Selecting a Grad School Program
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated September 2010
You probably remember the hassles you endured in trying to complete your undergraduate applications. Luckily, applying for grad school is a whole different ball game. Your grad school applications will still require concentrated effort, but as a graduate school candidate, you’re much better prepared to discuss your goals, and to align yourself with relevant programs.
Firstly, arm yourself with a comprehensive index or database of all the graduate school programs in your field. GradSchools.com is a great place to start. GradSchools.com allows you to instantly filter hundreds of programs against multiple criteria – including academic field, specialty subject, delivery format, and worldwide location. During this first phase of grad school selection, you should request information from 5 to 10 graduate programs. A larger pool boosts your chances of an ideal fit, and helps to generate more financial aid offers, like scholarships, grants, and fellowships.
Narrowing Down the Schools
Now that you’ve established a list of potential grad schools, you’ll want to focus on the handful of programs that truly suit your needs. Sharpen your search by matching your specific focus/interests with the faculty members and research projects at your choice schools. If you haven’t isolated a focus, try to pinpoint the goals and questions that inspired you to consider grad school in the first place.
For example, if you’re fascinated by Homer and Hesiod, you should look for poetry professors who’ve built classes and research around Hellenic studies and oral traditions. If you’re a student of psychology and you’re also interested in linguistics, investigate the interdisciplinary course options that are available; some programs may limit your work outside their department. In many cases, students’ dissertations are available through university libraries. You can preview the theses of past graduates to assess the program’s level of scholarship and emphasized concepts.
Whenever possible, go and visit your semi-finalist grad schools. Your first-hand impression of the campus and the community is more important than guidebook statistics – especially if you’ll be moving to a new city. If a program is online, or too expensive to visit, arrange to contact current students and alumni via phone or email. Don’t waste money on an application fee until you’ve formed a personal opinion about the program climate.
Making a Final Decision
You’ve sent your grad school applications, and now you’re receiving multiple acceptance letters. Congratulations! Your final decision should be based on all of the above factors, plus – of course – program cost. If you’ve successfully paired your talents with the right programs, you’ll receive better aid packages and hopefully some research or teaching assistantship offers. And if nothing seems viable, don’t despair. Many graduate students apply and re-apply, for 2 or 3 semesters, before they gain admittance to the perfect program.
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