Find the Perfect Graduate School

By Bridget Kulla, edited by Kathryn Knight

September 03, 2008

Find the Perfect Graduate School

Whether you just finished your undergraduate work or have been in the job market for years, pursuing an advanced degree can further your academic and career goals. Your focus of study is more specific than when you entered your undergraduate college, and so will the process of selecting a graduate program. Consider these areas while searching for your perfect graduate program:

General Concerns

Enrolling in graduate school is a big decision with a lot to consider. Going to graduate school means committing yourself to living in one location for two to seven years. Make sure you are happy with the school’s location before packing your bags. Also, consider the location in relation to what you will be studying. For example, if you will be researching wildlife biology, you probably won’t want to attend an urban school.

Earning an advanced degree won’t be cheap. The average debt accumulated for graduate degrees ranges from $30,000 to $120,000, according to Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized financial aid expert. Compare the costs of different programs and explore what financial assistance is available. Keep in mind that a program’s sticker price may be high, but this number could drop significantly if the school offers a wide variety of financial aid.

Academics

Don’t assume a program will include your specific academic focus. Make sure the graduate schools you are considering have the field of study and research programs that meet your interests. Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate schools focus on a few areas within a specific discipline.

If you are unsure of the exact focus you want to pursue, choose a program that allows you to explore several research areas. “I did not have a specific project in mind when I applied to grad school. For that reason, I decided to apply to schools which allow students to explore different areas,” says Maria Sierra, a graduate student enrolled in the biology program at the University of Chicago.

Reputation

Finding a good job after earning your advanced degree will be easier if your graduate program is well regarded. Talk to your undergraduate professors and professionals in the field to see how a program is perceived. Take a look at college rankings.

Often more important than a program’s reputation, is the reputation of its faculty members. Investigate if a program has professors who work in the subject area that interests you. What kind of research are they pursuing? Schedule interviews with professors to discuss if their academic focuses are relevant to your goals.

Also, talk to students currently enrolled in the graduate program or recent graduates. Find out how satisfied they are with the program.

Part-Time or Full-Time

Both part-time and full-time graduate school enrollment have their advantages. Evaluate what type of grad student you want to be and make sure you explore programs that can accommodate you. Some schools, like Northwestern and Emory, offer part-time programs designed for students who work. A school may have a stellar reputation, but if they don’t encourage part-time studies, you may do better elsewhere.

Career Services

One of the most important considerations you should make while selecting a graduate program doesn’t take place while you’re enrolled—what do graduates do after earning their degrees? Do they go into academia or have careers in the real world? What kind of career assistance is available to students?

Explore what career services are available to students. Most schools will have a student career services center specifically for graduate students. Campus career advisors can guide you if you are not sure what you want to do after graduate school.

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