What to look for in a graduate program

  • Finding the right graduate program takes extensive research.
    Finding the right graduate program takes extensive research.

    What to look for in a graduate program

    If you’re thinking of going back for an advanced degree, you might not know where to start for the ideal graduate program search. No matter your planned course of study, Graduate Guide is a helpful resource in the application process. There are a variety of components that contribute to why individuals might choose a specific plan of study. Here are some pieces of information you should look into when selecting a university where you can pursue your master’s degree or Ph.D.

    Internships and other opportunities
    Depending on your graduate major, you may be able to participate in summer fellowships, teaching assistantships, independent research or other opportunities that can improve your résumé and help you gain experience and insight in your desired industry.

    Ideal setting for on-campus learning
    Students who would prefer to take their classes onsite might look into the location and style of the campus. This might involve visiting the school to see the layout for yourself. Different students prefer different types of campuses, whether they are situated in busy cities or remote, rural locations.

    If you plan on working your current job while enrolled in a graduate program, you might want to apply to schools in your nearby city. Maybe you would prefer to move to a new area for this next stage of your education. This plan can help you determine where you should look.

    For online schools, synchronous vs. asynchronous programs
    If you’ve opted to pursue an online degree, you will need to decide what sort of format you would rather follow. Synchronous programs mean that students attend online lectures that occur at specific times. Asynchronous programs allow students to view lectures at times that are most convenient to their schedules. If you are self-motivated and have a busy, unsteady schedule, you might benefit from an asynchronous program. If you prefer more structure, you might prefer a synchronous online education.

    Affordability
    There’s a chance you’re working with a budget when financing your advanced degree. Look into funding opportunities, such as financial aid and academic, program-specific and school-wide scholarships.

    Course offerings
    Before deciding on a graduate school, take a look at the course catalog to make sure these classes are properly aligned with your career goals. In particular, programs that allow you to specialize in an area of interest might be beneficial. For instance, a student pursuing a marketing graduate degree might be able to specialize in social media, branding or digital marketing.

    Someone can even take courses that focus on certain industries, such as retail, sports, entertainment or technology. These are useful for students who want to gain an understanding of their role within this business.

    How to find out if a graduate program is right for you

    Make connections
    The best way to gain a full understanding of graduate programs before attending is to speak with current students. Ask them how they enjoy their professors and what career outlooks look like for graduate students. Try to find some positive and negative aspects of the program. If the program is online, ask students how they network and collaborate with their peers.

    Arranging a face-to-face or phone conversation with a faculty member can provide you with an understanding of the priorities of the program and department. In addition, this personal contact with a professor might help your application. If you and this faculty member believe you would make a great graduate candidate, the professor might speak highly of you to admissions.

    Create a spreadsheet of schools
    Figuring out what schools to apply to and when to submit your application involves some planning. Many applicants find it most useful to create a chart of potential graduate schools, in addition to facts about the admissions process and program. Seeing information about each program in close proximity might help you rule out some schools with programs that do not appeal to you as much as the others. Organize rows and columns based on the following factors:

    • Application deadline
    • Tuition cost
    • Requirements, such as test scores or interviews
    • Acceptance rate
    • Fee
    • Campus location (if not online)

    If you aren’t an expert at Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, make a handmade chart of this data on poster board.

    Understand that rankings aren’t everything
    Graduate school rankings can be a helpful jumping-off point for competitive candidates to research programs to try to pinpoint what they want from a grad program. However, even if your application is impeccable, don’t limit yourself to the “top” schools. Just because a university has prestige does not mean it is the best education and that it is the best fit for your career goals.

    Apply to a variety of schools
    Many people have a rule of thumb when applying to both undergraduate and graduate programs. Apply to a few reach schools, a handful of target schools and some safety schools. According to UC Santa Barbara, graduate candidates applied to an average of five schools. Opening yourself up to a range of schools in your graduate program search can keep your options open and help you find the right balance of fit and funding you need.

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