Multiple Degrees from the same University

If you are planning on getting a bachelor’s degree and a masters degree, one thing you probably question is whether or not you should get both degrees from the same institution.  This is a legitimate concern.

If it is a reasonably good educational institution then there is no problem with having both degrees from the same place. However, the real question is whether or not going to a different school would give you any type of advantage. Here are a couple thoughts.

  1. Network diversity – Going to two schools gives you a greater diversity in your network of professors and students that you know. Since getting a job is often a function of who you know, this might increase your chances of getting a job.
  2. Proves your quality – Two schools would show that you made it through the admissions process of two separate institutions so you are probably a safer risk in the job market. In other words it is unlikely that admission both times was a complete fluke. At a single university there is a higher probability that you got in because your uncle is on the board or something.
  3. Shows you can handle change – Every school does things a bit differently. Two schools show that you can successfully handle different environments which demonstrates a certain tolerance for change.
  4. Better chance of having shared experiences with hiring manager – People like to hire people that they feel connected with. Going to two schools increases the chance that the person hiring you will have attended or sent their kids to one of your universities.

Now none of those things are really deal breakers. A lot depends on the quality of the program. Getting an undergraduate degree from Columbia and a masters degree from University of Phoenix or Capella wouldn’t look as good as getting both degrees from Columbia. Getting two degrees from K-State probably isn’t going to hurt. Still, an undergraduate degree from K-State followed up with a masters degree from Stanford  would probably make you stand out a bit more.

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Graduate Citation

A graduate citation is a simple way to distinguish yourself in a particular field.  Citations are awarded for graduate level course work similar to what you’d do in completing a masters degree.  However, citations represent a much small and usually more focused course of study.  Graduate citations generally require 25% to 50% as many credit hours as a masters degree an may offer a good return on investment. This smaller amount of work makes them more affordable and easier to obtain.

Benefits of a graduate citation

Citations offer a number of benefits.  First, they give you a good way to recognize your study that goes beyond a four year degree.  Putting one on your resume is much better than adding a line saying that you took some graduate level classes.  The citation shows that you finished something.  Just taking some grad classes makes it sound like you couldn’t handle grad school and dropped out.

Citations also offer a unique stepping stone toward a masters degree.  They give you the ability to get recognition in a much quicker time frame and often the coursework can be applied to your masters degree later on.

These graduate programs can let you put a well recognized school on your resume.  You may even be able to find an Ivy League school that will let you take the classes online.  This is particularly valuable if your four year degree came from a school that isn’t particularly well known.  The graduate citation allows you to demonstrates that you are top notch academic material–even if your budget only allowed you to go to a smaller nearby school for your undergraduate degree.

Graduate Citation Online

One of the best ways to earn a graduate citation is to do your coursework online.  This offers the following benefits:

  1. You are not limited to nearby schools for your graduate citation.
  2. You may be able to attend a more prestigious institution than you can attend locally.
  3. It doesn’t have to interrupt your social life and career.
  4. You may be able to find a program that better matches the skills you wish to improve by looking for an online school.
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University of Phoenix Graduate Degrees

University of Phoenix is a for-profit school that offers a number of different masters degrees and other programs taught both online and in person.

Tuition Costs for University of Phoenix

A typical master’s level course in technology taken online at University of Phoenix will cost $655 per credit hour plus a class fee of $105.  Most courses are 3 credit hours so this brings the per credit hour costs to $690. A sample masters degree in Software Engineering would require 60 credit hours for a total tuition cost of $41,000.

State schools usually charge tuition of $219 to $500 per credit hour–significantly below the cost of University of Phoenix.   Also a number of schools have Master’s Degree programs where the total number of credit hours required is well below 60–further reducing the cost.  For example, the cost of getting a degree in information technology from Harvard Extension School’s is $18,000 for 40 credit hours at $400 per hour.

Quality of Education at University of Phoenix

One of the biggest differences between the University of Phoenix and state schools is the transient nature of the faculty.  UoP tries to get faculty who are working in their field.  On one hand this means you will be studying under someone with real world experience.  On the other, they may not have the experience teaching that you’d expect from a traditional university. For better or worse, most teachers are not going to be saturated in the world of academia.

The educational quality is hard to determine and may vary greatly from class to class. University of Phoenix is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association.  Generally, you want to attend schools that are regionally accredited by one of the six  accrediting associations recognized by the US Department of Education. The North Central Association is one of these.  UoP also has some specialized accreditation for specific programs.

However, the best way to really get a feel for a school’s quality is to find out how well their credits transfer.  Call up several state universities and find out what credits you could transfer from a program from University of Phoenix to a similar degree at the state school.  Compare that to the transfer capabilities from another state school.  This will give you a very good idea of how Phoenix is viewed in relation to the particular degree you are interested in pursuing.

Reputation of University of Phoenix

Like many for-profit universities, University of Phoenix has their share of problems.  Many people accuse them of being a diploma mill. These accusations are a bit hard to verify.  On one hand, they may not give the same level of support to students that would be available at a traditional university.  On the other, they may attract students who are of lower caliber than those that would apply at a state school.

Justified or not, University of Phoenix doesn’t have the best reputation in the academic world.  This alone may or may not be reason to avoid them, but it should be something you consider. You must think in terms of who you will be competing with.  If you are competing for jobs with Ivy League graduates, all other things being equal, you will come up lacking on the educational end of things.  If you are competing with people who don’t have a graduate degree, your education may be a plus.

Conclusion

University of Phoenix definitely is not a diploma mill.  The are accredited and you will learn from them.  However, their reputation and high expense may not make them the best value for your particular needs.

The place where University of Phoenix may be helpful is in obtaining a degree that will push you into a higher pay rate at your current job–particularly if you plan to stay at that job indefinitely.

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Staying Out of Debt

During a down economy a number of people return to school in order to advance their education.  Many are trying to complete their first degree, but a large number are looking to get a masters degree or another advanced graduate degree that will help them in the job market.

Unfortunately many people don’t do the math and often make some very poor decisions when it comes to the return on investment from their educational activities. College is rarely cheap, but there are schools that offer great value for their price.  For example, Harvard offers a number of online masters degrees and they are often significantly less expensive than the programs at much less reputable institutions from schools with much lower academic record.

Some of it comes down to what you choose to study.  Not every degree is going to help you get a great job.  A masters degree in vampire literature or chess isn’t probably going to make you any more employable than you are now, but a degree in technology in a growing field is likely to be very valuable.

The point is that you still have to pay attention.  Don’t assume that a degree is going to be a silver bullet that will open the door to any job you want. Also don’t assume that a high cost education is necessarily better than a more reasonably priced one.  Some schools are actually trying to use their price to make their programs seem more valuable than they actually are–what they lack in academics they try to make up for with a high fee per credit hour.

Also, don’t be afraid to pay as you go.  While you need to make sure you understand any cut off periods and limits in how long you can pursue a degree program, going to school while you continue to work a normal job can be very rewarding and is a great way to get your education while minimizing  your debt.  In some cases you may be able to get your current employer to pickup some or all of the tab.

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Certificates and Citations

Graduate certificates and graduate citations both recognize your effort in graduate level courses but mark a smaller collection of effort than what is required for a master’s degree.

A graduate certificate is often work done in the 20 to 30 credit hour range while a citation may only require around 15 credit hours. Both certificates and citations give you a way to demonstrate an advanced education.

People who have already obtained a masters degree, may find these options useful to show their skill in specific areas.  For example, an MBA might consider getting a graduate certificate or graduate citation in technology to help expand their technical knowledge and use that to help secure a job with broader responsibilities than what they could get with an MBA alone.

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For Profit Universities

There are a number of companies that operate as for-profit universities.  On one hand, these companies are filling a need and often have more advanced online capabilities than traditional universities, but they are not without their problems.  Here are some things to think about when looking at different educational options.

  • What if management changes? Even if the company running a for-profit university is a good company today, what happens if different management starts putting a heavier focus on short term profit and less focus on academics.  Your degree may become a black spot on your resume no matter how good it was at the time you got it.
  • What type of accreditation? There are many ways a college can be accredited.  Make sure you understand.  You don’t want to go somewhere that is accredited by a little home business run from the Bahamas (yes that happens). One of the best ways to get a feel for a university’s true status is to call a large state university and ask if the credits from your potential school will transfer in.  If the state school won’t recognize the credits, you should be wary.
  • Certifications and tests. In some cases your degree will get you to the point that you can take a certification or licensing test.  However, there are some cases where a university may be accredited, but their programs don’t qualify you to sit for the exam without getting additional experience.  Of course you aren’t going to be able to get experience until you sit for the exam.  Some people have found this after paying tens of thousands of dollars for a degree that they can’t use to get a job.
  • Is the cost reasonable? Some for-profit universities will charge outrageous fees in order to increase the perceived value of their degrees. Be concerned if a masters degree from Capella costs more than a masters degree from Harvard.

There is a place for for-profit schools, but as the buyer you need to be very careful and understand exactly what you are getting into.  Don’t assume they are good deals and don’t assume that your education will allow you to get a job. Put in the effort required to understand the degree you are pursuing.

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Cost & Value of a Masters Degree

Many people think they getting a masters degree is expensive. While I wouldn’t say that they are cheap, some degrees offer significant value. The amount you pay for a degree does not necessarily correspond to the academic value of that degree. Some colleges and universities are very expensive and have less than stellar academic rigor. There are other universities that are relatively inexpensive but maintain a very high academic standard and corresponding reputation.

Harvard business school is generally considered the best place to get your MBA in the country if not the world. However it is the least expensive of the top three MBA schools.

They’re a handful of for-profit universities that offer their courses nearly entirely online. Cappella University and University of Phoenix are examples. What’s odd is that many of these schools tuition is far greater than the tuition for Harvard’s Extension School. So it pays to spend some time finding the school with the best value for what you are willing to spend. The expensive schools may be a horrible deal although less expensive ones may offer the best value and the most widely recognized degree.

On average a master’s degree is worth over $1 million in total career earning beyond a high school graduate. This makes $10-$30,000 spent on a graduate degree seem much less expensive.

Of course the $1 million is simply an average. If you are a hard worker and choose a good field you could do significant way better than that. If you are poor worker and get a useless degree it may not help you much.

Masters programs generally require 40 to 60 hours of classes. Some are less. Some are significantly more. The cost for an hour generally ranges from $300-$1000. State school out-of-state tuition is generally in the $400-$600 range. While these are not trifling sums, they are not completely outrageous either.

With careful planning and an astute selection of your degree, you can find a programming University that will maximize your academic experience while minimizing the dancing your pocketbook.

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Online Masters Degree

A number of high quality schools are offering online masters degrees. Some allow you to take the entire curriculum online. Others have a hybrid approach requiring you to make certain trips for on-campus portions of the education. Many judicial institutions that are known for their academic rigor offer more masters degrees online and they do bachelors degrees. Some of this is based on the idea that a student who has completed a bachelor’s degree at a traditional institution using traditional classroom attendance has already experienced much of the college environment. A Masters degree is often focused on specific skills so the general college experience is less of an issue.

An online degree isn’t for everyone. It requires a great deal of discipline to sit down at the computer and do your coursework. The better institutions offer videos of actual classes. For many people this is much better than trying to sit and simply do a correspondence course communicating over e-mail. Before deciding to pursue an online masters degree make sure you understand how you learn and whether or not you are capable of learning in an online environment. It may even be worthwhile to take a few classes as an experiment to see what works best for you.

Not all online degrees are created equal. Ideally you want to stick with reputable long-term academic institutions. Many institutions that only offer online degrees are frowned upon by those in traditional academia. It may or may not be fair, but they don’t see them as academically sound. To get maximum benefit you want to make sure that  that the institution is easily recognizable and academically respected.

Be aware that the cost of a degree may not directly correspond to the quality of the education.  Some institutions attempt to increase the value of their degrees or at least the perceived value by charging exorbitant prices.

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MBA Masters Degree

Many people see an MBA master’s degree as the holy Grail of education.  While there are definitely some advantages in having a masters degree in business administration, it may not be the best fit for every person, every area of the country and every job market.

An MBA degree prepares you to help run a business. One could argue that if you are any good, an MBA education should disqualify you from working from practically anyone else. After all if you are good at running a business why wouldn’t you run your own instead of running someone else’s.

In some cases an MBA education may be too generic.  Many employers are looking for specialized skill. Business administration may be a bit too generic. Even if you want to go into management employers are more likely to look at your experience for those type of skills.

This isn’t to say that an MBA is worthless. Just consider the degree of specialization required by the job market. A highly focused masters degree and a good deal of business common sense is often a winning combination.

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Million Dollar Degree

According to some statistics and masters degree is worth over $1 million more in total lifetime earnings than a simple high school diploma. Obviously this is a lump-sum payment. But over the years on average the opportunities and higher pay an advanced degree affords should translate into roughly $1.3 million.

In the job market is flooded by applicants with four year degrees, a master’s degree can make a significant improvement to your chances of securing a job. Of course in some areas a master’s degree may overqualified you. But most job seekers would rather be slightly over qualified for a position than underqualified. Even if a masters degree isn’t an option right now, there are a number of schools offering less study intensive options in a graduate citation where you get some recognition that you can put on your resume without the full rigor and thesis necessary to complete a full masters degree.

Of course the $1.3 million figure is only an average. For many people the value is significantly higher. Of course people with a Masters degree in underwater basket weaving working at McDonald’s helped pull the average down. Not every degree translates into higher pay.

With a bit of careful planning you can choose the degree at the high-end of the average instead of the lower end. This may take a bit of luck–it is hard to know how the job market will change over the next twenty years.  Still you should be able to avoid the areas that are obviously not going to be high earning careers.  A degree in chess, the Beatles or vampire literature isn’t probably going to put you at the high end of the spectrum.  Bio-engineering is probably going to be around for awhile as are a number of other technical careers where there is currently a great deal of growth potential.

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