The Graduate School Decision

Analyze your motivation for advanced study. Will attending graduate school help you develop your abilities and achieve your goals? Graduate school can give you the opportunity to focus on a topic you are passionate about and can open the door to career advancement, financial security, as well as a rich and satisfying life. However, before jumping in to graduate school- you may want to consider if this is the right option for you and if this is the right time. Reflect and contemplate the following:

  • Is an advanced degree required to enter my field of interest?
  • Is an advanced degree required to move ahead in my field?
  • Am I enthusiastic about continuing my education now? Should I consider taking a break and applying later?
  • Do I have the qualities and skills necessary for success in graduate school?
  • What is the financial cost-benefit of attending graduate school at this time?

Attending graduate school should not be a way to postpone making a career decision. In fact, it should be the logical result of making a career decision. It is important that you explore and understand the careers in which you are interested and develop a clear idea of the position you want to pursue prior to choosing a graduate program. 

Researching Graduate School Programs

The more information you gather- the better equipped you will be to make good decisions.

On Line databases

Faculty and Professionals

Faculty members in your desired field of study will likely know about programs in their discipline and will be familiar with the work of faculty at universities around the country. Seek the advice of your faculty or working professionals in your field.

Professional Associations

There is as professional association for most career fields. (e.g. The American Occupational Therapy Association, The Public Relations Society of America, The Society of Human Resource Management, The American Translators Association) Association websites often include lists of graduate programs .

Consider Accreditation

As an applicant to graduate school, you should understand the role that specialized accreditation plays in your field. The role of accreditation varies considerably from one discipline to another. In certain professional fields it is a requirement to have graduated from an accredited program in order to be eligible for a license to practice. You can check whether a particular U.S. institution is regionally accredited at The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs website.

Consider Rankings

It may be short –sighted to choose a graduate school based on its ranking. Criteria for ranking can be different from what matters most to you. Rankings, however, will give you an idea of the reputation of a school and its programs. US News & World Report ranks several areas of study.

Find out where the writers of your favorite academic articles are teaching

In the classroom, you have most likely found authors of academic articles whose work you find particularly provoking. Many writers are faculty at universities teaching graduate students. Look up those names and see where your authors of interest are teaching.

Check out what current graduate students are saying

Current graduate students can share their experiences. If you visit a school, ask for time when you can talk with a current student. If you attend a professional conference- seek out graduate students who may be delivering a paper on their research. You can also consult online bulletin boards such as thegradcafe.com.

Selecting a Program

 To find the best fit. Tip: Create a spreadsheet and keep track of your programs based on the following considerations:

Program

  • What are the admission requirements?
  • What standardized tests are required and what are the typical scores of incoming students?
  • What academic prerequisites are there?
  • What practical/clinical/research experience is required/ desirable for admission?
  • Is a writing sample required?
  • How many letters of recommendation are requested?
  • When are applications reviewed?
  • When are candidates notified about their status?
  • Does the school allow deferment and under what conditions?
  • What are the academic requirements for completing the degree?
  • How much coursework is required?
  • Are there qualifying exams? When are they generally taken?
  • Is there a thesis or dissertation, and does it have a formal defense?
  • Is there a foreign language competency requirement?
  • To what extent does a student plan her own program?
  • Are there electives?
  • Is there a teaching or other practical requirement to complete the degree?
  • If not, are there opportunities to acquire practical experience?
  • Are there opportunities to publish/present your work?
  • If a PhD program, what is the typical length of completion?

Funding

  • Are fellowships or financial aid available?
  • Are they based on need or on merit?
  • Are they for incoming students? Enrolled students?
  • Is there funding for conference travel or special projects?
  • What is the likelihood of you being a recipient?
  • Are there teaching or research assistantships? Rotations? Clerkships?

Faculty

  • How and when do students acquire advisors?
  • Are they assigned or selected?
  • What is the faculty/student ratio?
  • Do faculty members in the department represent a variety of points of view toward the discipline?
  • Are the research interests of the faculty similar to your own?
  • Is there a particular faculty member whose work you know and with whom you would like to collaborate? Is he/she in a position to take you on as an advisee?

Facilities

  • Does the institution have the resources you will need for your studies and/or professional training?
  • How extensive and available are the labs and other training facilities?
  • Are there specialized research facilities available?
  • Do the library resources fit your needs and/or is there a good inter-library loan system?
  • Are there cooperative programs with other educational, cultural and research institutions?

 Students

  • Who will your fellow students be?
  • What is the attrition rate? (How frequently do students in the department fail to complete their degree requirements or pass licensure exams?)
  • What is the general morale among students?
  • Are there opportunities for collaboration with other students?
  • What career services exist for graduate students?
  • How many of the recent graduates are employed and where?

Community

  • Can you make this place your home?
  • On a lifestyle level, is the department, university, town a good fit for you?
  • Are there issues of race, sexuality, religion, age, family that may determine how happy you will be?