There are a number of basic factors to look at when you're considering different graduate school programs including:
-The quality and reputation of the school and department
- The quality and reputation of the faculty
- Type of program (format, flexibility, teaching methods)
- Your interests
- Other students
The list is quite extensive and could actually go on longer. While some of the considerations are obvious, there are some you may not have thought of. We'll briefly discuss the main points.
Quality and reputation
Graduate school is different from undergraduate work in that the quality of your program is typically measured more by department than by the overall institution. While being part of a quality institution is still valuable, you want to investigate how the individual departments are viewed by people in the field, how they are rated on academics and research, whether they have well respected faculty, etc.
Faculty and your interests
Faculty is extremely important when pursuing a graduate degree because you typically need to work quite closely with a particular faculty member, especially if you are earning a Ph.D. Those completing doctoral work will want to investigate the research interests of faculty at different institutions in order to find someone whose research interests match or complement their own. Even if you are only pursuing a Master's degree, however, you still want to insure that you have quality faculty in your program. You can investigate the faculty by talking to current students or alumni of a particular school, talking to the faculty themselves, and talking to other people in the field to determine who is well respected.
Type of program
Depending on your field and whether you are pursuing a Master's degree or a Ph.D., you may have several different types of programs available to you. Many programs are being offered in an online format today; online graduate programs allow you to earn your degree without relocating or giving up your current job. Many programs are also designed to allow evening and weekend classes.
On the other hand if you are considering a more traditional on-campus program, it is important to consider the location. Visit the schools. See what you think of the neighborhood, the housing options, the atmosphere, etc. If you're going to be spending several years there attending school, it's important not to be somewhere where you will feel unsafe or cannot afford the cost of living.
Resources and facilities
Another important aspect for some programs may be the resources and facilities a school has at its disposal. If you are engaged in a research degree in the liberal arts, you may want the university with the best library. If you are pursuing a Phd. in the sciences, you want a state-of-the-art laboratory and equipment at your disposal. Once again, visit the school and investigate what is available to you as a student.
While certainly less important than the faculty, the other students in a program can be a factor in how positive your graduate school experience will be. You should talk to current students when visiting schools as well as determining the caliber of students a program generally has. You want people who are like-minded and can both challenge and support you as you pursue your degree.
At the end of the day, you want to know that after you get your degree you will have an opportunity to either work or teach in your desired field. You are pursuing a degree with a purpose and you want a program that can help you achieve your goals. Get the facts. Find out how long it typically takes people to complete the graduate program you are considering at each school. Find out what their placement rates are for their graduates. Talk to current and past students to get their impressions. Whether your degree will help you get where you're going should be carefully considered before choosing a school.