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Graduate school while working

  1. Nov 6, 2008 #1
    I am divided in a choice I need to make...

    I am employed in a program that requires graduate school. My employer will outright pay, with no cap for any school. Since there is no cap, I'm thinking I should shoot for some really good schools. What are your opinions on,

    1) Trying to get into top-10 schools: Stanford, Geogia Tech
    2) Continuing graduate school in a top 10% state school. (very close, I could meet up with the professors, TA's, etc..)

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2008 #2
    hehe, what industry is that?

    I would look up the programmes that are related to what your employer wants out of you, then compare them to eachother (will take time but is very rewarding).
  4. Nov 6, 2008 #3

    Dr Transport

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    A top-tier school would be great, but if you don't live and work mear on e of them it's going to be difficult to do both. Graduate schools have residency requirements that must be met, i.e. if you go to Stanford and you live in Cleveland, it's one lone commute to work and take classes.....

    This is a mute point if your employer is willing to pay your salary while your in school on a leave of absence...
  5. Nov 6, 2008 #4


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    I agree with Dr. Transport. If your work pays for your grad school, aren't you limited by places close to where you work?

    Also, before you get too excited about it all, make sure your employer has realistic expectations of how much time you'd be able to work while in grad school.

    By the way, are you talking about Master's programs or Ph.D. programs? That would be substantially different in terms of how much time you need to complete the degree, not just in terms of years of school, but in terms of hours per day spent doing research projects, etc. If your employer is thinking of a non-thesis master's degree, and you're thinking of a full Ph.D., you might have some surprises in terms of how much time they'll give you off to complete your degree, and how much time you really need to do that.
  6. Nov 6, 2008 #5
    Thank you all for taking the time to respond. I should have given more details.
    This is for a EE Masters program in signal processing. This will be done in my own time. The three schools I listed have distance learning (w/o thesis) that i would be doing.

    Some day I would like to consder a PHD, but right now I NEED to pay off my loans. And working and a paid Masters really is the best option for me financially. I would rather do a straight PhD.

    Ill add more in a bit
  7. Nov 6, 2008 #6
    SOme more things that may help in giving opinions:
    5 year goals - Masters and no loans
    5-10 years - PhD

    Im on my phone.... gotta go again.

    look forward to any and all advice
  8. Nov 6, 2008 #7


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    re: ivy league vs. state universities (even good ones)

    if you just want to associate with the most successful faculty, then find those faculty no matter which kind of school they are. I don't think they are found more in ivy league than in state schools.

    however...I do have some first hand experience here. I studied in public universities for many years, have undergrad and graduate degrees. I also got a master's degree at an ivy league school and have taught part time for years in the same school.

    my belief is, the quality of teaching is not necessarily any better in an ivy league school. depends totally on WHO the professor is. also, the advantage to having the ivy league degree disappears as soon as you get real-world experience; then employers just want to know what you can do, not where you went to college.

    the one BIG advantage to the ivy league: you have a chance to make associations, friendships or meet colleagues who are from well-educated, affluent families, and those are statistically more likely to be well-connected, to have connections who can help you get hired, etc. So in terms of colleague-value in a strictly cold-blooded sense, ivy league schools have the advantage, hands down, speaking "on the average".
  9. Nov 7, 2008 #8
    I wonder about the amount of interaction I would receive while doing distance learning. I mean, am I really going to become proper acquaintances with faculty members there?

    Lets give two hypothetical situation.
    In 5 years I have a Master's w/o thesis from,
    1) Ivy league
    2) State school

    Would (1) or (2) make it easier to get into a PhD program? Does it even matter? What factors really influence the acceptance into a PhD program?

    The one great thing about going to the state school is that I can go to the campus, meet with the TA's, professors, etc... But, I've always wanted to go to an Ivy league school, I just have never had the financial opportunity. However, starting a PhD in 5 years is my "dream" -- so this trumps an ivy league Master's.
  10. Nov 7, 2008 #9


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    personally, I am sceptical about "distance learning" programs; I would probably go for the local place where I can meet people. There is more to a good degree than just classes; there could/should be a rich learning environment, talks, visiting speakers, etc to inspire with the latest and greatest ideas going on.

    To get into Ph D program, you need superb grades and personal recommendations from faculty, and possibly some meaty projects to show. If you can participate in some research, even better. meeting faculty at the desired Ph D institution helps even more.
  11. Nov 7, 2008 #10
    I agree with harborsparrow's points in his post above -- including his points about what they look for on graduate admissions committees (see several of the admissions threads on this forum that talk about research experience and its importance to the committees!). I think these distance-learning programs are just money-making tools for these schools, and they won't necessarily look like anything special to any admissions committee that is "worth its salt".

    Just a small, important note in addition: You may want to check (and/or recheck!) if there is any "obligation" involved in your employer paying for your degree. In my case, I had a local master's degree paid for by the USAF... but there was an obligation clause that I had waived because I worked for them at "part-time" wages simultaneously to working on the degree. If I had gone somewhere further away, or been paid "full-time," I would have owed 3-5 years of civil service to the Air Force for each year of my education they funded (similar to the military obligation for ROTC students). This could factor into your decision as well.
  12. Nov 9, 2008 #11


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    This really depends on your major. If someone were going to get a degree in political science and planned to run for office someday, or wanted a business degree with aspirations of becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company, then absolutely, that's the place to make those connections.

    However, I don't think the sciences are so limited. People underestimate the ability to make connections, network, etc., at state universities.

    Anyway, I also agree about distance learning not being a good substitute for in-person education. My department offers some online courses. They do have their uses. For example, it allows students at the smaller state colleges to take our course when a similar course is not offered at their own school. That's only the lecture part of the course, though. The lab part is obviously offered only in person (and we have split the lecture and lab into two separate courses to accomodate these online learners who can then transfer here if accepted into one of the professional programs that requires it). But, that's only one basic science course in an entire curriculum of clinical coursework that they do need to show up for.

    Another good use for online courses are either for getting ahead prior to admission to graduate or professional school...not as a substitute for taking those courses later, but just get a little preparation ahead to make it easier. Or, they're useful as remediation if someone is weak in a subject and wants to retake a course just to strengthen their knowledge.

    The last use of such courses are just for one's own personal interest. For example, someone has no intention of getting another degree, but just thinks a subject is interesting and would like a formal course to get started learning more about it.
  13. Nov 6, 2011 #12
    A someone who did some distance courses in the past (undergraduate mathematics), I have a few observations. Distance courses from a decent school are often more demanding than their in-person courses because they are trying to overcome the stereotype that they are inferior. Combine that with the extra discipline needed to keep yourself focused without outside help, and many people find them much more difficult.

    For something theoretical (like math), they can work fine, but I would be very hesitant to take all my courses this way. At higher levels it is very important to interact with profs and other students. I would assume this would be even more so for hands-on subjects like Engineering.

    Having glanced through the distance masters material from Columbia and seen some of the course videos from UWashington's applied math masters, they are no joke.
    Columbia, for one, does not distinguish on your transcript that it was a distance degree because they consider them the same quality. Despite the paper being 'good enough,' the best option might be to try to get in somewhere close enough that you could do some distance and some in-person (as suggested above). Particularly if you want to go on to a PhD someday.
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