Graduate School: Choosing a Program
Selection of a Program
A major concern of many individuals considering graduate education is that they need to attend the best program of study. National rankings are available for review from a number of sources but may be based on different criteria. Is the national recognition that a program or school has received the most important factor to consider when selecting a program? Not necessarily. A program should meet your individual needs, interests, and goals.
- Consider this information about each program:
- Department courses and offerings Information on student outcomes
- Accreditation and length of the program
- Size, geographical location, type, and availability of housing
- Community environment
- Financial aid opportunities
- Cost and residency requirements
Researching Graduate Schools
There are many ways to go about researching graduate schools.
- Consider all of these options throughout the search process:
- Talk with individuals who have knowledge of the field: faculty, deans, advisors, friends, family, career coaches, etc.
- Consult general graduate school guides or resources geared specifically toward your field
- Utilize the internet or link directly to schools of interest
- Contact individual graduate schools' departments requesting a catalog, application, and financial aid information
- Visit institutions and interview with directors, if possible Attend graduate school fairs and forums
Questions to Ask Any Graduate Program
- What is the largest and the most typical class size for a graduate class? Are classes restricted to graduate students or are undergraduates common in your graduate classes?
- What would be the advantages and disadvantages of going to graduate school immediately after completing the undergraduate program? The advantages and disadvantages of waiting a few years? The best use of the interim time?
- What are the criteria and process for selecting teaching assistants, research assistants, and fellows?
- I will probably need financial assistance. Can you tell me how most students fund their studies here?
- Will I get to develop my own topics, or will I be expected to work on a professor’s ongoing research?
- What is the average time to complete (a) classwork, (b) research, (c) dissertation? (I.e., what is the average time to complete the Ph.D.? Ask about the program as a whole, but perhaps more importantly, by the professor.)
- What is your attrition rate? Of those who don’t finish, what are their reasons?
- What kind of student thrives in your program?
- How reliable is your financial support year to year? Is the first-year offer always sustained given attainment of academic goals?
- May I have some bibliographies of recent publications by faculty? Which professors have won awards and grants lately (and presumably need graduate assistants)?
- Can you tell me about the types of jobs obtained by recent graduates? (Avoid relying on testimonials and anecdotal evidence and try to see actual reports with statistics.)
- May I meet some currently enrolled students (in person or via phone or email)? (Be sure to ask about their research topics and be sure to take notes on specific professors mentioned.)
- How can I be a strong candidate for a program like this?
Adapted from Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher (Ten Speed Press, 2000)
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