Tips for Choosing a Graduate School

  • Understand your professional goals.
  • Take time to consider a wide range of possibilities.
  • Organize your findings with a spreadsheet.
  • Visit the campuses of the schools that you’re most interested in.
  • Talk to people involved in the program you are considering.

Graduate schools are not one-size-fits-all institutions. One student’s dream school can turn into a nightmare for someone else. To avoid wasting your time, energy and money, you’ll need to select the school that’s right for you. Here are five tips to help you choose the graduate school that best suits your goals, abilities and requirements.

1. Understand your professional goals.

How well do you understand the realities of working in the industry you are hoping to join? Have you investigated the various career tracks open to professionals in your chosen industry and what is required to proceed along them? If not, do so. Interview people currently working in the industry. Ask if you could shadow them for a day. This allows you to make certain that the goal you’re striving for is one that you really want to attain. It also affords you valuable insight into what concentrations and topics might be particularly valuable as you eventually transition from the academic world to the professional one.

2. Take time to consider a wide range of possibilities.

Don’t settle on the first school that captures your imagination. Give yourself a few months to investigate at least 15 different graduate schools. Use rankings like those offered by U.S. News & World Report, recommendations from friends, family members and your undergraduate advisers, and internet searches to assemble a range of possibilities. Then, visit the schools’ websites to learn more about the institutions and their programs. You may end up going with the first school on your list or somewhere totally unexpected. Either way, you’ll be a well-informed consumer. Simply evaluating a variety of schools is certain to raise new questions and help you feel more confident in your ultimate decision.

3. Organize your findings with a spreadsheet.

Evaluating numerous programs and schools can quickly provide an overwhelming amount of data. Construct a spreadsheet to help you keep it all straight. Assign each program or school that you are considering a row. Then, create a column for each of the factors that you want to think about when making your decision. Possibilities include tangible aspects like location, cost, financial aid, career services, the length of the program and the facilities available to students. Intangibles like prestige, student culture and the general atmosphere at the school should also be considered.

4. Visit the campuses of the schools that you’re most interested in.

As you start to narrow your list, pay a visit to the campuses of the schools you are most interested in. Since attending graduate school means that you’ll be spending the bulk of your time for a couple of years on campus, you’ll want to make certain that you feel comfortable there. Walk around and get a feel for the school, check out its facilities and experience the school culture. You may find that a school that seemed perfect on paper is not quite right for you in reality.

5. Talk to people involved in the program you are considering.

No one knows a graduate school program as well as the people who are actually participating in it. Prepare a list of questions and make appointments to speak with them. Ideally, you’ll want to talk with professors, current students and alumni to get a good feel for the program. You might also want to swing by the admissions office and ask a question or two to see what kind of response you get. Are people generally helpful? Does the program seem like it would be a good fit? Does the school have the resources necessary to deliver on its promises? These are all points to consider.

Choosing a graduate school is a major decision. To make the best choice, you’ll need to gather information and weigh what you learn carefully. It will take time and effort, but the payoff will be a better educational experience.