A common trap students often fall into when applying to graduate school is insufficient background research. Given the pricey and time-consuming nature of most graduate degrees, you really owe it to yourself to make an informed and carefully thought-out decision when choosing between grad school programs and putting together your application. Here are tips on how to research graduate programs and find the right grad school.
Keep your career in mind
Career goals should be top of mind when choosing a degree program — or deciding whether to attend graduate school at all. You're not taking out thousands of dollars in student loans to dine at the best campus cafeterias in the land. For grad students, academic experience is paramount, and your career goals will impact what you look for in a program. If you want a master's degree to give you that professional edge, then the overall quality of the faculty may be more important than finding the ideal mentor.
If you are aiming for a doctoral degree, however, finding a specific professor to serve as your thesis advisor trumps the talents of the faculty at large. Apply to schools that have one or more professors who do research in your general area of interest, and with whom you can imagine working closely.
Talk to people in the industry
It's important to talk to people in the industry to get an understanding of what skills and experience you need to pursue your desired career, and to also get a sense of how they view particular types of graduate programs. To connect with the right people, attend networking events for your industry or talk to industry associations.
Talk to current students and alumni
The importance of doing this cannot be stressed enough. Create a list of a few questions for both students and alumni. Ask around to find currently enrolled or recently graduated individuals. Contact them and request a few minutes of their time. Ask them to be completely candid with you. What you hear might surprise you and may be extremely helpful.
Preview the Program’s Facilities
Depending on your research project and discipline, you might need to have access to various pieces of technology or special library collections. Researching the facilities will help you decide whether to pick school X over school Y, as well as make a convincing case in your application. When applying to grad school, it's absolutely crucial that you sound as specific and focused as possible, and referring to specialized facilities will help you achieve this.
Explore the Course structure
Each university will implement its own program and course structure, and you may find that one is better aligned with your interests than others. Take a look at the curriculum outlined on the school’s website. It might also be worth shooting off an email to the department leader, or other faculty members, to get a better sense of the course's theoretical framework and overall structure.
Visit the campus
Do you know what it would feel like to be on campus? If you don't do a campus visit, you won't know. You could be unpleasantly surprised when you show up for orientation, but by then it's too late. Keep in mind that you'll be on campus nearly every day for the next one to two years, if not longer. Ask yourself: Will the physical and cultural environments be something with which you are comfortable? Are the facilities up to date? Will you feel at home there?
It's important that the graduate school has the appropriate accreditation. For example, in social work, if programs are not approved by the accrediting body for social work, the Council on Social Work Education, they may jeopardize being eligible for certain licensure and employment opportunities and even the ability to call themselves social workers after they graduate. Ensure that your chosen graduate school has accredited programs.
Review admission and application requirements
As you research your graduate school, consider what the admission requirements for your programs of interest are. Some schools may require standardized test scores (ex: GRE,GMAT, LSAT, TOEFL). Within this group, some of these schools may have high minimum scores, which may require you to be more diligent about practice exams and test preparation. On the other hand, some programs will have no test requirements at all.
Additionally, some doctoral programs may only accept candidates who already have a Master's, while others have a program where you earn your Master's while ultimately working towards your doctoral. These elements are important to research so that you are not investing valuable time on unnecessary applications or application components.
Consider your finances
Decide what you can afford for graduate school, and don't forget to factor in both the up-front costs, such as tuition, textbooks, and hidden fees, such as transportation and student activity costs. While your education is an investment, make sure you can cover the costs associated with earning your graduate degree. Paying for graduate school can seem intimidating, but there are many different options available to you.
While you narrow down your list of schools, be sure to check out the financial aid options at each institution. Along with scholarships, grants and loans, some schools may offer assistantships or fellowships for graduate students. For those who may already be working in their industry, your employer may offer tuition reimbursement which pays for a predetermined amount of continuing education credits or college coursework to be applied toward a degree. Contact your company's human resources department to determine whether tuition reimbursement is available to you and if your program of interest meets the eligibility requirements.
All of these options will help ease the costs associated with your education and could help you earn valuable experience to enhance your resume. You may also want to consider your future earning potential and job opportunities when weighing your options—you want your degree to be worth the money, time, and energy you put into earning it.
Confirm the program's delivery type
Some programs are conducted entirely online, while others are hybrid, or a combination of online and on-campus components. If a program is delivered in a hybrid format, you should consider whether you're able to travel to campus as often as required while also juggling your other responsibilities.
At Sacred Heart University, we are proud of our vibrant school community of creative and committed students who fuel our forward-leading spirit, and we would be happy to be a part of your educational journey. Download the guide, , to learn more about the grad school process or contact us for more information about programs at SHU.