By Joanthan Cantarero
The educational system is always changing, and graduate education is no different. Some changes are swift and obvious while others take more time to appreciate. In this article I discuss three trends worth noting if you’re interested in a graduate education.
1. Schools Are Shaking Up Admissions Standards
It used to be that admission to every graduate school required the same set of credentials, i.e., high GPA, letters of recommendation, excellent entrance exams, and a completed application form. While many of those factors are still important, graduate programs continue to take on more holistic approaches to their admissions formula. In some cases, this is done in the name of diversity, in other cases it’s meant to attract students that better reflect the values of the school, and in still other cases it’s the result of research on the best predictors of student success.
Nowhere have these changes been more obvious than in the number of schools dropping their entrance exam requirements. Let’s be serious, no one enjoys taking the GREs, MCATs, or LSATs to get into graduate school. If you’re like me, you’ve probably looked into ways to avoid taking these tests altogether. Although waiver programs have always existed (usually for people who already have a graduate degree or tons of life experience), many schools are dropping the requirement altogether. They are two prevailing explanations for this trend: (1) students are probably more likely to apply to programs that have fewer, less costly requirements, and (2) some studies have suggested that entrance exams are not the best predictors of graduate school and career success. But whatever the reason, the trend is clearly a welcome sign to prospective students.
2. Program Formats Are More Flexible Than Ever
In addition to disrupting the traditional admissions process, many schools are dramatically changing the way they deliver their programs. The two most obvious examples appear in online learning and program length. Let’s take each in turn.
- Online Learning: There has been a sea change in the number of online and hybrid programs offered in graduate school. As I explain in another article, online and hybrid programs offer tons of flexibility to students who either do not want to relocate or commute or who just have competing responsibilities that require flexibility. For obvious reasons the number of online/hybrid offerings has exploded during the pandemic. And, while “mandatory” online programs may not be a permanent fixture on the academic scene, the pandemic has given us a preview of what wide-spread online programming might look like in the future. Schools are being more innovative, using different platforms, and finding creative ways to engage their students. So whether you’re for or against online learning, rest assured that it’s here to stay.
- Accelerated/Extended Programs: Many schools have added programs that help students complete their degrees in either less or more time. First, there are “accelerated” programs where students can, for example, finish a two-year program in 12-15 months. These programs tend to have more rigorous admission requirements. One exception is the “executive” degree, where credit requirements are reduced based on life experience or other factors. Second, a growing number of schools are offering part-time programs in fields that were traditionally considered full-time commitments. Law school is a prime example; a traditional three-year degree can now be completed part time in four to five years. While this has always existed to some extent, the sheer number of part-time and accelerated options now being offered shows that more and more students are taking advantage of these alternative formats.
3. Cost Are Rising—But So is the Number of Funding Opportunities
Sorry to end on a down note, but the truth is that graduate school is more expensive than ever (yes, even after taking inflation into account). Even in programs where schools have reduced the time it takes to complete a degree, the overall cost is usually the same because students are charged on a per-credit basis. Add to this the increasing cost of living and commuting and you get a recipe for serious debt. Indeed, student debt is one of the most common forms of debt in the United States. While this is a bigger problem at the undergraduate level, it’s still worth mentioning since graduate programs require such huge investments of time and money.
If there is any silver lining, it’s in the fact that federal, state, and school-based financial aid continues to help students offset the overall cost of education. For example, there is no sign that schools are charging more but offering less funding. In addition, loan forgiveness programs at the federal and state level can help subsidize the cost of advanced degrees for specific professions like teaching and those in the public sector.
Also, there are a number of universities who fully fund graduate degrees. ProFellow offers a full list of more than 500+ fully funded programs in 40 disciplines, which you can download for free.
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The educational system is always evolving. As graduate school costs continue to rise, we’re also increasing flexibility in the admission process and program delivery. These are important factors anyone interested in graduate school should consider.
Jonathan Cantarero is an attorney based in New York City. He is a former Graduate Fellow at the City University of New York School of Law (2013-16) and Schulte, Roth, and Zabel Fellow for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (2014-15). Whenever he is not reading legal briefs or posting on ProFellow, Jonathan, who is also a seminary student, enjoys writing on the intersection of law and religion.
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