Career Planning: Three Unique Graduate Degree Programs That Teach Concrete & Applicable Skills

Career planning & education go hand in hand. It’s important to pursue a graduate degree that positions you to pursue your dream job; otherwise, you may end up wasting your time and money. Many people advise students against pursuing master’s programs in liberal arts fields, stating that the return on investment can be quite low.

Rather than listening to generalizations, it is important to take a step back and ask introspective questions about how your graduate school plans fit into your career planning and financial planning objectives. If you receive a scholarship or fellowship, and you want to become a high school art teacher, then a master’s degree in art history may be well worth your time. If your career planning trajectory involves a lifetime in the nonprofit field, then you probably want to avoid spending $100K or more on an MBA. That kind of extreme debt load could cause you hardship until you’re ready to retire – a pretty scary fact that many young people fail to acknowledge.
While broad-scope programs like MBAs and law degrees are great options for many people, these degrees are not for everyone. In too many situations, students pursue these programs without concrete career planning objectives. Yes, MBAs and law degrees have high income potential, but a big paycheck won’t necessarily make you happy. Plus, with a little elbow-grease and creative thinking, you may be able to take home as much money, happiness, or both that you would have earned with an MBA or JD.

Here are three unique degree programs that could teach you some very concrete, industry-applicable skills. Because they are out-of-the-ordinary, they may help you stand out from the crowd. When career planning, keep programs like these in the forefronts of your minds.

M.A., Demography & Social Analysis at the University of California, Irvine: This is a one-year program that equips students with the quantitative skills to become demographers. Students receive intensive training in statistics and geographic information systems, learning programs such as Stata, SPSS, and ArcGIS. The program requires a year-long master’s thesis so that students can apply their new skills to real world situations. With a degree like this, students develop the skills necessary to pursue careers in market research, data analysis, consulting, marketing, and government. The program leaves room open for electives, so it’s possible for students to tailor courses to their career planning objectives. This degree also prepares students for PhD programs in sociology, criminology, and demography.

A master’s degree in public administration (MPA) allows students to pursue a number of tracks including planning, management, and fiscal analysis. With this degree, students learn the skills necessary for leadership in local government at the local, state, and federal levels. Graduates from this type of degree program are also well-prepared for consulting careers in the private sector.

A master’s degree in public health (MPH) prepares students for careers in the healthcare field. Many people are quick to assume that MPH-holders are limited to the nonprofit sector, working in free clinic settings. In actuality, MPH-holders can work in a number of settings including think thanks, research facilities, and consulting firms. In many programs, MPH students can tailor their degrees to their strengths—whether they are good with numbers or better with mass communications.

No matter what you do, it’s important to master a skill or field and specialize in a topic that you enjoy. Knowing a little about everything is good, but it’s even better if you know a lot about something in particular. In today’s economy, it’s important to choose a degree that helps you develop a specialty.

Photo Credit: Seir + Seir