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What Degree is Right for Me? These 7 Questions Can Help Find the Answer

Image: What Degree is Right for Me?

If you're thinking about going back to school, you likely have a variety of factors contributing to your decision. But considering all the options and opportunities, you may still be unsure what type of program to pursue to help you achieve your goals. If you're wondering, "What degree is right for me?" there are practical questions you can consider to identify the right degree for you.

Use "Spark" Questions to Gain the Most Clarity

Questions that spark both a strong and immediate response tend to provide more clarity about the best direction to take; asking yourself the right questions can help you gain insight about who you are and what kind of degree you'd most like to pursue. Carve out time to reflect on these important questions and jot down your answers. You may not be 100 percent sure of your answers at first, and you may want to keep your list handy so you can add to it as you take time to consider each question.

What Motivates You? Generally speaking, behind what motivates you is what you value. And choosing a degree that lets you can put your values to work can be gratifying. Perhaps the idea of working in service of a particular cause or specific industry inspires you, or the idea of working with children, as an educator, interests you. It might excite you to be part of a project where you either develop new products or create new tools or systems. Likewise, you might be most motivated by maintaining a certain lifestyle and simply desire a career that can provide it; on the other hand, the kind of people you work with might most motivate your direction. In considering these questions, you may find overlap, and pursuing a degree program that can provide you the opportunity to check the most boxes is optimal.

What Do You Like (and Not Like) to Do? Do you like working with numbers or with your hands? Maybe you like to write, work with gadgets or work with computers? Does the thought of travel or work outside of a traditional office setting excite you? How about working in fast-paced environments and industries, such as in media or healthcare?

It might also be helpful to start by considering what you don't like to do: an accountant's detailed spreadsheet might make you shudder, or working in a hospital setting might make you squeamish. Seek out a degree that will afford you the ability to do work that legitimately suits your temperament.

What are Your Strengths and Weaknesses? Your strengths are your natural soft skills, and these are abilities you can apply to many different fields.

  • Are you industrious? Are you a good problem solver who tends to see solutions where others don't?
  • Are you more detail-oriented or do you prefer to examine the big picture?
  • Are you a "people person"? Do you thrive working with many types of people?
  • Are you an effective communicator? Can you communicate an idea or problem so everyone has a clear understanding?
  • Do you work well under pressure?
  • Are you a natural leader? Do you see people's strengths and where they can best be used? Do people tend to look to you for answers?

Weaknesses, on the other hand, can be relative, but just as beneficial to understand. You might be a helpful person but tend to mismanage your time in spending too much of it helping someone else. You might perform better with a longer deadline and do poorly under pressure. You'll be better suited for a degree program and career path that lets you put more of your strengths to use.

What Skills Do You Have? Skills are areas in which you have experience and training already. Are you proficient in many types of office software? Or you can create a sound business plan? Do you know how to code? A degree in IT, for example, might help you build on your interest and background in coding while providing you with additional skills and training.

What Kind of Work Culture Would You Prefer? Is the idea of working in a fast-moving environment appealing? Perhaps you feel you work better in a collaborative culture or know you work best with direct supervision; some people thrive in a less-structured industry while others prefer clear order and structure. When considering a degree program, think about what kind of culture each industry offers and the one that's a good match for you.

Determine Your Career Goals

In the modern economy, where many professionals stay in a position for a much shorter period than previous generations, understanding your career goals can help you determine what kinds of training and education in a degree program you'll need to be successful.

What Professional Goals Have You Set? To know what degree is right for you, it helps to know where you want to go and where you see yourself down the line. Would you open your own business, or finally pursue the management track in your field? Maybe you're interested in changing careers? Before you commit to a degree, understanding your professional goals is an important first step.

Who or What Influences Your Decisions? Your family, not your direct career interest, might be the strongest reason for what type of degree you pursue. Or you may want to base your decision on which fields have promising future growth rates.

Seek the Best Resources for Your Career Interests

Staying on top of industry trends and the best skills to have will support you in choosing the degree that's right for you. Online tool O*Net, for example, identifies "Bright Outlook Occupations" with strong projected growth in new and emerging industries. Use O*Net Online's tool to research these occupations and what kind of degree is best.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook also provides a wealth of information about different career tracks, including job descriptions, growth prospects, salary range and general education requirements.

Additionally, line up three to four informational interviews with hiring managers or experienced people in the field of your interest to find out whether you're on the right track. Then, consider finding an internships or volunteer work to help you decide on whether an industry or degree path is realistically a good fit for you.

Once you've got a clear idea of your goals and desired career path, research degree programs available at the universities you're interested in attending and speak with an admissions advisor to gain insight about the best degree path for you. Ultimately, if you're asking yourself, "What degree is right for me?" be realistic about what you authentically like to do, and where you ultimately see yourself in one, five, or 20 years. Then, do the research to seek a degree program that can help you get there.

Ready to take the next step? See what online degrees you can pursue at AIU.