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Choosing and Evaluating a Graduate School

Once you have decided to attend, the next step is to research and apply to a select number of graduate schools. This can seem like an overwhelming process. The key is knowing where to obtain the information needed about each graduate school program.

Consult faculty members and individuals who have specialized in the discipline of your choice and have knowledge of the field. They may be able to refer you to graduate schools that they know, answer questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the program and admissions requirements or refer you to sources that you can use. The staff at Career Services is also an excellent resource and can assist you in this process from beginning to end. Career Services has a database of alumnae, some of whom may have graduated from a school that you are considering. Consult reference materials and books in Career Services. Information in these guides includes the number of degree candidates enrolled, prerequisites for admission, sizes of institutions and types of financial aid offered.

  • Use the Internet to visit the home page of the schools you are interested in to gather basic information.
  • Write to individual graduate departments and ask them to send you information on their program and the school. Take the opportunity to ask about assistantships they may offer and how you can apply. When you write, also ask for a bibliography of publications of the faculty within the discipline you are considering. This will help you gauge the focus area of the faculty. It will also help you determine whether several of the faculty being published or just one or two.
  • Visit the graduate school you are considering. While on campus, talk to students in the program and find out information you might not obtain from the catalogues. Make an appointment to interview with an admissions counselor in your program. Talking with someone in the program, even if an interview is not required, will give you the opportunity to ask questions and demonstrate your interest. As an added source of information, spend time talking with someone in the placement offices. Find out where graduates are employed. What kinds of services does the institution provide?

Evaluating Graduate Schools

There are a number of factors that will help you in narrowing down your search for graduate schools with whom you wish to apply. While evaluating each school, consider the following:

Admissions Requirement:

  • How competitive is admission?
  • What are admission requirements (GPA, work experience, classes, test scores, etc...) and can you meet those requirements? You may want to apply to one or two "safety" schools and one or two competitive schools.
  • Does the program favor applicants with work experience or those who are recent graduates?

Curriculum:

  • Looking at the courses in the program.
  • Do they meet your needs and do they suit your education and professional goals?
  • Is a thesis or a final exam required?
  • Is there some sort of practical experience or internship included?
  • How long is the program and how many credits are required? The same program can vary in credit hours from one school to another.

Reputation/Quality of Program:

  • What is the reputation of the school and what is the reputation of the program within the field?
  • Is the program accredited?

Placement:

  • How many students in the program complete it?
  • How many of the graduates find employment in their field and does the department assist students in this process?
  • What kinds of employment do students find?

Faculty:

  • What is the faculty/student ratio and are the faculty accessible to the students?
  • What is the philosophy of the department and do most professors share this view?
  • Are the faculty well-known and what have they published recently? If you are attending graduate school for research in a specific discipline, it is important to identify a faculty member (mentor) who has research interests similar to yours.

Location/Size:

  • Do you want to attend a large or small school?
  • Do you need to be close to family or friends?
  • Would you like the school to be located in an urban or rural setting?
  • What activities does the community offer?
  • Is there graduate housing available and how difficult is it to find off-campus housing?
  • What public transportation is available?

Cost/Financial Aid:

  • What is the cost of the program?
  • Is the cost expected to increase in the future?
  • How much financial assistance is available in the form of assistantships, loans and fellowships?