Now that you have your mindset in order from part one and you have decided to undertake the exciting task of pursuing a masters or doctorate with only your own funding, it is time to make some important choices. The first decision you will have is what type of program you want to pursue. This is often decided for you based on your qualifications and your field of experience, but if you are looking to switch careers, a degree in a different field may be a good way to do so. Concerning the type of program to pursue, I only offer two pieces of advice. First, recognize that the degree you want may have a required path and that you may need to start at the beginning of it, i.e. if you want a doctorate in engineering, but only have a bachelor degree in history you may need to pursue a different bachelors or masters first. Second, take the path you truly want to. Do not settle, AT ALL!
The parts of the process I can offer advice on are picking the right program and picking an appropriate job. The most important aspect is picking the right school, since not everyone has the luxury of picking his or her job. The key to picking the right school includes program, flexibility, and reputation, in that order. Picking a school that has your program seems obvious since the alternative would be pointless. Next, make sure the program can work with your schedule. While working full-time I have attended two different graduate degree programs (a completed MBA and a JD that is in progress) and the significant flexibility of the MBA made it far easier to complete than the JD has been. There are levels of flexibility, but the more flexible the better. It is likely that at this point, you will have narrowed down your options to less than ten schools (by location, flexibility, program, etc.) and you should apply to all of them. In the event that you have way more than ten options left, apply to the best ten to twelve schools. Even if chances are slim that you get into one of those schools, the more schools you apply to the better your chances are of at least one of the schools accepting you. US News is a great source for school rankings in addition to school specialties.
The final portion of part two is choosing your job. The first criteria you are looking for in a job is far from demanding. The first criteria is that you find a type of employment of any kind. Unfortunately, this is not so easy, but it needs to be done. If you have the luxury of being picky when it comes to your employment, you should look these characteristics in your future job. The first requirement is pay. The job needs to make enough money to cover your expenses and if you are incredibly lucky, it will cover your school expenses. The next requirement is a set schedule. Jobs with variable schedules are far more difficult to maintain while going to graduate school, not impossible, but far more difficult. Finally, if you can, choose a job in the same line of business as the degree you are pursuing.
Now that you know what programs and jobs to be looking for, start your research and next week we will discuss applications, the FAFSA, and other financing.