Guide to Choosing a Graduate School in NYC

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If you are reading this article, you may have already made the decision to pursue a graduate degree. Congratulations! Your decision could benefit you in so many ways. Data shows that people who have earned a graduate degree typically have a higher earning potential and face lower unemployment. In addition, earning a graduate degree could help you enhance your current career, change careers, network with other professionals in your field, and may give you a competitive edge in the job market.

You may also have determined that you wish to pursue a postgraduate education in New York City. With so many outstanding NCY graduate programs, however, choosing a school may seem overwhelming. Yet it could be an important decision that might impact your future success.

In this guide, we provide you with a step-by-step process to help you choose a graduate school in NYC that could transform your career aspirations into a reality.

Step 1: Determine Your Career Goals

Before you start researching NYC higher education institutions, it could be beneficial to identify your career objectives and your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree.

There are a number of common reasons people choose to seek postbaccalaureate education. Recognizing your own motivations could help you narrow down your options and ensure that your investment in graduate education might pay off.

Gain more focused knowledge

Graduate degree programs typically provide rich learning experiences that take a deep dive into a particular discipline. They could help you increase your knowledge in your field and also improve your research, writing, critical thinking, and analysis skills.

Your expanded knowledge and skills could help you make contributions in your field, lead to a wider range of opportunities, and lay the foundation for lifelong learning. They may also make you a more competitive candidate in the eyes of potential employers.

Enhance your current career

Whether you are seeking a promotion, looking for an increase in salary, or simply want to excel at your current responsibilities, pursuing a graduate degree could give your career a boost.

Developing expertise in your field could lead to additional career opportunities, higher-level jobs, or positions in management. It might increase your credibility and make you more valuable to employers, both current and potential.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that graduate degree-holders typically earn more money than those with lesser education. In fact, in 2022 master’s degree holders earned an annual median salary that was over $93,016 higher than the average of other workers. Those who have received doctoral degrees earned an annual median salary over $116,648 higher than the average of other workers.

Graduate degree-holders also have a lower rate of unemployment, according to the BLS—an average of 2% as compared to 2.2% for those who have earned a bachelor’s and 4.0% for those with a high school diploma (2022 data).

Change careers

You could transition to a new career by pursuing a graduate degree program that utilizes your current knowledge as a foundation for building new knowledge. Or, you could move into an entirely new field.

You may already have your eye on a particular occupation, but if you don’t, you might follow these steps to help you pinpoint a career that highlights your interests, skills, personality, and values.

  1. Self-assess: Think back to previous education, past and current jobs, and activities such as hobbies, volunteer work, etc. What were you particularly good at? What interested you most? What gave you satisfaction?
  2. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find specific jobs that correlate with your assessment. The BLS has a database of over 180 occupations and provides detailed information about education requirements, job responsibilities, relevant personality traits, salary, and job growth.
  3. Reach out to professionals in careers you are considering and ask them about their job responsibilities, required skills, and educational background.

Step 2: Evaluate Graduate School Programs

Once you’ve identified your career goals, it’s time to consider which graduate programs in NYC might help you achieve them. Here are some general factors to consider when evaluating graduate school programs.

Curriculum

Take a thorough look at the curriculum to ensure that it could provide the skills and knowledge you may need to achieve your career goals. Also examine the structure and focus of each program. Even in the same discipline, the emphasis of a program could vary between different institutions. For example, some programs may be more hands on while others might focus on theoretical aspects of a discipline. Make sure the curriculum and focus have the potential to provide you with a quality, efficacious educational experience.

Program reputation

Consider the reputation of the graduate program and the school offering the program. Start by ensuring the program is accredited—accreditation is recognition from a third-party accrediting organization that an institution maintains a particular level of educational standards.

Beyond accreditation, search for programs that might have a strong track record of producing successful graduates and are well-regarded by employers in your desired industry. You could find NYC graduate school rankings and reviews on the web, although you might take these with a grain of salt: they may not focus on the attributes of a school that are important to you. Talk to students and alumni to get a better handle on the qualities of a school that are relevant to you.

Faculty expertise

Evaluate the expertise of the faculty members teaching in the graduate program. What is their level of education? What kind of real-world experience do they have in their field? What do students say about their learning experience with various faculty members?

Look for faculty members with experience in your desired discipline and a track record of producing quality research.

Length and flexibility of program

Being realistic about the logistics of a program and your ability to complete it could be a critical factor in your search for a graduate school. If you are busy with career, family, or other responsibilities, you might need a school with more flexibility or accelerated options that could help you finish a degree program more quickly. Take stock of your current lifestyle and factor in any commitments that could be prohibitive to your pursuit of a graduate degree.

Step 3: Consider Location and Cost

You may have narrowed down your graduate school options using the steps above. However, don’t overlook two other pertinent factors: location and cost.

Location

New York City is no small place. To pursue graduate studies in NYC, you might want to bear in mind the location. If you want to stay in your current location, you may need to consider the ease—and expense—of traveling to school. Is there adequate public transportation? How long could it take to get to school? Are you willing to spend additional time to attend a school that you find preferable? Could the cost of transportation be prohibitive?

If you are willing to relocate to be in closer proximity to your chosen school, consider whether you could find housing that is affordable and in a safe area and, again, the transportation factors. In addition, think about whether the location is a place you might want to live after you graduate.

Cost

When researching schools, like it or not, you need to take cost into consideration. To help you assess the affordability of a school, start by creating a budget for graduate school. Make sure to consider tuition, fees, and living expenses. Use your budget to evaluate the feasibility of attending different graduate programs.

Don’t just look at the bottom line, however. Schools may offer financial aid or scholarships if you qualify that could help offset the cost of attendance. Research such opportunities for each graduate program you are interested in and factor them into your budget.

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Step 4: Assess Your Admission Chances

Evaluating your qualifications and chances of admission could help you determine which graduate programs to apply to. Here are some tips for assessing your admission chances.

Evaluate your qualifications

Not all schools have the same admissions requirements—some are more stringent or comprehensive than others. Your chances of being accepted may only be as good as your ability to meet the requirements.

Take time to review the admission requirements for each graduate program and assess how well your qualifications match those requirements. Consider factors such as your undergraduate GPA, standardized test scores, and relevant work experience.

Also assess the difficulty level of a program. Try to be objective about whether you have the ability—or desire—to meet the challenges of a more rigorous degree program.

Prepare a strong application

While test scores and other requirements may impact your chances of getting accepted, a robust application could help offset weaknesses in those areas. As such, take steps to prepare an application that accents your unique qualities. Two components of an application that may not be given enough thought and effort include writing a compelling personal statement and securing effective letters of recommendation.

Personal statement. Grad schools look at personal statements to gain a deeper understanding of candidates and to determine what sets them apart from other candidates. Your personal statement could give you the opportunity to shine and could help schools decide whether you are a strong candidate.

Following these tips could help you write a winning personal statement:

  1. Research the requirements. Some schools provide a prompt for you to respond to or specify word count and formatting.
  2. Create an outline. While this doesn’t have to be overly detailed, it should provide you with a logical flow that addresses the points you wish to cover.
  3. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. To help you be objective, assess previous education, hobbies, and other experiences. These experiences could help you realistically pinpoint the things you excel at and the things you don’t.
  4. Determine what makes you unique. Ask friends and family to choose one thing about you that stands out to them.
  5. Use specific and real-life examples that are related to your chosen field of study.
  6. Consider your first attempt at writing your statement to be a first draft—critically review it and make changes to improve it.
  7. Proofread your final draft.

Letters of recommendation. As with your personal statement, your letters of recommendation could help differentiate you from other potential candidates. Here are some guidelines.

  1. Review the requirements. Graduate school applications may have different requirements with regard to number of letters and who they should come from.
  2. Who should you ask? While you might be tempted to choose an individual with more notoriety or prestige—perhaps a department head or a professor who is distinguished within their field—in general, a good bet is to select people who know you well. Take into consideration how long they have known you, in what capacity, and whether they might have any personal stories about you that go beyond a recitation of your abilities and accomplishments. Also choose someone who communicates effectively.
  3. What information is helpful to supply? Providing an information packet could help recommenders write a more compelling letter. Include transcripts, a CV, a list of programs you are applying to, and an outline of your career goals. You might also submit your personal statement.
  4. When should you ask? In general, you should start securing letters anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months before the admissions deadline. Be mindful and respectful of any time limitations your recommenders may have.

Step 5: Visit the Campus and Connect with Current Students

At this point, you may have done a lot of homework: combed the Internet for reviews and other information about schools and visited their website to determine factors such as admissions requirements and cost. You’ve attempted to learn all you could about grad schools “on paper.” To help you make a final decision, however, you might want to gain insights into the actual graduate experience. How? By visiting the campus and connecting with current students and alumni.

Schedule a campus visit. Here are some tips for making the most of your visit:

  1. Before you determine dates for your visit, consult the institution’s calendar to see whether there are any upcoming open houses or campus tour events. These could be great opportunities to get an overview of the school and ask questions. However, keep in mind that a school’s goal in providing such events is to attract potential students; thus, the school may be presented in a more favorable light. You should also explore on your own to get an unbiased view of the school culture and experience.
  2. Determine your objectives before you go. What do you want to find out about the school and graduate program? How might you go about obtaining that information?
  3. Identify faculty and other staff who could help you understand the program you are interested in. Contact them ahead of time to ensure they are available. Make a list of questions to ask them.
  4. Once on campus, connect with current students. Solicit their opinions about the pros and cons of the school. Ask specific questions about issues that are important to you.
  5. Check out the surrounding area if you are unfamiliar with it.

Connect with current students and alumni. In addition to connecting with students during a campus visit, reach out to students and alumni of the graduate program to learn about their experiences and perspectives. You might utilize social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook to make connections.

Conclusion

New York City is rich with educational opportunities, and making the decision to pursue your graduate education there could give you a broad range of choices. Whatever your motivation for pursuing postgraduate education in New York City—to gain more concentrated knowledge, enhance your career, or change careers—taking time to adequately research your options could be paramount in choosing a school that might help you achieve your goals.

Additional Resources

The Princeton Review: Offers rankings, reviews, and profiles of graduate programs in NYC.

Graduate School Resources: A U.S. Department of Education site that provides profiles of graduate schools.

U.S. News & World Report: Provides rankings of graduate programs in various fields, including law, business, and engineering.

GradReports: Includes reviews and ratings of graduate programs based on feedback from real students. Visit their website at.

LinkedIn: A helpful resource for connecting with alumni and current students of graduate programs in NYC and researching the career paths of graduates of specific programs

Professional Associations: A resource for information about graduate programs and career opportunities in your field.

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