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Young Professionals Look to Graduate School for a Competitive Edge in Job Market
August 4th, 2020
By Melissa Fox

The Great Recession in 2008 left many young professionals laid-off and worried about their future. Many then looked to graduate school hoping that it would give them a leg up on the highly-competitive job market; in fact, total college enrollment grew by 3 million from 2006-2011. This historical trend has many experts believing that the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will bring a renewed interest in graduate programs among young professionals.

Graduate school is a significant life and financial decision. There are many questions potential graduate candidates need to ask themselves before they walk into the classroom (or log into for many students) on the first day of their graduate school journey.

Lenay Johnson, Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment at the C.T. Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston, recently spoke with us about what a potential candidate should look for in a graduate program and what graduate programs are looking for in candidates. 

There are a lot of different graduate school programs out there, from specialized master programs to MBAs. What are the most important questions a person considering graduate school should ask themselves when trying to decide which program is right for them? 

There are three areas that someone should consider as they evaluate programs and which type of program will be the best fit.  

1. Why am I pursuing the degree? Is it to advance my career, to transition to something new, build a new skill set, network, etc. Depending on the answer to this question, you may identify the curriculum and resources that are important for a program to provide you to meet your goals.
2. What type of experience am I looking for in my degree? Consider the type of learning and delivery methods that will work for you. One should consider if they are looking for a niche or specific degree vs. a general degree when it comes to the curriculum offered. Also, think of the interaction that you are looking for among your classmates, faculty, etc. What co-curricular items are important to you? What schedule and commitment type meets my needs? 
3. How do I fit with the mission/values of the schools and programs that I am considering? Does the culture of the school match what I am looking for? 

What can potential graduate school candidates do to make themselves academically competitive before applying to graduate schools? Are there specific experiences or qualities that grad schools are looking for in their candidates? 

Most graduate schools take a holistic approach when viewing candidates. Admissions committees are searching for strengths in all areas of the application. When it comes to the academic side, if someone is completing their undergraduate degree, finish strong. Try to complete your degree with the strongest GPA possible. For all applicants, if a standardized exam is required for admissions, providing a strong standardized exam score is an additional way to strengthen your application.

Graduate schools are looking for diversity in the backgrounds of their students. This can be based on cultural or industry-related experience. Students who are willing to share their experiences in a collaborative fashion in the classroom are critical. 

In your experience, what commonly disqualifies an applicant? 

Typically areas that disqualify students are combinations of poor academic records paired with a lack of professional experiences.

How long does it typically take to complete a graduate school program? 

Most graduate school programs can be completed in 1-2 years. 

As a recruiter, you must have been asked a lot of different questions over the years. What are a few questions you wished every potential candidate asked in their interview or during an information session? 

This is a great question, but it is personal. Students join graduate programs for different reasons, causing the students to have different needs and desires. I just hope that each student asks the right questions to help him or she identify if the program is the right fit for their personal needs.

A few of my preferred questions are: 
1.    What should I do from now until I am a student to prepare myself for Grad School?
2.    What type of culture do you see about Bauer and how does the culture help advance the students?
3.    Who should I connect with to ensure that my registration, courses and financing are all in order?

The pandemic has changed the way we interact with people, both professionally and personally. What advice do you have for a candidate preparing for a virtual information session or interview? 

1.    Please do a tech check first and make sure that your technology is working correctly and that you are in a space that is conducive to the type of event that you will be joining. 
2.    Be sure that you are free of distractions. 
3.    Have a list of questions ready for typing or speaking, depending on the format of the event. Be prepared for both. 

What advice can you give to those that are looking to balance both graduate school and a full-time job? 

Please keep in mind that work and life are not going to come to a halt because you have started graduate school. Be sure to cushion in time for the unexpected. However, it is more of an integrating act. Figure out how to integrate life, work, school and everything else that is important to you. You will have to be creative with your schedule and plan ahead. You will begin to learn more about yourself and the time you spend on various activities throughout the day.

However, it is important to keep in mind that you are not in this alone. You have the support of Bauer (or your school of choice), and hopefully, your employer is accommodating. It is vital to communicate your needs as pro-actively as possible when dealing with school, your work and your family. 

A lot of young professionals relocate to go to graduate school. What makes Houston the perfect city for a young professional looking to go to graduate school? 

There are so many reasons that Houston is great for someone relocating for graduate school. First, Houston has a wide variety of industries and companies represented within the city. It is a great place to network and explore! Houston is the 4th largest city in the nation, the energy capital of the world, home to the world’s largest Medical Center and the 5th most diverse city in the country. All of this screams opportunity. 

Houston also has excellent food and scenery. You can try almost any type of food that you would imagine and more within the city. The city is also full of social, professional and entertainment options for you to select. This can be great when you are looking for things to do over the weekend or professional organizations that will help you to grow and develop within your career.  

Learn more about higher education in Houston and what it is like to live in region

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