Choosing a Graduate or Professional School

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Program focus

Some programs are built to prepare their graduates to be leading researchers in the field. Some prepare their students to be teachers and others practicing professionals. It is important to identify the focus you are looking for and ensure that the graduate programs you apply to line up with your own goals and interests.

Faculty research interests

The subjects that faculty are interested in for their own research will indicate the focus that classes may take as those faculty become experts in their respective fields. Also, if you are pursuing a PhD, or some Master’s that have a thesis focus, you will have to choose a faculty member to mentor you and oversee your work. In this respect, you will want to ensure that there are faculty members interested in the same type of research fields in which you are interested. Also, graduate students work as graduate research assistants so look for faculty with your interests to help build your résumé as well as inform your practice or teaching once you graduate from your program.

Program fundamentals and requirements (types of courses, thesis, dissertation, etc)

You will want to research the requirements for graduation from this program. If it is a master’s program, what the course requirements are as well as any outside requirements such as an assistantship, whether you will have to write a thesis, whether you are required to be a full-time student, and many other possible requirements. As a PhD student, you will want to find out if you are considered a doctoral candidate from admission or whether that is granted after you complete the master’s and you apply for candidacy, the length of time it generally takes students to complete the program, as well as other requirements you will uncover. You will want to ensure that you can meet all of the requirements before you choose that program.

“Culture” of the program

It will be important that you know what types of values will be espoused from this program as well as the type of atmosphere that the program faculty and coordinators try to establish. As you research and visit programs, try to pick up on what is important to the program, what is the make-up of the students you will be studying with, how much interaction will you have with undergraduate or other graduate program students, and compare those answers with your own personal style and comfort level.

Cost of the program and funding that is available to me as a graduate student

Some graduate programs will offer great funding and financial aid packages. Make sure you look into the various opportunities that are available to see if that will help make graduate school more affordable. If you are a PhD student, it is very rare that you should need to pay for school. Most of the programs available will almost pay you for attending their program since generally you are conducting research for the school or teaching their undergraduate courses. Think long and hard before attending a PhD program for which you have to pay.

Location of the school

It is highly possible that you will be living in the area the school is located for the next two to seven years depending on the program. Visit the area and see if you will enjoy living there and spending your time there.

Careers graduates have pursued

It is always helpful to see where past graduates have obtained employment upon completion of their degree. This will give you a good sense of how companies, organizations, and other institutions view the program as well as give you ideas about possible future employment.

Size of the university

Knowing the overall size of the institution will help you gauge whether you may feel comfortable there. While being in a graduate program is much different from attending a large university as an undergraduate, the institution can still feel large or small. Evaluate the pros and cons of the size of the institution as you evaluate the overall program itself.

Size of the entering cohort

Establishing whether you would like a small or large cohort is another factor to consider. Some programs admit only 2-3 students each year leaving the entire program anywhere from 10-15 students total. Other programs may admit 45 students each year and that will change the dynamic of the program. Decide if the size of the program is important to you and what your preference will be.

Career assistance available to graduate students

While the CCO is always available to assist you in your job search process, it is important that you look into the assistance available to you as a graduate student as the professionals with your graduate program will be more familiar with your specific job search. If it is important to you to have the option of career assistance from your graduate program or school in some way, be sure to check into what is available to you during your time at that institution.


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