Once you have decided that you want to go to graduate school, determining which graduate school program is right for you can be a daunting task.
Begin by identifying schools and programs in your discipline using resources such as Petersons.com and gradschools.com. Every April, US News and World Report publishes a guide of the top ranked graduate programs in various disciplines. Use it to determine the best programs in your discipline. If you are applying to a pre-professional program, such as medical school, law school, counseling, clinical psychology, and physical therapy among others, make sure you are applying to an accredited program. Find out the accrediting body for your discipline (for example, for clinical psychology it is the American Psychological Association), and check out its website for a list of accredited graduate programs.
After you have an initial list of programs in your discipline, start narrowing your choices by evaluating the following factors:
Reputation: Is the program a leader in the discipline? Is it necessary to go to a highly ranked program to get a job in the discipline, or will the degree itself, from any institution, be sufficient?
Curriculum: Does the program offer the specific courses or concentrations in which you are interested? For example, if you wish to pursue school counseling, make sure you are applying to counseling programs with a school counseling track.
Age of program: Decide if the age of the program is important to your career goals. Newer programs might have the latest technology, while older programs will have more alumni for networking.
Size: Do you prefer a program with more students and faculty or fewer? Larger programs tend to be more well-known. Smaller programs are able to provide students with more individual attention.
Location: Do you want to be in an urban or rural community? Close to family and friends? Are you planning on staying in the area after you graduate? Sometimes the nature of the field determines your location. For example, most marine biology programs are located on the coast.
Online or in person: More and more programs that can, such as library science, computer science, and business administration, are offering degrees through online programs. Online programs allow students more flexibility, and are great for motivated, self-starters. Classroom programs provide more structure and allow student to interact with their classmates more easily.
Where you can get accepted: Do you have the necessary GPA and test scores to be a competitive applicant?
Cost: What is the tuition for the program? Check with individual programs and universities to see if they offer tuition waivers, scholarships, or financial aid. Determine what your living expenses will be and how much debt you are willing to incur.
Atmosphere: Some programs require interviews, but if you are applying to a program that does not, try to schedule a visit to get a “feel” for the place. If possible, sit in on a class and meet with students and faculty. Although you will spend the majority of your time in the school or department, explore the rest of the campus and community. Can you picture yourself there for the length of your graduate program?