The Paradox of Choice

Personally, I’m a very slow decision maker. I’ll research 10 different types of portable coffee mugs before purchasing one on Amazon, and I’ll look at every permutation of travel (bus, train, plane and car) before buying my tickets home for Christmas. So, when it came time to choose which programs to apply to during my applications, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Early in my application process, I discovered that each school usually had two or three different programs that fell into my interests. When I learned that the applications at most schools require applicants to identify a single program to apply to, I fell victim to the paradox of choice. The paradox of choice states that as we are presented with more options, our decision-making becomes less clear and more labored. It wasn’t a choice between 15 different cookies, but it was a choice that would lead to a one to two-year commitment. No pressure right? Here are a couple of factors that I found useful when selecting my program (at HGSE and at other schools too):

1. What are the required courses? Because these courses cannot be negotiated, compare the required curriculum of the programs you are considering. Look for the core curriculum that most closely aligns with your professional interests. You can also check HGSE’s course catalog to determine if some courses are only open to members within a certain program.

2. Who are the professors and what do they research? Regardless of where you end up, you’ll have access to all the professors at your institution. However, you will have more access to professors associated with your program as one of them will be your advisor and its likely that you will take more classes with those professors. Find out which Professors are doing research related to your interests.

3. What do alumni in the program do? It really is useful to check out alumni profiles to see where students end up; it will help give an idea of typical career paths you can pursue with your degree. Alternatively, search for the job you’d like to have in 15 or 25 years. Read the bios of individuals in those positions and figure out what they studied.

4. What skills do you want or need to acquire through your studies? Once you know what skills you need to acquire, double-check the program requirements to make sure that the program can meet those needs. If it doesn’t then it isn’t the right fit.

HGSE offers 15 different academic programs. On the master’s level, the programs of study range from Arts in Education to Technology, Innovation and Education, Prevention Science and Practice to International Education Policy. Although each program is unique, they are designed to overlap with one another to encourage students to collaborate across programs. Initially I found this frustrating because it meant that multiple programs fit my interests. In reality, it means that while you do apply to single program, there is so much flexibility built in, you can almost build your own program.

My courses this year are almost evenly split between Higher Education (HEP) and International Education Policy (IEP).   I chose to apply to Higher Education program because its core classes and the research of two doctoral candidates aligned best with my interests.  I knew I would have been happy in both programs, but I felt that taking the core classes in HEP  and several electives in IEP would best suit my needs in interests.  Looking back, I’m glad I put a lot of thought into it and made the right decision (for me).  Good luck with yours!

Ashley Litzenberger is a Graduate Assistant in HGSE Office of Admissions and Master’s of Education candidate in the Higher Education Program. Prior to attending HGSE, Ashley worked in Israel on projects that promoted peace dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth. She looks forward to exploring the ways in which colleges and universities facilitate intercultural dialogues. 

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