While the economy is hobbling toward recovery, many college graduates and young professionals are looking for jobs, changing career paths or trying to advance in their fields, albeit in a challenging marketplace.

"My ultimate goal is to move up the career path in a leadership development track," says Annie Ferreri, an MBA student at the University of Cincinnati who also works as a supplier quality engineer at Ethicon Endo-Surgery (EES). "I have an undergrad in electrical engineering, very technical, so I want to balance that with some business graduate studies to get well rounded and (help) my career moving forward."
For the last decade, business, education and health have dominated advanced degree programs, accounting for 62 percent of the more than 625,000 master's degrees awarded in 2007-2008, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics 2010.
This trend is reflected at local institutions, where education, business and health services have been growing over the past decade, according to Roger Bosse, director of the Office of Graduate Services at Xavier University.
"If (young professionals) want to change careers, they're looking for fields where there are going to be job opportunities for them," Bosse says.
However, not all students are seeking degrees. Many are looking for licenses, certificates or accreditation, which are sometimes combined with a degree program, as is the case in classwork designed to meet Ohio's requirement that social workers who graduated after 1992 earn master's degrees.
In addition, rapid changes in technology and business models make continuing education a necessity, especially in health and engineering, according to Robert Zierolf, associate university dean of the Graduate School at UC.
"It really seems like to me, the demand of the workforce is the primary reason (to return to school)," Zierolf says.

Young professionals need to balance time, money and coursework to ensure they get the most out of going back to school. Paying out of pocket is only one option: Many other financial avenues exist, such as grants, scholarships, fellowships, assistantships or company tuition reimbursement.
"There are very limited forms of free money that you don't have to pay back in the graduate world," says Todd Everett, director of financial aid at Xavier University.
Students are eligible for different types of aid based on federal or university regulations. For instance, a young professional with a $60,000 salary can get money from the federal government, but it will likely be an interest-bearing loan.
Also, many programs require an appropriate number of registered credit hours before financial aid becomes available through graduate assistantships, which are work-for-tuition programs. To offer more convenience, Xavier's Williams College of Business has a weekend assistantship that provides hourly pay and one free MBA or education graduate course, according to Jennifer Bush, assistant dean of MBA Programs.
"It all comes down to pay me now, or pay me later," Everett says. "Time is typically a scarcer resource than money, especially for a working young professional."
Sometimes, a mixed approach might be best. As the spouse of a UC employee, Ferreri takes advantage of their tuition remission program to cover her coursework costs, and then combines that with the tuition reimbursement program at her workplace to cover extra fees and book costs. Though she invests her time, her financial obligation is zero.
"As far as financial aid, look into every avenue," Ferreri says. "Use your network and use your resources."

Universities across the country help graduate students balance the demands of career and family while earning advanced degrees by long-distance learning or video conferencing. Options include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

The University of Cincinnati offers master's degrees in health administration, educational leadership, criminal justice and nursing through their distance learning and outreach department. UC's satellite campus at Raymond Walters College in Blue Ash provides continuing education programs for professionals closer to home in communities including West Chester, Liberty Township and Mason.

Miami University's Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester offers graduate coursework and master's degrees to K-12 educators, as well as a Professional MBA program through the Farmer School of Business.

Xavier University has off-campus locations in Deerfield, West Chester and Northern Kentucky, which provide area professionals with a more convenient location to get an MBA through the Williams College of Business. The program also has an accelerated format.

The University of Notre Dame offers a 21-month program (ranked sixth by the Wall Street Journal in a survey of top executive MBA programs) with a classroom in Cincinnati connected by real-time video technology.