So you’ve gotten into the graduate program of your choice. Now you’re ready to embark on a path that should open doors to the professional future of your dreams. But first, you may need to choose the right degree concentration. Some students find the process bewildering, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips on how to select a concentration that will connect your degree to your career aspirations.
How to Pick a Degree Concentration
Talk to the Experts
A conversation with your designated advisor is a good first step that can help you narrow down your options. Your advisor can act as a sounding board as you run through the pros and cons of each possibility. He or she can also provide you—based on past experiences with other advisees—concrete examples of the decisions, rationale, and career outcomes of students with academic profiles and career interests similar to your own.
Faculty members represent another invaluable resource. Since many Northeastern instructors are practitioners in their fields, they have cutting-edge knowledge of job trends in the industries your degree and concentration are designed to prepare you for. Talking to an instructor who has had you in class will also give you the benefit of feedback from someone who has had the chance to evaluate your particular skills and strengths and thus may offer suggestions as to why one concentration may be better suited than another.
Do Your Homework
Choosing a concentration—like selecting a program, major, or job search strategy—requires research and preparation on your end. The best way to gain clarity on what the various concentrations available to you are, and what kinds of opportunities they can create, is to check out the course descriptions for each of the classes required in a given concentration.
These descriptions often contain links to course syllabi. Download the syllabi and peruse them carefully to understand what the learning objectives are for the courses in question. Formulate an understanding of what body of theoretical knowledge and what set of practical skills you will walk away with if you successfully complete a particular concentration. Ask yourself if what you will be learning in that concentration complements your academic strengths, as well as your potential career interests.
Align Academic and Professional Interests
Once you’ve determined what kinds of skills a particular concentration will equip you with, expand your research to find out how the demand for that skillset is currently playing out in the real world. There are various online tools and resources, such as LinkedIn and Idealist, available that can help you search job descriptions in ways that will help you understand the kinds of careers people with those skills tend to enter.
Another good strategy is to attend career fairs. Networking with prospective employers will give you insights straight from the source as to what kinds of coursework, knowledge, and training they are seeking in the people they hope to hire. Listening to guest speakers, participating in any alumni events arranged by your college, and getting involved in any professional associations affiliated with fields tied to your program of study can also yield helpful indicators.
Let Personal Experience Guide You
Let the past help you gravitate toward a concentration that will play to your best strengths and point you in a viable professional direction. Reflect carefully upon prior academic successes and satisfying previous professional experiences. Which aspects of those experiences appealed to you? Why?
Consider also those academic and employment endeavors that you enjoyed less. If you hated the computer science classes you took as an undergraduate, you probably want to steer clear of a concentration in Information Security Technology. If writing has always been a strong suit for you, perhaps a concentration in Organizational Communication would represent a perfect area of focus within your degree.
If, after examining all of your options, you remain unsure of which concentration to choose, consider either opting out of a concentration altogether or designing a custom concentration built out of electives. If you are passionate and focused, you will succeed regardless of whether a generalist approach or a specific area of focus represents the best path for you.