You’ve decided on a career in allied health, but how do you get from where you are now to the career or your dreams? Figuring out where you’re headed is a great start, but it is only the beginning. Now you need to create a plan and set a course of action to reach your goals.

If graduate school is part of the picture, you will need to find out which schools offer the allied health degree you seek.

During the search for the perfect school to continue your education, don’t overlook Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). They provide an invaluable environment for learning, networking and embracing heritage.

If you are interested in attending an HBCU, there are many allied health graduate degree programs available. HBCUs range from sprawling universities to compact urban campuses, with schools scattered throughout the country, and they grant advanced degrees ranging from pharmaceutical science to rehabilitation counseling.

Deciding on a graduate program can seem like a daunting task, but research can help organize the process. Following are some key points to keep in mind as you consider various HBCUs.

Environment

Geographical location is a big consideration, so it’s vital that you figure out where you want to live and study for the next several years. Ask yourself: Do you prefer rural or urban environments? Is it imperative that you’re close to family and friends?

You should also delve deeper into campus life and student satisfaction. If possible, visit the campus and talk to current students to gain a first-hand perspective about the campus environment and program pros and cons. If an on-site visit is impossible, the admissions office may be able to set up a conversation with a current student via telephone or email.

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Cost

How do you plan to finance your graduate education? Clearly, this is a crucial factor and will play an important role in your program selection. Options may include any combination of grants, scholarships, loans, financial aid, family contribution and employer reimbursement. Examine the different programs offering the degree you seek and determine their tuition costs. Factor in available financial aid, such as teaching assistantships and work-study positions.

Job Opportunities

Graduate school is a valuable step in your career planning, but it is not the end of the road. Your goal should be to land a top job in your field upon graduation. Consider what types of job opportunities are available to graduates at each program. View career center Web sites and find out if schools offer placement assistance and career counseling, such as job fairs, recruiting programs, individual appointments and workshops.

Academics

Graduate school gives you an opportunity to really focus on your area of interest and become an expert. Therefore, the academic program you select should reflect your specialty area and learning goals. Ask yourself: Are you looking for a rigorous academic challenge? Is a school’s reputation important to you? Consider the professors and their research interests to find the best fit. Furthermore, even graduate programs in the same subject often vary in terms of requirements. Examine the specializations available and what courses you find most interesting.

Make a Choice

In order to make an informed decision, there are several methods you can use to assist you with selecting a program. It can be useful to make a list of the pros and cons of the various schools where you’ve been accepted in order to compare and contrast them. Use the above categories as a way to analyze their offerings.

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It is also helpful to get feedback from as many people as possible, especially those familiar with HBCUs: family, friends, colleagues, professors, advisors. Those who are directly removed from the situation can often provide a valuable perspective.

Finally, figure out what feels right to you and, ultimately, go with your gut instinct. Take a week and spend each day pretending you’ve decided to attend a different program. You may be surprised at your reactions.

No matter what field you choose within allied health and which HBCU you decide to attend, your degree is your first step to achieving your career goals. Research potential programs carefully and you’ll find your best fit for successful professional training and personal growth.

Picking an HBCU

For a comprehensive listing of HBCUs with advanced degree programs, the Web site www.edonline.com/cq/hbcu is a good place to start. Here is just a sampling of some of the diverse possibilities you will find:

Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Fla.
Looking for a large university? Florida A&M has a total enrollment of over 12,000 students. With 36 master’s degree programs with 56 majors/tracks, two professional degrees, and eleven Ph.D. degree programs, there is a lot to choose from. Florida A&M has a School of Allied Health Sciences that offers programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy and health sciences, as well as a College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science.

Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley, Ga.
If helping people cope with difficult situations is your interest, Fort Valley State offers master’s degree programs in mental health counseling and rehabilitation counseling. A land-grant state university with an enrollment near 2,500 and boasting over 70 student organizations, Fort Valley State provides one-on-one learning, as well as a commitment to the community and the greater world.

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Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tenn.
This unique program includes a School of Allied Health Professions that offers master’s degrees in physical therapy, speech pathology and audiology. Since the other schools at Meharry are also in the field of health—medicine, dentistry, public health and biomedical science—you will study with an array of health profession students.

Howard University, Washington, D.C.
If you are considering pursuing a Ph.D. in an allied health field, check out Howard University. Located in our nation’s capital, Howard is a private, comprehensive, research-oriented university with a strong academic reputation and a rich history as an HBCU. With a graduate student enrollment of more than 1,200, Howard offers a Ph.D. in human nutrition and pharmaceutical science, in addition to a number of master’s degrees within its College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences.

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