With hundreds of graduate school programs to choose from, the process of selecting schools can feel overwhelming. There is no certain formula in determining the best school. It is more important to reflect on your interests and needs and finding a school that is well-suited for you.
How to Narrow the Field
- Review the research interests of the program faculty.
- Find information about the graduation and job placement rates, including the types of jobs graduates accept.
- Consider the faculty-to-student ratio.
- Evaluate the financial commitment (tuition, fees, cost of living) as well as any assistance you may receive.
- Determine the academic reputation/accreditation of the program according to faculty and contacts in your field.
- Weigh the quality of life based on the school’s location.
- Review national rankings by US News & World Report.
- Talk with current graduate students about their experience in the program.
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Things to Consider before Applying
Graduate programs will usually publish on their website or application the minimum qualifications for admission. However, this may not be a good indicator of the caliber of students in the program. Attempt to find out more about the student body profile, such as average test scores, average GPA, average years of work or volunteer experience, or any other information that is required for the application. If there are significant gaps between your information and the student body average, try to fill it by gaining the appropriate experience or including a short explanation with your application.
Apply to a Range of Schools
You can apply to as many institutions as you want, but keep in mind that you will have to pay an application fee every time you apply someplace different. Most prospective students apply to 4-12 schools. Pick a range of schools—include your top picks, your “sure things,” and a few in between.
Attempt to learn more about the admission standards. While minimum qualifications for admission are often published, they may not be an accurate indicator of the caliber of students in the program. Ask about:
- Average test scores and GPAs
- Years of work experience
- Coursework and degree programs
If any of your credentials are significantly below the average student body profile, talk with an admissions representative about how that will affect your chances of acceptance and how to bridge those gaps.
Things to Consider and Ask
- Where do you want to study? Do you want to be on a coastline or in the Midwest? Geographic location is important because you will be living there for at least two years.
- How much does the school cost? What forms of financial aid are available? Are graduate assistantships or fellowships available? How can you secure one? How reliable is financial support from year to year?
- What are the program requirements and emphases? Do you have to complete a thesis, dissertation, manuscript, practicum, or exit exams? Is the emphasis on practice or research?
- What are the professors’ interests? Are they similar to your own? Do you select your advisor or is that choice made for you?
- Talk to current students if possible. Are their interests and experiences similar to your own? Are these people you want to spend a lot of time with? What do they like about the program?
- Where are graduates from the program employed? What kind of assistance does the school provide in helping you find a job upon graduation?
- Visit the school you are applying to. Can you picture yourself at that school and in that city?