Returning and Direct Pathway Students: How the Decision-Making Process of Engineering Master’s Degree Pursuit Is Influenced by Industry Experience

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Conference Name

2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Understanding the decision-making process when students are considering graduate school in engineering is important to institutions and to individual faculty who advise students, and has therefore been a subject of interest for many researchers. This process, and the factors which impact students’ decisions, depends on the background and individual circumstances of the student in question. Recently, research has also been conducted regarding returners in graduate engineering programs: those who return to attend graduate school after five years or more of working in industry. This paper aims to bridge the gap between these two genres of research and study the differences in the decision making process between returner and direct pathway students, specifically in master’s degree programs in engineering. In this study, both returners and direct-pathway students, those who had less than five years’ gap between completing their bachelor’s degree and starting a master’s degree, were surveyed as part of a larger research study on returners. This survey was administered in a web-based format, and distributed to multiple universities throughout the United States, with the participants all being U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Questions regarding the decision to attend graduate school were isolated and examined using standard statistical methods. From these statistical tests, we were able to obtain results which include:

- Returners are significantly less likely to use an undergraduate professor for a letter of recommendation for a masters program and more likely to use a recommendation from a colleague - Project portfolios were mentioned by multiple returners as supplemental material submitted with their graduate school applications - The source of information used the highest amount by both groups in the decision making process for selecting a grad school was the university website. However, returners used websites to a significantly higher degree - The desire to advance in their career was the highest motivating factor for returners to attend graduate school

These conclusions help us understand how priorities differ between these two student groups and may aid universities in their recruitment of graduate students from both backgrounds.


Paper ID #36888

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©American Society for Engineering Education, 2023