If the standard master's degree offerings don't appeal to you, this doesn't mean you have to give up on graduate school. A master's degree can boost your earning power, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that master's recipients earn about $12,000 more than those who only have a bachelor's degree. Customizing your master's program can help you get exactly the training you want.
Choosing a School
Not all schools will allow students to customize a master's program, so check on school policies before you apply. Schools such as Burlington College, Indiana University Southeast and Metropolitan State University of Denver all offer customization options. You'll also want to consider the faculty available at your school. If you're interested in a very specific niche in philosophy, for example, choose a school with a professor specializing in this niche. This ensures that you'll get the instruction and guidance you need.
Choosing a Program
Although you'll be customizing your own degree, you'll still have to pick the type of degree you want and the department in which you'll work. If you're interested in customizing a degree to learn how to educate future business leaders, for example, you might do coursework in the education and business departments of your school. Check to ensure that both departments have strong faculty and can offer the kinds of courses you want; although you can customize your degree, it's unlikely that you'll be able to design a new course.
No two programs are alike, particularly when you're customizing your own degree. Generally, you can expect to take programs in multiple departments and may gain credit in each department for similar courses. For example, a course in criminal behavior in a school's criminal justice department might get you credit for a course in criminal psychology in the school's psychology department. At Metropolitan State University, students pursuing a custom master's degree graduate with a degree in individualized studies in their area of concentration. You must submit a proposal for your degree program to the university, and your courses will be overseen by advisers in one or more departments. The individualized degree doesn't take longer than a standard master's degree.
If the prospect of customizing an entire degree seems daunting, earn a dual degree instead. You might pursue a master's degree in philosophy while going to law school -- an option offered by several schools, including Georgia State University -- and focus on taking legal philosophy classes. This option may add a year or more to your graduation time, but you'll finish school with two degrees instead of one. It's also key to choose an adviser who is knowledgeable about each of the fields in which you are taking classes. Your adviser will help you select which courses to take to get the most out of your degree. If you're studying several vastly different fields, you may need to select multiple advisers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment Projections
- Burlington College: Individualized Master's Degree
- Indiana University Southeast: Craft Your Own Master's Degree at Indiana University Southeast
- Idealist: Joint-Degree Programs -- An Overview
- Metropolitan State University of Denver: FAQ's: Individualized Degree Program (IDP)
- Georgia State University: J.D./M.A. FAQs
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