Choosing a Graduate Program
So, you’re thinking about going to graduate school… are you ready? Graduate school can be a rewarding experience that may contribute to your personal and professional growth. But, before making the decision to enter a graduate program, it is important to seriously consider your motivation. Be sure that you’ve planned carefully and it truly makes sense for your own career development. For some people graduate school may seem like the best option to further delay their entrance into the “real world” or to avoid the stress of job searching in a challenging market. Be careful! Choosing graduate school in haste may lead to debt, lost time, and further confusion about career options. So, before jumping into a program, take some time to consider: is graduate school really the right decision for you? Talking to a career counselor can help.
Once you are certain about taking that next step towards graduate school, selecting an actual program requires further self-exploration. Take inventory of your interests, values, and strengths. Once you are able to identify your personal preferences, it’ll make it easier to narrow down your search for the best-fit program.
Step One: Self-Exploration
- Visit the Career Development.Center. We can help you explore by providing counseling and guidance to help you to focus on specific graduate programs to pursue.
- Think about your short-term and long-term career goals. Consider your priorities, resources, and time-line for starting a graduate program. Do you want to go straight to graduate school or work for a year or two to gain experience? Everyone’s situation is unique.
Step Two: Researching Graduate School
- Use print and Internet resources to jump-start your search. The Career Development Center has an excellent library of directories, guides, books, and graduate school brochures. On-line resources can also provide great information on graduate programs and the process of choosing and applying:
- Network! Start with your professors, advisors, and friends in your field. They can provide great insight and recommend strong programs that match your interests. Through the “Mentor Network,” the Career Development Center can connect you with alumni and other professionals to provide further guidance and advice.
- Explore all of the factors that may influence your decision. View the program’s admissions materials and website to see available programs and special opportunities, size, location, and tuition costs. Read about the faculty research interests in the department’s information section, and consider setting up conversations to speak with faculty about their research areas (this helps with decision making, and if you make a good impression, it can help in the admissions process!) Learn about the university’s facilities and funding, student retention, job placement statistics, and other things that are important to you.
Step Three: Decision-Making
- Compile a list of approximately 5-10 schools. This should be a range that includes your top schools, solid choices, and a few safety schools based on admissions requirements—standardized test scores, grade point average, work experience, etc.
- If possible, arrange campus visits and informational interviews. Your “feel” for the campus may be different than what the brochure depicts.
- Trust your decision-making skills. Consider the way that you’ve successfully made decisions in the past. What process did you use? How are your most comfortable making decisions? You may make a pro and con list, talk things out with friends and family, use your gut feeling—your decision-making style is individual to you.
See the Grad School Time Table for the next steps!