Choosing a Graduate School


If you've made the decision to attend graduate school, the next step is deciding where.

Make a List of Schools

Hopefully, you have selected a program of study and have some career goals in mind. The next thing to do is to create a list of schools that offer the type of program that you want.

Resources to consult:

  • Peterson's Guides to Graduate School (available in the ACPC Resource Room and most libraries).
  • Professors
  • Parents and friends
  • Practicing professionals
  • Look at citations from professional journals; what schools are the authors from?
  • Search the Internet for Graduate Programs in your field of study

Narrow Down the Choices

You should have a fairly large list of schools that offer your program of choice. The next step is narrowing down the choice. There are several factors that should be taken into consideration when evaluating a school.

  • Quality of the Program
    Faculty: A graduate department's reputation rests heavily on the reputation of its faculty. In some disciplines, it is more important to study under someone well-known than to study at a college or a university with a prestigious name. Familiarize yourself with publications describing current research in your discipline. Find articles in professional journals and discover where the authors teach.
    Students: What kinds of students enroll in the program? What is their average undergraduate G.P.A and test scores? What are their academic abilities, achievements, skills, geographical representation, and level of professional success upon completion of the program?
    Available resources: Is the institution financially stable? What kind of financial support does the program itself have? How complete are the library collections and other facilities?
    Program and curriculum services: What is the purpose of the program? What are job placement and student advisement services like? What is the student/faculty ratio? Are there internships, assistantships, and other experiential education opportunities available?
  • University Environment
    The size of the setting of the academic institution may be important to you. You can choose between a small, medium, or large institution in a rural or urban setting. Climate, scenic beauty, recreational possibilities, and opportunities to work also may be important considerations.
  • Financial Considerations
    If you are seriously interested in graduate study, do not be discouraged by a lack of finances. You should investigate and apply for all types of aid for which you are eligible. Don't reject a school because it is expensive until you have learned what financial aid it can offer. Every institution has its own application process, as well as its own system for allotting financial aid. Therefore, you should communicate directly with each school that interests you. Many schools use a needs-analysis document such as the Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid Service or the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA). Other schools use different needs analysis systems. Be sure you complete the correct forms. In addition, every school has a different deadline date for financial aid application. File the correct forms by the specified deadlines. Funds are widely available, but they are not unlimited.
    Other Sources of Aid:
    Grants and Fellowships: These are outright awards that require no service in return. Grants are usually provided to those with financial need. Fellowships are prestigious awards given selectively. Financial need is not taken into consideration.
    Teaching and Research Assistantships: These awards are given to recipients in exchange for service to the university. Appointments to Teaching Assistantships are based on academic qualifications and are made by department heads. Research Assistantships are rarely offered to first year graduate students.

Rank Order Your Remaining Choices

After narrowing down your list of six to twelve schools, divide the remaining schools into three categories based on your probability of being accepted: reach schools (very difficult), probably-maybe schools, and safe schools (little question that you will be accepted). If you have not done so already, e-mail or call these institutions for information, including an application, a catalog, and pertinent program information.