More and more degree programs, especially at the graduate level, are incorporating specializations or concentrations into them. This allows students to specify exactly what they'd like to study in a degree program on top of the core coursework that most students in the overall degree program are required to take.
While these specializations mean more options for students, it can be tough to narrow down which specialization is right for you. Consider these questions to ask yourself when selecting the best degree specialization to meet your individual needs and interests.
1. What am I most interested in?
The most pressing question to ask yourself is what you're most interested in studying and, thus, what you would like to pursue as a career.
Since you've narrowed down your decision to a general degree program, such as a Master of Science in Criminal Justice, you should have a broad idea of the career field in which you could see yourself working. Or, perhaps you already work in a field but are simply looking to move up the ladder.
Sticking with the master's in criminal justice degree example, Saint Leo University offers this program with specializations in:
- Behavioral Studies
- Legal Studies
- Critical Incident Management
- Criminal Investigations
- Forensic Science
In this example of graduate criminal justice degree specializations, closely look over these areas of focus and determine which ones are most intriguing to you. Then dig into the details of that smaller group of specializations to cut down your choices even further.
2. What am I less interested in pursuing as a career?
While it may be easier to identify what drives your passion for a certain career, it's also important to eliminate certain career fields or specific jobs if you can. This is just like eliminating answer choices to a multiple-choice question that you know are wrong.
When presented with a list of specializations, take some time to think about each one. Then cross off the ones that just don't seem to spark your interest. What types of roles could you not see yourself in? What positions would make you uncomfortable – and why? The last thing you'd want to do is get into a job in which getting up for work each day is a struggle. You can reduce your chances of this happening to you by deciding what is not up your alley from the get-go.
3. What is the current state and future career outlook for this specific area within a particular field I'm looking at?
When choosing any degree program, you should always bear in mind what the current job market for that field looks like. If possible, explore the future projections for such a profession as well.
The same can be said for selecting a degree specialization. If you can pinpoint a smaller niche within a broader field that is growing in opportunity, go for it because you just might be on the cutting edge of something big.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is an excellent resource for information about the current pulse of nearly any career field under the sun, along with its future outlook.
4. How will this specialization benefit me in my career?
Of course, when you select any broad degree program in college, you should consider how such a degree will benefit you in your career.
While it is a bit more detailed, you should also account for how a specific specialization will benefit you. Is there a dream job you have your eyes on? Can you find a specialization that closely matches the training and skills needed for that particular role? If so, you could have an advantage in being considered for that type of job over someone with a more generic degree or who has less relevant experience.