So, you’ve determined that attending graduate school is the right next step for you. You’ve got a clear idea of what degree to pursue, and you know how it will help you take the next steps in your career journey. Now, it’s time to find the schools and departments that match your academic background, interests, and goals.
Identify Your Priorities
The first step in researching programs is to think about what you want from your graduate education. Revist your research and reflect on how graduate school will help you achieve your career next steps. Consider:
- What skills and knowledge do you want to build over the course of your graduate education?
- What professional or intellectual communities would you like to connect with?
- What hands-on experience are you looking to gain?
Remember, as with your undergraduate education, your coursework and academic requirements are only one piece of your grad-school experience. Look for programs that will allow you to create a holistic experience that fits your needs.
How to Research Programs
Once you’ve identified your priorities, it’s time to begin your research. Here are some strategies to get you started.
Consult with Mentors in Your Field
Applying to grad school in a field you’ve taken classes in? Your professors will be one of your best resources for learning about programs in that discipline.
Visit your professors during office hours to talk about your research interests. Ask about the best programs that fit your interests. Remember, these may not necessarily be at the best-known schools. Your professors may even suggest faculty or research projects in those departments you may want to learn more about.
Though senior faculty may be the best connected, junior faculty may be more in-tune with the news on the ground in departments. If you have TAs or do research with current graduate students or postdocs, they can also be a valuable source of information.
attend events, reach out, and visit
Some disciplines and schools participate in grad school fairs, either in person or online. Do some online sleuthing to figure out if this is the case in your field.
Pre-professional programs often hold admissions events and information sessions. At these events, you can learn about a program, speak with admissions staff, and even network with faculty. You may also be able to set up meetings with admissions staff to have one-on-one conversations about the program.
You can also reach out to current students to learn about department culture and grad student life. In some programs, particularly research-focused ones, it may be appropriate or even recommended to set up meetings with faculty. Check with your faculty adviser on this.
Don’t forget to follow up with and send thank you notes to the people you speak with at the school and department!
Conduct online Research
Additional places to learn about programs online include:
- Program rankings, which may be more or less relevant depending on your field
- Department, faculty, and lab websites
- Course directories, event or clinic listings
- The websites of journals or institutes affiliated with the department
- LinkedIn profiles, to see where alumni of your current school studied
Throughout this process, keep track of your research. You’ll use this information to assess which programs best align with your academic background, interests, and priorities.
Choosing the right graduate school is a very personal decision. Feel free to schedule a meeting with a career counselor to discuss your individual options!
Financing Graduate School
Graduate school can be expensive. Use your research to find out what sources of financial assistance or funding may be available to you. Types of funding include:
- Fellowships and grants: These are awarded by federal and local governments, private organizations, and schools. In some cases, fellowships provide tuition and a stipend. Because they’re based on academic merit, identify those that match your strengths and talents.
- Teaching and research assistantships: These positions are often awarded to second-semester or second-year graduate students. They usually include tuition waivers and stipends. As a TA or research assistant, you typically work with a supervising faculty member. TAs grade papers, lead discussion groups, and assist in labs. Research assistants conduct research with faculty supervision. In some programs, your teaching assistantship means that you’ll be the instructor of record: that is, in charge of your own class.
- Employee benefits: Offered through some employers, these include tuition coverage or reduction for graduate study. If you are considering pursuing graduate study part-time, this is an often overlooked funding source.
- Undergraduate Reseach and Fellowships: One-on-one fellowship advising, application tips, and database of opportunities
- Finaid: Scholarships, fellowships, and private loan information for graduate school
- Fastweb: List of graduate school scholarships
- The Access Group: Non-profit student loan provider with tips on finding and paying loans
- US Department of Education Federal Student Aid: Resources for applying to graduate school, financial aid, and federal student aid programs
Factors to Consider
When researching programs, you might want to consider the following criteria:
Research and Academic resources
- What research is happening in the department, and does it interest you? Are there faculty you could see yourself working with?
- Does the department collaborate with other educational, cultural, professional, or research institutions? Are there opportunities to work on collaborative projects?
- What resources do the school and department offer for research? What are the facilities (labs, libraries, office space) like?
- What is the student to faculty ratio?
What required and elective courses does the program offer? Will the curriculum allow you to explore your academic interests?
- What is the department culture like? Collegial, collaborative, competitive, laid-back?
- Is the school in a geographic location you could see yourself living for several years? What is the cost of living in this area?
- What graduate student housing is available? Is housing guaranteed?
- Does the school have active student groups that you would like to get involved with? Will these groups give you an opportunity to get involved with the local community?
professional development and program Outcomes
- What advising and professional development resources are available or guaranteed to students?
- How long do students typically take to finish their degree? What is the attrition rate?
- What do program outcomes look like? What are students doing after graduation?
- Does the program require or offer any practica, like internships or fieldwork, to apply your knowledge in a professional setting?
Sample Questions to Ask On School Visits
- What two things are necessary for success in this program?
- How long do students typically take to finish their degree? What are the retention and graduation rates for the program?
- Where do your students obtain employment after graduation?
- What support does your department provide to help students navigate the changing landscape of academia?
- Does the program have a strong alumni network? What services do alumni have access to? Do they have opportunities to get involved?
- Does the program have diverse faculty members, administrators, and staff?
- How many advisees do you have?
- What kind of academic support programs are available (faculty advisers, peer advisers)? How and when can students access them?
- What services are available to help students find employment after graduation?
Research and Professional development
- Are students given the opportunity to become active members of professional organizations?
- Are students required or encouraged to do research and present at conferences?
- Are there opportunities to conduct research with faculty?
- Are there opportunities to conduct independent research?
- Are there opportunities for experiential learning such as internships, practica, or assistantships? When do these typically occur? Are these supported by the department or the graduate school?
- What pedagogical training do TAs or graduate instructors receive?
Campus Life and resources
- Is on-campus housing available or guaranteed to graduate students?
- What kinds of technical facilities are available to graduate students?
- What kinds of social outlets are available to students in the area?
- What kind of financial aid is available to students?
- If entering students are provided funding, how many years of guaranteed funding do students have? What do students typically do if their funding runs out?