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Focus on Job Skills With a Professional Master's Degree

Postgraduate programs are getting a lot more practical with hands-on learning and job-focused training.

New science master’s programs blend policy, management, and STEM courses to turn out professionals, not academics.

Many of the so-called "blue-collar" STEM jobs are in construction, installation, manufacturing and health care.

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[Find out the salaries graduate degree holders are earning.]

Beyond workplace skills, experts say, grad students need much better career guidance. A Council of Graduate Schools commission issued a report last April that recommended beefing up career counseling services; connecting students with alumni; and adding opportunities to engage with professionals in industry and government.

Some universities are ahead of the curve. Michigan State University, for example, has hired a career services officer specifically to assist graduate students with landing nonacademic positions—to help English doctoral students find spots in company communications departments, say, and historians get work in a preservation society. Meanwhile, Ph.D. candidates who do want to teach can take a yearlong prep course in the art of managing and inspiring a class.

In another practical step, some schools are slashing the time to a Ph.D. Stanford University, for example, recently encouraged its humanities departments to make doctoral degrees achievable in five years. At the University of Colorado—Boulder, the Ph.D. program in English is being reworked to reduce the time to degree from as many as nine years to five.

To a growing number of people seeking postgraduate education, the most practical route of all is not even a graduate degree. Of the 1 million certificates awarded annually by community colleges and other career and technical training providers to recognize mastery of specific job skills, notes Carnevale of Georgetown's CEW, 15 percent go to people who have at least a bachelor's degree.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools 2014 guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings, and data.