the following candidates: audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, reading diagnostician, school nursing, school psychology and speech pathology. Based on your personal strengths and interests, it may be helpful to factor in teaching areas that are in demand.

After identifying some programs of study, start researching them through search engines like www.gradschools.com or www.petersons.com. As you begin to review information on individual programs, you'll start to develop other criteria to consider: Do you want a program that is primarily theoretical, experiential, research-oriented, or a combination? If experiential education is important to you, look for internship courses and hands-on applications. What do graduates from the program pursue and are career services available to graduate students? Is there a helpful network of alumni to assist you with career-related information and contacts?

Other factors to consider as you compare graduate programs include accessibility. Do you want an online program, "ground teaching" or a hybrid? Obviously, if you are seeking online programs you will have more options to consider. (If you pursue a certification program, note that the certificate will be from the state where the online program is housed and "registered.")

Other criteria to consider include: cost, financial aid options (explore graduate assistantships and fellowships), professional interests of faculty, diversity of students, and other issues that are important to you! Your priority list will likely be unique to your particular needs. As you become more familiar with specific programs, your personal needs will become clearer. Don't hesitate to contact your university career center for assistance with all aspects of the grad school decision-making process.

Next week we'll address the other half of your question: What are some career options outside of traditional classroom teaching?

--Deborah Snyder
Associate Dir., Ed. Career Services
Grove City College

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