Mid Career Graduate Programs
Colleges and universities have increasingly offered mid career graduate programs to professionals returning as graduate students. Mid career professionals bring valuable knowledge and judgment to the classroom. They can enrich class discussions, put theoretical knowledge into a practical context, and point out trends and developments that are changing the way people and processes work.
At the same time, colleges and universities appreciate that going back to school is a more difficult choice for mid career professionals than it is for recent graduates. It means giving up a good job (including an attractive salary and benefits), and can cause serious disruption to family life. In addition, experienced professionals may feel their time is wasted on introductory courses that go over material they already know from work.
As a result, many schools offer mid career graduate programs that are tailored for the needs of such students. Some of the options are:
Executive degree programs – These are accelerated master’s degree programs, usually involving 12 to 14 months of full-time study. Good programs have high standards and a heavy workload. They require applicants to have a minimum amount of professional experience, as the curriculum depends on everyone sharing a similar level of professional knowledge. Executive degree programs sometimes award a different degree than traditional, two-year master’s programs do. For example, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs awards the M.P.P. (Master of Public Policy) degree as a mid career graduate programs, and the M.P.A. (Master of Public Administration) degree to graduates of its two-year program. Executive degree programs tend to be offered in fields where there is high demand for mid career study, such as business and public administration, education, and journalism.
Weekend programs – These are intense, part-time programs for students who are working full-time during the normal work week. Classes meet only on weekends (which may mean starting Friday night and lasting through Saturday night or Sunday morning). Weekend programs are often highly structured, moving cohorts of students through a sequence of required courses, without any latitude for electives. They generally require two years to complete. Most weekend courses are meant for students living in the community surrounding the campus, although some schools offer residential weekend programs for out-of-town students.
Low residency programs – A low-residency program is something like a cross between a weekend program and distance education. Students attend classes on campus for short, specified periods of time (for example, a week at the start of the semester and a week at the end). The rest of the time, they submit assignments and communicate with professors and fellow students by Internet, phone, or mail. Programs can usually be completed in two years.
Virtual or Distance Learning Degree Programs – Many colleges and universities now offer for-credit courses that ‘meet’ entirely (or almost entirely) on the Internet. There are institutions that offer entire certificate and degree programs this way. Virtual courses offer obvious advantages to working professionals. These mid career graduate programs can be attended from anywhere, and there is often flexibility in scheduling and in assignment deadlines. For more information on this topic, see our page on the Traditional vs. Virtual Campus. You might also want to take a look at our page on Accreditation.