When you choose your allied health graduate program, you want to make sure you get a great education and solid professional training. But let’s face it, you also want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. With graduate school costs on the rise, your investment has to pay off in the long run. Each grad program offers different pros and cons, including varying tuition prices, teaching assistantships, financial aid packages, faculty, rankings and more. So how do you decide on both which program is best for you, and how it will affect your starting salary upon graduation?

There are many factors that impact one’s initial earnings. As you consider these points, always keep in mind the big picture. Remember that your starting salary is only the beginning and not necessarily an indication of your future earnings in the field.

Geographic Location

Where do you see yourself living and working during your professional career? Many people choose to look for jobs in the same region as where they attend graduate school. This often provides a leg up for job opportunities, since local recruiters tend to visit schools in their immediate area. Also, most programs require students to complete fieldwork and internships, and this will help you to build professional contacts that may lead to future job offers. These experiences are some of the best ways to make contacts that will lead to employment. If you are unsure about where you want to settle, consider schools that are more nationally known, rather than regional schools that only have employment contacts and alumni within that state or city.

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Supply and Demand

It’s a basic law of economics: when supply goes down, demand goes up. Let’s say there is a region of the country that is short on physical therapists, where clients have to wait several weeks or even months to get an appointment. You can virtually guarantee that physical therapists will command higher salaries in that area as employers try to lure them to the location. Similarly, what do you think will happen in a city that is glutted with dieticians? Employers won’t recruit dieticians or offer higher starting salaries since they already have as many or more than needed to satisfy the population. Logically, starting salaries tend to be higher in regions that are short on specific allied health professionals to meet the needs of their residents.

Cost of Living

Not all starting salaries are created equal. The reality is that $40,000 in Boise, Idaho goes a lot further than it does in San Francisco. Numbers that seem low can be relative when you factor in the costs required for basic survival. Before getting discouraged, research the cost of living in each region. Determine what your average expenses will be including rent, utilities, food, transportation and entertainment. Utilize salary calculators to see what your offer translates to nationwide. Try the links at Home Fair and Best Places.

Experience/Personal Qualities

Just like all starting salaries are not created equal, neither are all new graduates. Allied health professionals enter graduate school with a variety of experiences and backgrounds. Some have worked for several years before applying; others come right from their undergraduate studies, and still others transition from one field to another with lengthy professional careers behind them. Grades, internships, volunteer work and the general impression made on the interviewer add up to a candidate’s overall value. As employers review resumes, interview candidates, proffer offers and put together new hire packages, they take the total composite of each candidate into consideration. There is usually a salary range set for each position, but often this range can vary by as much as $10,000 – $20,000. Whether you will be on the high or low end of that spectrum will depend in a large part on your prior experience and what unique personal qualities you bring to the table.

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Reputation of Program

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Rankings are not always an accurate way to determine which school is best for you, but they can give you insight into how programs may be viewed by employers.

Characteristics are rated such as faculty-to-student ratio and career placement. In some fields and some cities, rankings matter more than others. As you consider various graduate school programs, speak to professionals in your field to gain their perspective. Sometimes foregoing a big name school for one that will offer more personalized attention and a greater financial aid package can be beneficial. Ask yourself if you would rather graduate with a potentially higher salary, but greater debt. However, in other situations, a more competitive program may offer you access to more opportunities, such as networking with successful and well-connected alumni. Click here for more information.

Industry/Work Setting
Think about your professional goals. In what type of setting do you wish to work? Salaries will vary whether a hospital, private practice, clinic, public health agency or university employs you. Speak to professionals and professors to determine the typical ranges for each employment setting. Look at job listings to see if they list salary information. Professional associations are also an excellent way to determine starting salaries for each field. Useful salary links for allied health include the AMA, www.salary.com and www.healthcarejobstore.com.

The Big Picture

Be sure to consider the whole picture as you make your graduate school decisions. There is no one overriding factor when it comes to predicting starting salary. Rather, a combination of aspects will determine which is the best choice for your future, as well as your wallet. Each graduate school offers different benefits that will make your experience worthwhile both personally and professionally. Just the same, each job has advantages that go beyond simply the numbers on your paycheck, including health insurance, vacation time, continuing education reimbursement and more. If you view each position as a stepping-stone on the ladder of your future, you can see your starting salary in the context of your career.

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