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Nov 24, 2021 2021-11 Accountancy Business Administration Finance Student

Choosing the graduate program that’s right for you

When evaluating online and residential master’s degrees in business, it’s important to look for programs that broaden your skills and offer experiential learning opportunities, according to experts from Gies College of Business.

“Think about your intrinsic motivation and passions, and then look at whether you want to improve specialized skills like accounting or business analytics or become a more holistic manager,” said Jeff Yacup, associate director of recruitment and admissions for Gies’ residential business master’s programs.

“If you want to apply what you learn immediately at work and study with diverse students from around the world, consider exploring an online degree,” added Aaricka Hellberg, assistant director of recruitment and admissions for Gies’ online graduate programs.

Yacup and Hellberg were recently joined by three Gies alumni in a roundtable discussion hosted by John Byrne, editor-in-chief of Poets&Quants.

Gies offers three online graduate degrees: a Master of Business Administration (iMBA); a Master of Science in Accountancy (iMSA); and a Master of Science in Management (iMSM) for those who are looking to build a foundation of fundamental business skills. Gies also offers six residential business graduate programs:

Whether a student pursues an online or in-person degree is based largely on what type of learner they are and where they are in their career.

Bobby Walker (MSM ’20) was a member of the Fighting Illini football team and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He decided to stay on campus one more year – enrolling in the residential master’s in management program – to build skills that better fit with his career goal of taking a managerial role at a company.

“I know I learn best in-person, and the MSM degree has given me credibility in business. Gies has a fun, welcoming culture where you meet people from all walks of life with different interests,” said Walker, who is a business development representative at Evotix, an environmental, health and safety-related technology company.

Like Walker, Shawna Varela (MSA ’21) found her undergraduate degree in psychology wasn’t the right fit for her long-term career goals. After looking at master’s degree programs in psychology and social work, she decided to spend her time during the pandemic sharpening her accounting skills with a master’s in accounting. Although Varela had intended to attend classes in person, COVID protocols on campus moved classes online. She took advantage of virtual 1:1 coaching to make her career transition and now works in taxation at Crowe, LLP.

“I had work experience in a completely different field – I came from healthcare – and with my liberal arts background I went from zero to 100 quickly in my accounting knowledge. I’m now working towards taking the CPA exam as I look to move up in public accounting,” said Varela.

When her family relocated from India to Alabama, Preeti Shastri (MBA ’21), began looking for an online master’s program that could help her gain new skills while offering networking opportunities.

“The high engagement factor of the program and the iMBA’s $22.5K price point led me to Gies. There are so many ways to participate. An internship I found through networking has converted to a full-time job,” said Shastri, who is a business development specialist at Marmon Foodservice Technologies. “The ROI of money, time, and effort can be managed easily with an online program, and it gives you a lot of flexibility to elevate your career.”

All three recent grads took advantage of the many extracurricular activities available to them through Gies. Shastri became a graduate teaching assistant, which she says helped her better understand concepts and learn subject areas in more detail. Varela became a representative of the graduate student body and benefited from the career services team, who coached her on how to stand out through the virtual interview process. Both Walker and Shastri participated in projects with Illinois Business Consulting, the largest professionally managed, student-run consulting organization in the US.

“Most Gies students have the opportunity to work with real businesses, and it’s really eye-opening for them. For example, you’ll take what you’re learning in marketing, accounting, and finance and apply it to a social media strategy for a company. It gives you real business context,” said Yacup.

For those unsure about how to get started or those on the fence about when to pursue an advanced degree, all the panelists advised not waiting for the “perfect” situation.

“There’s never going to be a ‘good’ time,” Yacup added. “You can think of a hundred reasons not to do something, but education will pay off for you. Don’t let excuses get in the way.”

“These big decisions don’t need to be made in a vacuum. Reach out to family, a friend, or even a graduate admissions counselor to have a conversation,” said Hellberg. “Graduate school is incredibly beneficial but also incredibly difficult at times. Our faculty encourage students to be helpful to one another, which creates a community learning environment that’s a surprise to many people in the online space.”

If you are unsure about which of the business graduate programs could be right for you, take our 30-second quiz to find out.