By Laura Morrison, July 2014
Making the decision to apply to graduate school is a big step, but it's just the first one of a long journey. Once you've set your sights on higher education, the next step is to narrow down which schools you're seriously considering applying to.
Of course, this task is much easier said than done. The sheer number of program options might be overwhelming to even the most decisive candidate. But if you keep a cool head, and these handy tips in mind, you might find the decision making process to be a little less painful.
Give yourself time
Choosing a graduate program may be a decision that significantly impacts the next several years of your life, if not your entire future. Like any other facet of your application, you want to make sure your decision of which school to apply to takes all necessary factors into account and isn't thrown together on a week's notice.
Know your goal and your field
It can be difficult to make an educated decision about which school to attend if you approach graduate school aimlessly without a clear idea of your personal and professional goals. But if you know which field you want to go into, as well as what type of career you want to pursue after you graduate, you may be able to begin narrowing choices down much more easily. For example, knowing which schools are accredited in specific subject areas is a huge factor that may help you determine where you might set your sights.
Research other important factors
A school's academic programs are important for making a decision, but there are other things you should take into account. One of the biggest is what sort of support structures the school in question offers. Graduate studies can be physically, emotionally and financially taxing, and having relevant counseling and advocacy services available can be invaluable throughout the course of your degree. On a related note, campus life is something worth looking into. Communicate with current students through methods such as chat rooms and forums to get a better sense of what being a student is like if possible.
Know what's in a name - not much
You may think that you need to score a Ph.D. from Harvard or Yale to be competitive post-graduation, but the reality is that's not always the case. It’s true that an expensive Ivy League graduate degree may benefit those going into some professions, but on the whole, your graduate alma mater might not carry quite as much weight as popular media may have led you to think. When it comes time to apply for a job, your credentials are just names on a piece of paper.
The who is as important as the where
Choosing an undergraduate program often comes down to assessing schools on a broader institutional level. However, when it comes to graduate school, you should be inspecting things under a much higher level of magnification. As Next Scientist noted, graduate school is in many cases about more than information. You want to make connections and work with the best minds in your field, which means that the actual school may not be as important as the potential advisors you could work with. Once you know what field you want to explore, spend some time researching the leaders in that area and consider tailoring your search accordingly.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.