10 Tips on Choosing a Graduate School
Check out the top tips for choosing the right graduate school.
Table of Contents:
- Tip #1: Start with “Why?”
- Tip #2: Don’t Rush Your Decision
- Tip #3: Categorize and Prioritize
- Tip #4: Keep Your Career in Mind
- Tip #5: Evaluate Academic Programs
- Tip #6: Check for Qualifications and Requirements
- Tip #7: Consider Location and Cost of Living
- Tip #8: Analyze Financial Factors
- Tip #9: Talk to Students, Advisors, and Alumni
- Tip #10: Make a Choice and Apply!
Choosing a graduate school is one of the most crucial decisions you will encounter in your academic journey. There are many options and factors to consider, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. That’s why we composed this article: to provide you with insights, tips, and advice on how to research and choose the right graduate school for you.
Tip #1: Start with “Why?”
Before even beginning the process of researching and applying to graduate schools, it’s important to understand what you want to get out of the experience. What are your reasons for wanting to go to grad school? The answer to that question will help narrow your focus when evaluating different programs.
You might have a variety of reasons, such as gaining more specialized knowledge, advancing your education, increasing chances for a better career, or achieving a lifelong personal goal. Whatever your motivation may be, make sure that the program you chose is going to help you achieve your goals. This will help you stay focused and get the most out of your grad school experience.
Tip #2: Don’t Rush Your Decision
The more time you invest in carefully researching and choosing a graduate school program, the more you will benefit in the end and feel confident that you made the right decision. Going to grad school, whether you are taking online courses or studying on campus, will take a significant amount of time, effort, and money, so making the right choice is very important. Start doing research several months before application deadlines to make sure you have enough time to decide.
Tip #3: Categorize and Prioritize
The best way to choose a graduate school is to categorize different options based on your chances of admission, as you may have done when you applied for undergrad. Make sure you have at least two or three safety schools you’re fairly certain you will get accepted to, as well as two or three that you think you may have a chance of getting into. And why not try for one or two long shots and dream schools while you’re at it? This way, you have a decent pool of potential schools you might want to attend.
Tip #4: Keep Your Career in Mind
When deciding how to pick a grad school, you need to keep your future (or current) career in mind. If you are still undecided about your career, check out the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to get a sense of typical career paths by industry. The handbook is also a useful resource for learning which educational degree you will need for each type of job as well as researching market growth forecasts and potential earnings for each career option. The information it contains can help you make the right choice when it’s time to decide which type of graduate school to attend.
Tip #5: Evaluate Academic Programs
Examine the curriculum and course structure at the programs you’re considering. Look for faculty whose research aligns with your interests. Consider factors like class size, availability of research opportunities, and the school's reputation in your field of interest.
Tip #6: Check for Qualifications and Requirements
Once you’re closer to choosing a graduate school program that interests you, you will need to figure out whether you meet the requirements for admission. Keep in mind that some programs may require you to take an entrance exam while others may require that you successfully complete a course or two.
Tip #7: Consider Location and Cost of Living
If you choose to take classes on campus, keep in mind that where you study affects your daily life. Consider the area’s culture, climate, cost of living, and proximity to family and friends. This will be your home for the next few years, so you should choose the school that fits your lifestyle the most. If you are taking online courses, keep in mind that some graduate programs may require that you take a percentage of your courses on campus.
Tip #8: Analyze Financial Factors
Financial considerations play a vital role in choosing a graduate school program. Take time to understand the full cost of programs and figure out how you can fit them into your budget. You should also research your options for financial aid, grants, and loans. If you are currently employed, don’t hesitate to ask your employer about tuition reimbursement opportunities.
Tip #9: Talk to Students, Advisors, and Alumni
To get the best insights, you will need to go to the source. A direct approach is usually the best, so try to visit the campus grounds and talk to current students. Reach out to a few faculty members you are most interested in working with and ask for their insights into programs and the curriculum. Check online for alumni associations to gain a better understanding of former students’ experiences at each school.
Tip #10: Make a Choice and Apply!
When you are finished with your research, the hardest is behind you. But there is one last hurdle on your way to success. The application process itself can also take some time and effort, but it’s the last thing you will need to do. Don’t rush it, and stay focused while you are filling in all the information. You would not want your application to be rejected because of a typo.
Choosing a graduate school is a decision that will shape your future. If you follow the 10 tips outlined in this guide, you can find a graduate program that aligns with your goals and aspirations. Whether you're aiming for an academic career or advancing in the professional world, choosing the right graduate school can be a gateway to success.
Generally, it's wise to apply to between five and eight grad schools that match your criteria but that also vary in selectivity.
Consider factors such as academic reputation, faculty, location, funding, and alignment with your goals.
Use resources like university websites, academic journals, and alumni associations; attend informational sessions online or on campus to gather detailed information.