Whether you are transitioning right into grad school from a four-year university, or returning to school to advance your career, picking the right program for your needs is paramount in your success. Earning an advanced degree consumes a lot of time, effort and money and it is not a decision to be taken lightly. Here are some tips for finding the best program to meet your needs.
Know Your Industry
Studying to enter a particular field or to expand your options in a field you already work in, is very different than actually working the jobs this education will set the stage for. Before you decide on a master’s degree program, whether it is a MS in emergency management or your doctorate in philosophy, it is vital to have a full understanding of the industry and the individual jobs you have an interest in pursuing. Getting a degree in a particular field may sound good, but do you actually want to do the work it prepares you for? Would you be good at it? Is this area of work in line with your interests, desires, temperament and strong suits? If you have the opportunity, reach out to people already doing the work you are considering; ask them questions and see if you can shadow them to get a real feel for a day in the life.
Broaden Parameters for Deciding on a School
In an interview about providing tips for students picking a graduate program, a person who worked in enrollment and student services for almost 30 years found an interesting pattern when talking with students who were unhappy with the program—most simply decided on a school based on rankings and/or word-of-mouth. While these may be important things to consider, they are far from being the only factors. In different areas of study, needs and expectations can vary greatly among people so just because one person had a positive experience, this is not enough to go on without doing more investigation to see how well a program fits you. While it is understandable you want to get a degree from a highly-regarded school, the best school may not have the best program for you.
Carefully Evaluate the Curriculum
When deciding on your program, it is important to carefully evaluate the curriculum of each program; do not just assume they are all the same. While the different schools will probably have similar core components for a particular type of degree, there can be significant variations. It is important to pick a school whose program helps you achieve your career goals as closely as possible.
Give Yourself Time
Waiting to start your graduate school program search a few weeks before applications are due is a huge mistake. There are many programs to choose from and you want to give yourself enough time to do the proper evaluation. Many admissions officers recommend starting your search at least six months before you plan to apply. You want adequate time to do your research, thoroughly read through websites and other materials the school may provide and reach out to people who can help answer any questions you may have. Making a spreadsheet outlining important details of schools you are considering is a good idea—some example categories include location, cost and financial aid options. Putting all the information in one place can help facilitate the comparing and contrasting that is so important in narrowing down your top choices, and the school you ultimately choose.