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Education Master’s Degree Can Guide Students, Families To Success

In third grade, after Elaine Chen had been falling behind in her work for a while, teachers at her San Francisco Bay Area school assessed her and recommended she be placed in a special education program.
“I remember going through many cognitive tests, only to have them determine my struggles weren’t caused by a learning disability but rather a language barrier,” says Chen, whose first language was Mandarin and who didn’t learn English until kindergarten.
By fifth grade, thanks to private tutoring and her own perseverance, Chen’s language and academic skills were back on track. The experience inspired her to pursue a career helping other children overcome learning challenges.
Today Chen, 28, is a school psychologist and behaviorist in the San Mateo-Foster City School District in California. She meets with elementary school students who are struggling to try to understand why.
“It may be due to a learning disability, a behavioral issue, or some other obstacle,” she notes. After pinpointing the problem, she works with the kids’ “families and teachers to identify resources that can help,” she says, such as counseling or new learning strategies.
School psychologists typically focus on students with special needs and learning challenges. Trained in both psychology and education, they help students manage a range of complex academic and behavioral issues, including anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.
Job growth in the field is expected to be nearly 20 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to government projections. Salaries average around $76,000 annually.
Chen earned a master’s and education specialist degree from San Diego State University last spring. She took advantage of several hands-on opportunities, including fieldwork in San Diego schools focusing on English-language learners.
She also designed literacy strategies for parents to use to help their kids improve their reading skills. Other grad students specialize in working with children in foster care, for instance, or with those on the autism spectrum, says Tonika Green, director of SDSU’s school psychology program.
For Chen, looking at each child “holistically” and developing a personalized plan with teachers and parents ensures a start on the path to success.
Here are additional promising career opportunities for those pursuing master’s degrees in education.
• Health educator: Professionals who teach people about good health habits and disease prevention are employed by hospitals, physicians’ offices, nonprofits and colleges. As organizations make an effort to reduce health care costs by teaching individuals about improving their lifestyle choices, the field is expected to grow 13 percent over the next decade, nearly twice the average for all jobs. Median annual pay is about $43,800.
• Curriculum designer: As classroom technology evolves and federal and state education standards continue to change, these education administrators work behind the scenes to help teachers keep pace and improve educational methods.
Also known as instructional coordinators, these specialists develop curricula in specific school subjects and help colleagues implement lessons in the classroom. Curriculum designers command a median salary of about $62,300, compared with $54,600 for elementary school teachers and $57,200 for high school educators.
• School counselor: These pros help students with academic and career planning; provide guidance and referrals related to bullying, family problems and grief counseling; and assist with disciplinary matters. The field is expected to grow slightly faster than average over the next decade and offers a median salary of roughly $53,700.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Graduate Schools 2018” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.


Choosing a Graduate School: Alumni Reflect on Their Selection Process

How does a prospective student make a choice among graduate schools? Here, seven former students tell U.S. News why they chose to attend their particular schools.
Why I Picked Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing (Cleveland)
Maureen Sweeney, 2012 graduate and associate medical director
Cleveland has a world-class health care system, and one of Case Western Reserve University nursing school’s strengths is that it finds amazing clinical placements for students. Many schools require you to find your own. I wanted to go into mental health and was able to do psychiatric rotations at the Cleveland Clinic and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Case Western works closely with each student’s preceptor, or clinical instructor, to ensure you get great feedback as you gain real-world experience. The program also goes beyond the basics of treatment and medications. It taught me how to be a leader, whether supervising a team or helping direct a health care system.
The school ensures students are prepared for changes in nursing requirements and is vocal about the need for national uniformity in nursing education. Case gave me exactly the prep I needed for my current role as associate medical director of a community mental health facility.
Why I Picked the University of Virginia Darden School of Business
Annie Medaglia, 2015 graduate and co-founder of DreamWakers
After working at the State Department, I sought a business school that combined public and private sector thinking to more innovatively address 21st-century policy challenges. I chose the Darden School of Business because it emphasizes general management, teaching quality, entrepreneurial thinking and community.
Through Darden’s case method – students solve a company’s problems with a product launch, for example – I’ve developed the problem-solving skills to start a business or to innovate from within.
Initiative is encouraged. When I proposed the Tri-Sector Leadership Fellows program to bring law, public policy and business students together to learn from distinguished leaders, the school and classmates moved mountains to make it happen. The i.Lab, Darden’s startup incubator, provides students with advice and connections that enabled a friend and me to launch DreamWakers, a nonprofit that uses technology to connect students in high-need schools with professionals to discuss different careers. Through Darden, I feel that I can have a transformative impact on any environment.
Why I Picked the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor’s College of Engineering
Frank Sedlar, 2015 graduate and owner of Vela Aerial
University of Michigan’s College of Engineering had several strengths that appealed to me. In my area, civil engineering, professors are often professionals actively carrying on projects, many with an international focus – a particular interest of mine.
The experiential learning opportunities are superb. Instead of a formal thesis, students are encouraged to engage in independent research. For example, I studied how precipitation into Lake Superior affects the availability of water in the region.
I prototyped a low-cost water sensor to measure the rise of water levels in connecting rivers and canals. My prototype later became the basis of a successful Fulbright scholarship application for me to devise an early flood-warning system in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The school gave me an engineering grant after my first year to study flooding in Indonesia more closely, and it helped me build language studies into my master’s program. All of these experiences gave me a great foundation to start my own drone and aerial mapping company and to continue my engineering work in Indonesia.
Why I Picked Pepperdine University Law School (Malibu, California)
Jeffrey Majors, 2013 graduate and operations attorney
Before law school, I served in the military and earned my master’s in crisis and emergency management, where I learned how critical it was to solve problems before they deteriorate into conflicts. That’s something Pepperdine University, through its Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, excels at teaching.
Through Straus, Pepperdine trains future lawyers to be peacemakers, negotiators and problem solvers – rare and in-demand skills. Offerings range from negotiation to specialized courses in securities arbitration. Students can combine a J.D. with a certificate or a master’s in dispute resolution. I chose the latter.
Pepperdine provides plenty of clinical experience, like the Investor Advocacy Clinic, where I argued cases for low-income investors against broker-dealers. Straus gave me a better understanding of how to manage disputes, reduce risk and find leverage points in negotiations. I use these skills every day now as an operations attorney for Schlumberger, a global oilfield services company, to avoid crises before they occur and mitigate them when they arise.
Why I Picked the University of Alabama–Birmingham School of Medicine
Stacey Watkins, 2013 graduate and resident, UAB, Internal Medicine
I was accepted to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Medical Scientist Training Program that fully funds the M.D.-Ph.D. programs of future researchers at various medical schools. After going through two days of rigorous interviews at UAB’s med and graduate schools, I was sure it was a great fit as it seemed strong in every research area from microbiology to immunology to neurobiology.
The first two years of medical school, UAB has students cycle through different labs each summer to choose a specialty. After stints in pathology and microbiology, I found my “family” in the neurobiology lab, where I spent four years looking at how malignant brain cancer spreads.
I always found colleagues willing to collaborate and thelp me get the resources I needed for my research, because people at UAB are so committed to advancing treatments and techniques. I plan to pursue a fellowship in hematology and oncology and eventually hope to work at an academic institution where I can see firsthand the problems patients struggle with and then go back to the lab to solve those problems. UAB has prepared me to do just that.
Why I Picked the University of Washington
Christy Harris, 2012 graduate and elementary school teacher
When I decided to pursue teaching, I knew I wanted to work in a Title I school. UW’s College of Education was ideal for me as it emphasizes preparing teachers to serve disadvantaged communities and partners up with many area schools.
UW’s pipeline program allows students to learn theory and then apply it immediately. Starting in the summer, I was trained to do reading assessments and then to tutor individual students.
In the fall, my classmates and I took courses four days a week and began teaching classes once a week. Guided by mentor teachers, we learned to evaluate and instruct kids with diverse abilities. By January, we had moved to full-time teaching, while still meeting regularly with our mentors.
UW also matched us with after-school programs so we could understand the life challenges of many students – for example, kids whose parents worked night shifts or who had a language barrier that prevented them from helping with homework. I learned to apply these insights, discussing new concepts in class and using homework solely for review. Now with my master’s, I still take advantage of UW’s excellent summer programs for teachers to keep up with best practices.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Graduate Schools 2018” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.


3 Lessons Learned About Taking Online Courses

When you are thinking about pursuing an online degree, you might ask yourself a lot of questions: Is it going to be easier or harder than an on-campus program? Will I build relationships online? How will I balance my work, family and studies?
Before deciding to pursue a two-year, rigorous online MBA program, I completed eight short free online classes. My go-to platforms were Coursera and FutureLearn, but there are many more options now that offer high-quality lectures and materials.
These online courses combined with my online MBA program taught me a few lessons about learning virtually that might help a prospective or current online student answer their questions and know what to expect in an online program.
1. Sometimes, single-mindedness can be more beneficial than multitasking. Nowadays, we are constantly encouraged to multitask, and sometimes we even take pride in being good at it. That might seem like a particularly appealing way to complete coursework as an online student balancing a job with an education.
But for me, allocating specific timeslots to different tasks and focusing on one at a time have instead proved to be very useful. I am a student, a wife, a colleague and a good citizen; setting aside specific time to be each allowed me to be entirely focused.
Focused attention boosted my creativity and actually shortened the amount of time I needed to finish a task. Don’t be fooled, though. Having a focused mind can be a hard game at first – your thoughts wander around, and you think about million other things. But when there is a clock ticking, the sense of urgency can help you finish more in 20 minutes than in an hour of multitasking.
2. In an online course, you must put effort into building your network. Forming relationships in an online setting can seem hard for some. In an on-campus environment, making friends comes more naturally – you study together, go out or simply talk in the hallways and auditoriums. With some extra effort, though, you can also foster meaningful relationships with your online classmates.
Think of building your network as another part of your online course or degree – people are as important as courses. Include personal notes in your class discussions, address classmates in videoconferences and don’t be afraid of referencing and praising others for their efforts. Interact with your classmates on social media, and don’t hesitate to get outside your regular online classroom setting.
3. Virtual discussions might encourage you to look for unexpected connections with your life. Like any other graduate degree, earning an online MBA is rigorous with a lot of assignments, tight deadlines and demanding team case studies. The constant flow of written tasks requires you to be creative during discussion board conversations.
An online MBA student is expected to write unique posts in a class with dozens of other smart students. Not surprisingly, these conversations can seem daunting for some. The lesson here is to train your mind to look for unexpected connections between new concepts and what you already know from your previous education, professional experience and daily life. With tight deadlines and other responsibilities, virtual discussions can become a playground to synthesize skills and connect different topics into something new and unexpected.
The takeaway: Online education demands students balance their personal life, career and education. However, with the ability to focus, plan ahead and synthesize different concepts, an online student may graduate better equipped with skills and a wider network of meaningful relationships.

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