Choosing the Right Program for You

How to select a degree or certificate that matches your goals.

Two female colleagues sitting at a conference table smiling happily

The desire is there, and you’ve likely browsed the options – perhaps many. Now what?

First, before anything, take a deep breath and give yourself some credit. If you’re here, it’s because you care about your personal and professional future. Even just looking for a program is a big step, and it’s one you already took. So let that motivate you. 

As for the burning question – which program is the right one? – here’s what we recommend.

Figure out your why.

Think back to your initial interest. What drew you to the idea of additional education? Was it career advancement? A new industry, perhaps? What does your gut tell you?

“It’s about getting an idea of your goals, of what you hope to achieve,” says coaching expert Angela Jaramillo. “From there, it’s easier to determine the best direction. If you’re aiming for a particular role, let’s say, some programs fit more than others.”

Remember, this is up to you. There’s no wrong answer here.

Boredom, wanderlust, or even burnout – it’s all perfectly justifiable. (And very common, especially a few years into your career.)

Read the curriculum.

On most school websites, you can read in-depth course descriptions. This is one of the simplest ways to gauge whether a program is right for you. Is it interesting? Does it spark your curiosity or make you long for more?

The curriculum is a guide to the program: what you can expect, course by course, from start to finish. Just as you would with a movie, read the overview before taking your seat. (Or buying a ticket!)

Build your support team.

Support, for many adult students, is a make-or-break consideration. The key, says Angela, is to find your team ahead of time, long before you enroll in a program. 

“Who can you lean on if you have a couple extra hours of schoolwork and you need some help with the kids? Can you talk to your boss about a reduced schedule? Are your hours flexible at work? It’s important, when considering a program, to know if it’s going to be manageable for you.”

“We also let students know that these programs, especially through the Tseng College, are designed for working professionals. The zoom sessions are held in the evenings, there’s ongoing support, and it’s to help folks maintain their lives as they get an education.”

Look into the faculty.

Like curriculum, many schools list the program’s faculty, often with summaries of their achievements and backgrounds. As a rule of thumb, if you’re curious about the “spirit” of a program, this is the best place to look.

Is this a group you admire? Do they have industry experience? Where did they go to school? And most importantly, what could you learn from them?

Another, less common approach is to reach out directly. Send an email to one of the professors. Introduce yourself, ask a few questions. Most will appreciate the interest. 

Make sure you qualify.

There’s nothing worse than finally choosing a program, only to find out, soon later, that you can’t get in. Don’t let that happen. Take a look at the requirements – early on! – and reflect on your academic history.

Is your GPA high enough? Do you have the right number of units? What are the pre-requisite courses?

Talk to the school about your options, suggests Angela. Some programs, for instance, place more weight on your last 60 units. Otherwise you can address any issues in your statement of purpose. Let evaluators know why you struggled in a particular semester, or how you overcame a problem. It matters and sometimes goes a long way.

Finally, uncertainty is normal.

So embrace it for what it is: possibility.

Play with the ideas. Who will you be? Where might you go? The places, the people, the world around you – let the thoughts breathe and take on a new dimension. This is your future, and although it’s a big decision, it’s okay to have a little fun. 


Still uncertain? Talk to a coach now.