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Choosing a Master’s Degree Program

Now that you’ve decided to pursue a masters’ degree, deciding which graduate school to attend is the next step. So where do you begin?

There are several aspects of a graduate program that should be considered when narrowing one’s options. First consider your personal interest in the field. Ask yourself what your favorite courses were as an undergraduate. Remember the exercise science field is expansive and offers many career paths. From here you can begin searching for programs that specialize in your particular interests. Additionally, the location of a particular school or program may play a role in narrowing your search. 

There are several websites that can be utilized to search for graduate level programs by area of interest and location. The ACSM website features such a function that may help at ACSM’s degree guide allows students to search for educational programs by location and area of focus (e.g. kinesiology, physical therapy, epidemiology, etc). If you have specific questions or would like more detailed help there is also a live customer service function through chat or by phone, to provide assistance.

Finding an advisor or mentor to work with during graduate school is also important. Unlike many undergraduate programs, your master’s degree advisor will not be an anonymous person who provides general information about which classes to take twice a year, but instead will be a person that you will likely be working closely with for the next few years. Ensuring compatibility with this person is an important aspect in choosing your program.

Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a few schools, I would suggest visiting those programs that interest you the most.  While finances may limit one’s ability to visit several programs, this can an important opportunity to not only meet with potential advisors and see the facilities you may be working in but to see the city you may be residing in for next few years. If it is feasible for you to visit prior to choosing your graduate program, the opportunity to speak with current graduate students in the program is one that should not be passed up. 

Finally, there is program cost and/or funding to consider. Some programs offer stipends to graduate students for teaching a few hours while enrolled in the program, others may have grant money to fund research assistants working towards a master’s degree. However, in the current financial climate, many programs are no longer providing funding to their students. In your search I would suggest finding out what funding options are available and what is required to obtain such funding as this is highly variable from program to program.

When making the decision to attend a master’s program, the choice is always going to come down to one’s personal preferences and priorities. While it may seem overwhelming at first, your choice of graduate programs is one that deserves the appropriate time and energy.

Megan Grimstvedt, M.A. 
Northeast Lakeview College
Student Representative, ACSM Southwest Chapter