"Applying Critical Thinking Skills to Making Post-Graduate Education Decisions"
"Applying Critical Thinking Skills to Making Post-Graduate Education Decisions"
Introduction/Critical Thinking Defined
Using critical thinking skills nearly always results in better decision making and therefore better actions. Personal change is always accompanied by a long list of critical issues that require thought and development in order to cement into a cost-benefit balance. Long-term goals are likely to be those best developed with critical thinking skills, but sometimes long-term goals do not actually create a beneficial outcome, largely as a result of those goals not being well thought out or well researched. Seeking to further one's education is a higher goal that can and often does result in greater long-term earning potential but is also often associated with immediate sacrifices and challenges, such as limiting income in the present for deferred promises of greater income in the future, or limiting non-returnable time with family to further one's educational goals. It is therefore clear that developing a plan for post-graduate studies using best practices in critical thinking is essential.
Solon provides a comprehensive definition of "critical thinking" with regard to the "generic critical thinking skills" associated with the study conducted by this researcher:
"Critical thinking," as used in this paper, refers to a set of basic and generic reasoning skills. These skills include the ability to identify and/or distinguish between: 1. inferences and non-inferences 2. assumptions (covert as well as overt) and conclusions 3. consistent and inconsistent statement sets 4. deductive and inductive reasoning 5. valid and invalid arguments 6. credible vs. seriously questionable claims and sources 7. meaningful vs. vague, ambiguous, and/or meaningless language 8. relevant vs. irrelevant evidence 9. scientific vs. pseudo-scientific procedures (Solon, 2007, p. 95)
This comprehensive definition of critical thinking will be the one used and accepted for the purpose of applying "critical thinking" to my decision to return to school to pursue a masters degree in psychology.
Application of Critical Thinking to Education Decisions
The two greatest obstacles I am attempting to overcome with regard to pursuing a graduate degree are financial and familial. I have a growing family with growing needs and the immediate cost of tuition, as well as limitations on my earning potential and primarily loss of time with family are all sacrifices that I have had to mitigate to return to school. To mitigate these concerns, I employ critical thinking skills. Skills I will likely hone, as a graduate student in psychology, even while at the same time developing higher demands upon myself and my family for time and money. (Solon, 2007, p. 95) I reason that learning greater critical thinking skills will help me appropriately and effectively manage my time to meet a demanding school, work and family schedule. (Pederson & Daniels, 2001, p. 182)
I have used reasoning skills to determine the eventual long-term progress that will be obtained, by my family, by my returning to school and eventually finishing a post-grad degree in psychology are worth the immediate sacrifices I will make to do so.
Reasoning is often taken to be the hallmark of the human species. Colloquially, reasoning tells us "what follows what." When we reason, we use our knowledge about one or more related statements that we can reasonably believe are true to determine if another statement, the conclusion, is true. A conclusion is an inferential belief that is derived from other statements. The ability to reason well is a critical thinking skill (Halpern, 1997, p. 80)
Through the use of reason, as well as limited research I have determined that my earning potential, will be almost twice what it is today if I complete my degree. (Keith-Spiegel & Wiederman, 2000, p. 49) I have also looked into university and outside offerings for employment and funding that are more responsive to my need to earn a living and go to school at the same time. I have looked at assistantships, as well as alternative funding programs, such as scholarships and other assistance, that are appropriate for my demographic.
Critical thinking skills have also been at play in my development of a long-term employment plan. I currently seek a masters degree in psychology. I was previously concerned about this degree, as I was not certain that such a degree would clearly benefit my long-term goals. I reviewed basic empirical statistics as well as seeking out networking opportunities with those who have followed this path. I also met with the school career counselor to assist with my decision and to help me determine if a masters degree would be cumulative and transferable to a doctorate degree if I chose to continue. Yet, further research and discussions with individuals who have such degrees or who teach in the field assisted me in the development of a clear sense that masters level education in psychology offers a vast list of opportunities, not the least of which is a possible future in private practice clinical psychology.
Employment opportunities exist for those who hold a master's degree in psychology. A master's degree with experimental training gives a person advanced skills in research and use of statistics, and more generally in analytical reasoning and critical thinking. Jobs exist in a wide variety of public- and private-sector organizations and companies for people who are literate and can read and write critically, problem solve, analyze data, do research, and use computers and software programs. (Perlman, 2001, p. 38)
Private practice clinical psychology, may be an ultimate goal, but as I have learned from further networking this may also be far more than I was expecting, as individuals in this role are in many ways required to run a business or work in a multi-person practice, with independent business responsibilities. By using critical thinking skills I therefore determined that taking some introductory business courses would be an integral and necessary part of my education, regardless of the fact that such courses may not be in my immediate college or part of the necessary obligations of my degree.
Applying Critical Thinking To School Choice
I ultimately selected this University because of its diverse offerings to professional graduate level students. Though the tuition is slightly higher than it would be at a public university the offerings are specifically tailored to meet the needs of working professionals, many of whom have logical needs for broad, business focused education. I also chose this program and university because it is well-known for its focus on being extremely flexible in class time and structure to meet a broad set of needs for adult learners. Additionally, the university is known for employing individuals who both meet stringent academic/accreditation requirements and have worked within the field in which they teach. "Such accreditation is important in establishing competency-based training that protects the consumers of psychological services." (Perlman, 2001, p. 39) Accreditation can also be essential in transferring credits from one institution or program to another.
To find the answers to these questions I did not simply believe the rhetoric of advertising for the University, I seriously perused the faculty lists and sought out information on accreditation and transfer credit information from the university as well as other post-grad programs. The reputation of the school is largely inferential, while I preferred to use critical skill to locate and develop fact-based ideas and reasoned expectations for the future. Evidence suggests that many, though not all the claims of the University are true, that faculty and the program are flexible and particularly schooled in meeting the needs of adult learners. Some of these goals are met by the university by holding classes during off work hours, seeking out faculty that are experienced in work and education, offering online content and other important dimensions of adult education needs.