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How to choose a degree program that’s right for you

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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Devin Andrews, VP of Admissions and Evaluations

Reviewed by Devin Andrews, VP of Admissions and Evaluation 

There are many college degree programs out there. So, how do you find the right one?

The pressure can be intense, and things only get more stressful if you’re looking to change careers or go back to school later in life. After all, you’ve got limited time, money and energy. So, how do you choose?

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The “right program for you” probably stands at the intersection of what you enjoy and where you excel. Many other factors — such as previous experience, career goals, motivation, financial considerations and projected growth in the field — come into play too. It can get overwhelming. In fact, for a would-be student who is working, parenting and juggling the many demands of life, these variables can lead to, well, analysis paralysis.

Adam Dawson, director of enrollment for University of Phoenix, helps break down this big decision into smaller parts. Read on to discover how to put it all together and choose a degree program that’s right for you.

What field interests you?

First and foremost, Dawson recommends being honest with yourself about what you enjoy. Start by imagining a job you would be excited about going to every day. After all, your degree will have some impact on which jobs will be open to you.

Think about it: If you’re not highly interested in the digital world, but you pursue a degree in cybersecurity because of the salary potential and projected job growth, then persisting in your coursework — much less an IT career — may get challenging.

Meanwhile, if you have dreamed of working in an altruistic professional role, such as those available in education, social work or nursing — but life or family circumstances took priority until you could go to school — now may be the time to fulfill your lifelong dream.

Research confirms that when students are interested in an academic topic, they are more likely to attend class, be attentive, participate, take more courses and perform well.

So, what interests you? Do you like numbers? If so, accounting might be for you. Would you rather work with machines than people? IT could be “it” for you.

If you need specialized help within a general interest, Dawson recommends connecting with an enrollment representative. For example, if you’re at a cross-section of two fields or you’re not sure how to choose between two similar degrees, an enrollment representative can help you sort your options — or even discover a pathway you didn’t know existed.

Let’s say, for instance, you’re interested in the business side of healthcare. University of Phoenix offers a combined Master of Health Administration/Master of Business Administration. Similarly, if you’ve dreamed of being in the classroom but can’t decide between elementary education and secondary education, an enrollment rep can talk through the differences.

What motivates you?

Once you’ve got a handle on what interests you, it’s time to figure out what motivates you. Dawson recommends asking yourself the following questions before you start a degree program:

  • What are my educational and career goals?
  • Can this degree help me be more marketable?
  • Why is now the right time to enroll?
  • Am I willing to devote two to three hours a day to coursework?
  • Do I know how I’m going to pay for school?
  • Is this school a good fit for me?
  • Am I a good fit for this school?
Adam Dawson

Adam Dawson
Director of enrollment

“Students really must ask themselves this question: ‘Is school a good fit at this time in my life?’ The reasons for wanting to go to school have to outweigh simply being interested in the idea of getting a degree or going to school only because your employer will help pay for it. School is hard. It costs money. It takes time,” Dawson says. “Students should take all these answers into account to help determine the best path and timeline for them.”

How to narrow it down

If all signs point north and you feel like you’re enrolling in school at the right time, chances are you’ve at least identified a general field for your degree, such as business or behavioral health. “This part is usually fairly easy to do. [The field of] education is really different from criminal justice,” Dawson says.

To find the right degree program in your chosen field, he recommends looking carefully at these criteria:

Oh, and after you’ve explored those questions? Remember to exhale. Have a little joy in the journey. No decision is permanent.

“You can [often] change your program,” Dawson says. “At University of Phoenix, if you’re less than two years into your degree, it’s fairly seamless to make a change.”

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Choose your school wisely

If you truly are undecided about a specific program, but you know that now is the right time and you want to get started with general education classes, select a school that offers ready access to academic counseling.

For example, through voice, text, email and chat support, University of Phoenix academic counselors (ACs) are available for students when and how they’re needed. (And they did a good job: UOPX ACs earned a 5-star rating from 87% of students based on 34,156 survey responses in 2023.)

In today’s competitive, skills-driven employment landscape, it’s also important to select a school that has the resources to support you during your college journey.

At University of Phoenix, the Career Navigator™ tool helps active students explore careers, identify career goals, assess (and digitally post/share) their skills progress, and browse active job openings based on their program, location and job-aligned skills. And UOPX’s Career Services for Life™ commitment gives students and graduates access to free career coaching, help with resumés and cover letters, interview prep, and other services.

This ecosystem of career services can help you leverage your chosen degree program to the fullest — both by acquiring in-demand skills as you progress through your program, and by keeping you connected to career resources from the moment you enroll until the moment you retire.

In the end, choosing your degree program is an important part of the educational pie. But it’s just one piece of the pie! Make sure you have examined your motives, financial readiness and timing. And make sure the school you select is set up to support you as your progress toward your goals.

Headshot of Laurie Davies

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A journalist-turned-marketer, Laurie Davies has been writing since her high school advanced composition teacher told her she broke too many rules. She has worked with University of Phoenix since 2017, and currently splits her time between blogging and serving as lead writer on the University’s Academic Annual Report. Previously, she has written marketing content for MADD, Kaiser Permanente, Massage Envy, UPS, and other national brands. She lives in the Phoenix area with her husband and son, who is the best story she’s ever written. 

 

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