Not everyone thinks a graduate degree is a must-have – especially if they are just fine with an undergraduate degree. But if you have plans to earn a graduate degree, then this article is a must-read for you.
Planning for a graduate degree often starts with the school or schools you should apply to for an admission.
In selecting schools, there’s a tendency for you to want to get into the pool of the ‘best schools’ to make a selection. The challenge, however, is that defining or identifying the best schools in the world is never really an easy task.
For instance, if you decide to go by the definition of best schools published on reputed ranking sites, you will realize in no time that there are no two similar lists of best schools in the world. This is because, most often than not, the factors that determine a particular site’s list are not the same factors that affect another site’s list. This variation, among other things, explains why identifying the best schools seems to be a herculean task.
Instead of busying yourself with what every other person considers as the best, we think you should save your time and energy for things that will come later in your plans like the applications, interviews, scholarships, and test preparations.
In planning for grad school, what you should know and put into good consideration are the best schools that are good for you. (In this case, what you want in a school and the important things you should look out for will be your guide in defining your best schools).
In your search, it is very likely that you will come up with quite a number of schools. In fact, the list will grow longer under certain conditions. And already you can tell that no one can successfully plan a grad school admission with a long list of schools. An attempt to do this is likely to eat up your time and energy. This is why you need to filter your search based on certain criteria.
Not sure what the criteria should include? Here are a few things we think you should consider before you make your list.
The question ‘where?’ is too important for you to let it slip by. The location of the school will guide you in making a selection. In the sense that, you have to decide on whether or not you will be willing to move when the need arises.
For instance, if you have a family, will you be willing to move to a school that is far from your family? Or will you rather go to a school close to your home so that you can shuttle between home and school? You could also consider the possibility of moving down to a location close to the school with your family so that you can have them with you.
Nonetheless, in the early stages of your application, you won’t be so sure you will be required to move until the admission offers start to roll in. We are only asking you to put the ‘where’ into consideration at this stage so that you can make informed decisions on your choice of schools. You certainly don’t want to receive an admission offer to a school and have to reject it because you are not a fan of its location.
If relocating is not an issue, then you want to ask if you are fine with a school in a remote location or in a large city.
Besides your personal preferences, you also want to check the role the location of the school will play in your academics while you are in the school. For instance, if you would be going into the oil and gas field, you want to know if there are drilling rigs, production platforms, and petroleum research laboratories in the city.
You also want to know about the cost of living in that city. Grad school is already an expensive venture for many students and it could be financially frustrating to have to be in a city where the cost of living is over the roof.
This is why you need to make an honest financial evaluation and see if it matches the costs of living. If you are so keen on a particular school and self-funding won’t get you or keep you there, then it is strongly advised that you apply for scholarships and financial aid.
Of course, if you are that one who can be anywhere irrespective of the cost of living there, then, by all means, be wherever you want to be.
Reputation matters a lot when it comes to making a list of grad schools. It is important to note that working with an overall reputation as opposed to its reputation in a specific field is not an effective way to make a school choice. You should, essentially, look out for schools in your field that are highly regarded. If you are pursuing a graduate degree in biology, for example, then the schools on your list should have a good reputation in biological sciences.
Another thing to keep in mind is the reputation of the program when it comes to job placement after your graduation from the school. You may also want to learn about the alumni body. What is their involvement and their contribution? Information of this sort will guide you especially if you are keen on enrolling in top programs in your field.
To get detailed information about the reputation of a program you can visit the program’s websites for stats and answers to questions that you may have. However, not all programs or schools will have this information, but you can get them on other online resources. A Google search may be a lifesaver. You could also place a call to the admissions office for first-hand and accurate information.
Another way to make a good list of your best schools is to look at what the program focuses on and if it covers your area of interest. If you can confirm this then you should add the school to your list. You should also consider looking at the program’s requirement and prerequisites that you may need to take before you enroll in the program. You stand a better chance of getting an admission offer if you are abreast with the requirements and you meet them.
If during your search on a particular program you come across details about a professor that you’ll like to work with, ensure you send a mail or put a call through to him or her. Who knows? They may actually be looking for someone with your background and you could get someone on the admissions panel to put in a word for you.
So, let’s say you are done with your applications and you’ve also taken the requisite tests. Then the ‘wait’. Right after the wait, you start getting feedback from the schools you have applied to. The responses may be negative or positive. So let’s say you get a positive response. Not just one response, but several responses. How do you deal with this really good problems?
For starters, finding an objective solution to this problem is not an easy one and there’s no universal standard to guide you on how to make a choice. However, you can take advantage of the following options to eliminate any school that won’t be worth your time.
Most, not all, graduate schools have a number of opportunities that can be beneficial to the grad student who seizes them. However, the specific opportunities you are looking for may be a good way to identify offers you should accept. For instance, a school that offers you financial aid and/or scholarships that could help you cover the cost of tuition and other associated costs should be considered.
Then again, if prestige matters to you, you may decide to go for an Ivy League admissions offer. By the way, you are sure to impress your employees with a degree from a prestigious school. So you should take note of that.
Most importantly, you should look out for a school that offers opportunities and provides you with skills that can distinguish in your field. You really don’t want to have graduated from a renowned grad school where all you can produce at the end of the program is the degree earned and nothing else.
Even if you visited the websites gazillion times before and after you submitted your application, we advise you to visit the website again when you receive an offer. It will be a good opportunity for you see the things you didn’t see the last time you check. And more importantly, you get a chance to see what attracted you to the school again. Of course, there may be new information like tuition costs, financial aid, and program duration for new students you may want to take advantage of as well.
Depending on your location, if you can make it down to the campus for an open house and ongoing classes in your department, kindly take advantage of the opportunity. Attending a class, for instance, will give you a sense of what your everyday life will look like if you accept the offer – the culture and rigors of being a student in the school environment.
When you attend these events, ensure you talk to current students and introduce yourself to members of the faculty.
Choosing a school over another requires you to have accurate information. And what better way to get information about the program and the school than speaking to graduates and professors in your department?
It’s ok if you can’t meet them in person because of your location. However, you can get contacts and send a mail or make a call to anyone who may have this information. The information may even include career support that you can get and how the courses offered are relevant to your area of interest. You may also learn about the lows of being a student that an alumnus may have experienced.
This is an effective way to make a choice between two or more schools. Once you are able to prioritize what matters to you and the school that serves you with most of what you want and need, then you can rest assured you will know the school you’ll be attending in no time.