Go back to Step 4: Identify Occupations in Demand and Industries that are Trending Upward
Assume that you are currently studying to be a Mechanical Engineer with an interest in heat transfer and thermodynamics. Your favorite education consultant promises a "Safe School" - the Mississippi State University (Bagley) - in the state of Mississippi. He assures you that the school is ranked #82 in the US News rankings (which we admit is pretty good). Your own research on the school's website shows that the primary research strengths of the faculty are in the areas of heat transfer, fluid flow and mechanics.
Should you go to this school?
No. Our strong advice would be to reject this school. We have nothing against the school itself - in fact, the school probably has a great student body, outstanding professors and a beautiful rural southern setting - but these things are less important in the Return of Investment equation. Remember that the ROI focus is all about how to get an internship and a meaningful job from which your career can take off.
Let us look at where the school is: The State of Mississippi.
First, how does the state rate on our Step 3: Choose Your Target States by Better Understanding the US Economy analysis?
Not very well at all. Mississippi is ranked 48 out of 51 in step 3a. A state with an unemployment rate of 9.4% - higher than the US average - is not exactly the place to go to for graduate education. [In January, Mississippi ranked 42 out of 51 and had an unemployment rate of 8.6% - so the situation in the state is actually getting worse]. Remember that international students, in order to protect their visa status and any on-campus employment need to physically live close to the school until they graduate. A company in Texas or North Dakota is unlikely to call a Bagley student for a job interview because most companies prefer to hire local candidates first. With few job opportunities in Mississippi, you will likely be stuck looking for a job for months, perhaps even a year.
What about GDP growth in step 3b? Mississippi had negative economic growth in 2011 - that is, the state's economy actually shrunk from the previous year - ensuring its place in the bottom-most quintile.
Lastly, what about the size of the economy? Mississippi ranks 36 out of 50, so while there are 14 states that have economies smaller than Mississippi, the state is not exactly a bastion of wealth (its per-capita GDP is ranked last, 51/51).
Now that we have considered the macro-economic indicators of Step 3, what about this student who wants to pursue a Heat Transfer masters at Bagley?
Let's analyze potential demand for his skills when he graduates from Bagley. Where's the demand for the Heat Transfer engineer? The most likely industries are the Nuclear Energy industry and the Heating and Air-Conditioning industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2,900 new Nuclear Engineering jobs are expected to be created all over the United States during the next ten years. All of these jobs require only a Bachelors degree although an enterprising student could potentially coax an employer to hire him with an advanced Heat Transfer degree from Bagley. But the larger issue is that the number of projected jobs - 2,900 - is really too small for our comfort. Second, most Nuclear Engineering jobs require US government security clearance, a prerequisite of which is US citizenship - something that the international student does not have.
What about the Heating and Air-Conditioning industry? The estimate of jobs in this industry is actually worse, at just 500 net new jobs over the next decade. While there will likely be no requirement that a candidate must be a US citizen, the number of jobs is just too few.
In summary, what is the chance then that a Bagley student with a freshly minted Heat Transfer MS degree will get a great job soon after graduation? There are always exceptions but our conclusion is that the chance is rather remote.
So, is everything lost for this student? No, not really. This is where the Star TV/Cricket analogy comes in to play. The marketer should change the product to meet demand: The student should re-brand his profile to pursue a different Masters degree (and fully abandon his desire to pursue a specialization in the Heat Transfer field).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates net new jobs of 9,400; 10,500 and 3,900 in professional, scientific, and technical services in the Industrial Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Mining fields respectively. From our macro analysis in Step 3, there are many industries in Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin, so the student could target these three states if pursuing an Industrial Engineering masters degree. If the student has chosen mining, North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota are also good candidates.
Or the student can consider diversifying to a career in high tech manufacturing. Or exploit opportunities in Big Data. Or consider a Professional Science Masters (PSM) degree. The options truly are limitless.
Another good tool here is the Council of Graduate Schools' online platform, GradSense, which combines federal data on both education debt and median salaries for various occupations, allowing students to calculate what various degrees may be worth.
We hope this example illustrates how vital it is to spend time analyzing your individual case using excellent, free tools that are available to you. Please review Section 4 on our home page, "What's Trending in the United States" where we spot US careers which are likely to be promising bets. No matter how you conduct your research, it is crucial that you take ownership of this exercise because you alone know yourself best. And you alone have to ultimately make things work for you.