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How to Choose the Right Academic Program for Your Goals

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You have made the important decision on where you’re going to study; now it’s time to decide which academic program is best suited for your personal and professional goals. Whether you have your career goals already mapped out or you’re not sure where to start, you have a team of academic advisors who will assist you in selecting an academic program to help you meet those goals. But there are various factors to consider when selecting your academic program, such as exploring career options and determining the type of education you’ll need for a specific career.

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Exploring Career Options Prior to Selecting Your Academic Program

First, start by exploring different career options. One way to check out future careers is to use a third-party service, such as CollegeBoard’s Career Finder or The Princeton Review’s Career Quiz. These sites offer insights on careers that align to your interests, skills and work style.

Another option is to speak with one of the university’s Career Coaches by emailing selfdiscover@apus.edu or by navigating to the Career Services page on your ecampus. To get to the Career Services page, use the pathway of Student Services > Career Services > Career Exploration.

In our Success Center, use the Career Exploration Guide to further assist your career research. Note: You must be logged into your AMU or APU ecampus to view Success Center resources.

Finding the Right Career Involves Self-Reflection As Well As Research

Remember that a career is simply not just a title or a position; it is an extension of who you are as an individual. Finding a career that is right for you will take ongoing self-reflection, but knowing the relevant information about the career you would like to have helps you make informed decisions. For more information on self-assessments or researching potential career path options, consider these resources:

Academic Programs May Offer More Than One Career Option

Some academic programs open more doors to more careers than you might think, especially with degrees in the humanities and business fields. The reason for this crossover is because not only do you learn the hard skills (technical abilities) in an academic program, but also a series of soft skills that are transferable to a number of careers.

According to Business faculty member Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt, “mastering soft skills and hard skills will provide the freedom to have the career you want.” When you’re considering a career, look at the soft skills needed to be successful in it, and then see which courses in your academic program will allow you to develop those soft skills. The soft skill courses are not central to one category in your program and may be spread throughout your Academic Plan; be sure to look through both the General Education requirements as well as your Major requirements.

Try a Work-Backwards Approach to Choosing an Academic Program

One way to approach finding the best academic program is a work-backwards approach. Start with researching career field options that interest you, and then look into the education needed to support that career field. That education could involve a specific bachelor’s degree, a combination of a bachelor’s and master’s degree, or a degree and a specific type of certification.

Anna Sommer, a Career Exploration Specialist at the university, encourages students to “conduct informational interviews in order to connect with people in the field.” Informational interviews can be a great resource, especially if you are working to make a transition into a new career field or a managerial role.

Some Careers May Require Attending Graduate School

According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, the number of students who have earned a university degree has more than doubled in the past 20 years. Nearly 27% of employers now require a master’s degree for positions that have historically been filled with people who hold undergraduate degrees. As a result, more people are going to graduate school in order to further their education before entering the workforce.

Research if the career you want requires a post-graduate degree. If so, make sure that your undergraduate degree will help you meet the pre-admission requirements for the graduate degree you intend to pursue.

Requirements vary by school and academic program. Some educational institutions require passing scores on graduate study-related standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) and the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).

On-the-Job Experience Is Also Valuable in a Future Career

The more you know about what is needed after your undergraduate degree, the better you can plan how to get to the next step in your career. Keep in mind that while having a graduate degree may look ideal on paper, having practical experience in the field such as work study, internships, and fellowships is just as valuable for particular career fields. If you are unsure of what an employer may want, connect with someone that already works in the field and review the minimum requirements for the job you would like.

Seek Mentors in Your Industry Field

Kisha LoBianco, Student and Alumni Affairs Manager, recently published an article about the university’s mentorship program. She noted, “By forming relationships as mentors and mentees, ClearPath users build deeper connections within the university community. Mentors and mentees can not only grow professionally, but they can also build skills that are useful to their work environments, such as enhanced communication and stronger leadership skills.”

Changing Your Academic Program

Most students change their academic program at least once during their college career. If you decide to change your program, check with your Academic Advisor prior to submitting the degree change form to make sure the credits you have already been awarded align with the new degree.

If you would like a visual aid for 10 factors to consider when looking at an academic program, you can view an infographic in the ecampus Success Center.

Be Sure That Your Academic Program Is Good for You, and It’s Okay to Change It If Necessary

Changing your academic program is a big decision and one that doesn’t come lightly. It is important to be in an academic program that makes you happy and helps clarify your priorities for your post-college career.

As you progress through your college career, your interests and goals may change and that’s all right. You do not have to feel as though you are stuck with an academic program if your career goals evolve.

Ultimately, the decision to change your academic program is yours, but your Academic Advising team is here to support you and provide you with information on each program to make sure you are well informed before you make your final decision.

Loren Germann-McClain is currently in her second year as a Senior Academic Advisor II with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She holds an M.A. in English – Rhetoric and Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as an M.A. in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University. Loren previously worked in human resources and public relations at a public library in Indiana, where she helped develop a project to bring mental health first aid and awareness to public and academic libraries across the state. She has earned grants to help develop coding programs for school-age children and develop free, extracurricular activities to help align with the Indiana State standards for computer science, technology, and coding. Her work has helped empower Hoosier students to be equipped with the critical and computational problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed in a digitally powered and ever-evolving world.

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