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Graduate programs are not all created equal. They vary in size, scope and cost. The faculty may be known for research, teaching, academic expertise or impressive career experience. And program formats often vary in terms of flexibility. The vast array of options may appear daunting at first, but starting your search with these four questions will help you quickly narrow your search.

1. What’s the buzz?

If you want a graduate degree to advance your career, it pays to ask people in the field what they think about the schools you’re considering. Name recognition is important in many professional circles, and you’ll want to choose a program that has a solid reputation among future employers and peers. Do folks respect and revere the particular institutions and programs you’re evaluating?

2. Got time to spare?

The structure of graduate programs varies widely. Some are evening and weekend programs; others require class attendance during weekdays. Some take two years to complete, others just one. Make sure you have a firm grasp on the amount of time you’ll need to finish the program’s requirements: Is there an internship? A thesis or final project? Are professors willing to work with you when you have job or family obligations? How flexible are the deadlines for the classes? And if you need to take time off for a few weeks or a semester, how will that affect your standing in the program?

3. Who’s teaching?

Schools usually have a mix of full- and part-time faculty members who shape the curriculum. Some are PhDs, devoted to research and expanding knowledge in their academic field. Others are adjuncts, who may have less education but bring valuable professional experience into the classroom. Investigate the faculty mix of the program you’re considering and evaluate its accessibility: Are instructors easily reachable and willing to meet outside of class? Inquire about attending an open house so you can get a feel for the school’s faculty.

4. How much?

A master’s degree can seem expensive: You’re working toward a degree, but you’re also accessing well-connected faculty in your chosen field. Many schools also offer robust support services, including career and professional development, writing centers and more. (It’s worth checking out if career services are available to alumni, too.) And there is financial aid. Investigate external scholarship opportunities. If you’re currently working, check with your employer to see if reimbursements for educational expenses are offered. Don’t hesitate to apply for a program simply because you think you can’t afford it. Once you go through the application process, you may discover more financing options than you were aware of.

Graduate degrees from St. Edward’s University prepare you for both your career and your life. Our programs challenge and empower you to discover your full potential and apply your knowledge in ways that make a difference in your world.

Raymond Rogers is the Director of Career & Professional Development at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.