I. Should I go to graduate school?
Graduate school can be a very rewarding experience but should not be viewed as the next logical step in an educational journey. Also, it should not be viewed as a guaranteed ticket to a "high paying" job. The decision to go to graduate schools has an opportunity cost. You will be giving up much to earn the degree. Is what you have to give up worth the investment? Now is a good time to honestly and critically examine your future plans and career goals. Pursuing a graduate degree may be a wise strategy especially if you need it to advance your career. It may not be the right choice if your only motivation for attending is because it seems like the thing to do at this time. In deciding whether to go to graduate school you might consider these questions:
- What do I want to get out of life?
- Where do I see myself professionally in five, ten, and fifteen years?
- Is a graduate degree absolutely necessary to achieve my goals?
- Do I have the time, money and motivation to go back to school?
- Do I like to read academic literature, write extensively, and engage in independent research?
- If married or in a significant relationship, will those people closest to you support your return to school?
II. What to expect in graduate school
Is there much difference between my undergraduate program and graduate school? The Lumina Foundation (2011) provides us one answer. They have developed a typology that identifies the basic knowledge students with different degrees should possess. The Lumina typology focuses on five areas of learning including broad knowledge, specialized knowledge, applied learning, intellectual skills, and civic learning. The following is a brief comparison of the type of knowledge a graduate at each level should know.
1. Specialized Knowledge – Knowledge specific to a field of study
Bachelor's: Explain and interpret the major theories and research methods of the discipline.
Master's: Actively use theory and methods to guide research that allows us to understand what is going on in the environment.
2. General Knowledge – The kind of knowledge necessary to be a productive citizen.
Bachelor's: Utilize an interdisciplinary perspective when explaining a societal problem.
Master's: Utilize an interdisciplinary perspective to design and carry out research aimed at understanding a societal problem. The student is able to analyze and interpret the results.
3. Intellectual Skills – Analysis, evaluation, application, and communication
Bachelor's: Ability to differentiate and evaluate complex problems within the chosen major.
Master's: Critically analyze, evaluate, and challenge current assumptions and norms within the discipline.
4. Applied Learning – Use what was learned to make sense of what is going on around us.
Bachelor's: Link personal experience with academic knowledge to explain the findings of a research project.
Master's: Ability to take the ideas, concepts, evidence, and theories presented in academic journals and integrate them into an original analysis of a problem within the discipline.
5. Civic Learning - Apply knowledge to the issues affecting the broader community.
Bachelor's: Use scholarly evidence to describe and explain various perspectives to a controversial issue.
Master's: Develop a policy position on a controversial issue using scholarly evidence and the diverse views of other stakeholders.
Lumina Foundation. (January 2011). "The Degree qualifications Profile." Address: http://www.luminafoundation.org/publications/The_Degree_Qualifications_Profile.pdf.
At the master's level we expect students to be able to move away from just describing and explaining what is going on in the environment. A student with a master's degree will possess a strong grasp of the disciplines academic literature. The student will be able to creatively use the academic literature to make sense of what is happening in the field. They should be able to conduct and interpret original research in the pursuit of new knowledge. Knowing how to use the tools of the academic discipline will produce a more informed and engaged leader.
It is imperative students in a master's program immerse themselves in the discipline's academic literature. At UIU we expect our graduate students to read a minimum of 125-150 pages per week from academic sources. General textbooks are not considered academic reading. Graduate students are expected to read and understand material from the academic journals of various disciplines and books published by academic presses.
Involvement in the educational process is different in graduate courses. Your work will be critically examined by professors and your peers. The assumptions you make, evidence you provide, and conclusions you draw may be vigorously challenged and debated in class. Class discussions are more open ended allowing you the opportunity to explore ideas and challenge conventional wisdom.
To maximize your learning experience you have to come to class prepared. To be prepared you must have read the assigned material ahead of time. You also need to be ready and able to actively participate in all discussions. An important component of graduate education comes not only from interaction with the faculty, but interaction between peers. Finally, do not be afraid to ask questions. Through your questions new ideas are presented, material is analyzed in greater depth, and the quality of the learning experience is enhanced.
III. Preparing for the MPA program
The MPA program is a multidisciplinary degree drawing from the fields of economics, business, finance, and political science. Our curriculum reflects this diversity. If you are a undergraduate student and think earning the MPA degree is in your future, there are some courses you should consider.
1. Political Science: Any course whose primary focus is American government or public administration. American government courses will address government institutions, interest groups, political parties, or political behavior (including, but not limited to, public opinion, social movements, race, religion, gender, and ethnicity). Public administration courses that deal with the policy process (problem structuring, recommendation, forecasting, monitoring, evaluation), administration and administrative law will fulfill the requirements.
2. Finance: Courses used to waive the finance foundational requirement should discuss the interpretation of financial statements utilizing appropriate financial ratios, the budget process, rate of return and cash flow, and how the time value of money affects financial decision making. Any accounting course at the principles level or above, any business finance course (except personal financial management), any public finance course or any public budgeting course.
3. Economics: Courses used to meet the foundational requirement will address supply and demand analysis, market structures, and profit maximizing behavior. This would include microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international economics. Introductory economics courses that emphasize how economists think about current issues will not count.
4. Management: Any management course that addresses the four functions of management including planning, organizing, controlling, and leading. We will accept courses in organizational behavior.
5. Statistics: An elementary statistics or quantitative research methods course. Topics that should be covered include descriptive statistics, collection and analysis of data, probability distributions, confidence intervals and hypothesis testing, linear regression and correlation.
IV. Admissions requirements
Incoming students who meet condition 2(a) or 2(b) are not required to take the GRE exam. If either of these conditions is not met then we require an acceptable score on the GRE.
1. A baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited college or university
2. A cumulative GPA of:
a. 2.75 or better in undergraduate work or a GPA of 3.0 from the most recent 60 semester credits of undergraduate work.
b. 3.0 or better for not fewer than nine semester credits of prior graduate work relevant to the area of emphasis. Applicants with fewer than nine semester credits of graduate work or less than a 3.0 GPA for graduate work may have applications evaluated based on undergraduate work.
c. or an acceptable GRE score. An acceptable score is 1090 for GRE or 308 for GRE revised General Test.
A graduate admissions advisor from the Center for Distance Education (CDE) will have the primary responsibility for advising potential and incoming students. Once admitted, the student will receive letter that welcomes the student to the department, identifies any foundational courses that need to be completed, and lists the sequence of the first three graduate courses to be completed. Students should receive a MPA Student Handbook at this time.
The graduate admissions advisor will provide the initial advising and register the incoming student for the first course. Primary responsibility for advising shifts to the program coordinator after the student has been registered for the initial course. However, it is the student's responsibility to register for all subsequent courses. Students are encouraged to meet regularly with the program coordinator.