Deciding on Graduate School

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Last updated on June 12th, 2018 by our Product Team

How should you choose where to go to graduate school? It’s an important decision. You will plant your academic, social, and likely career roots there. Your network will grow, along with your experiences and knowledge.

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There are many factors that will shape your decision. Here are a few to consider:

Which program is most respected among industry leaders? Students usually have a good idea of the top programs within a field. For law, perhaps it’s Harvard or Yale. For technology, perhaps a program at MIT. For most students, these are “reach” schools–places to apply, with the understanding that acceptance rates are extremely low, the competition is fierce, and spots are limited. It’s good to go into the application process knowing the best programs-but realize that the chances are slim for everyone.

How does your application stack up quantitatively? While it's fine to shoot for a reach school or two, you also want to apply to "target" programs-ones that will make you happy and that you think you have a good shot at getting into. Understand that your GPA or test scores are only a part of what the selection committee considers when reviewing your application, but comparing your stats to program averages for past admitted students will give you a good idea of where you stand in regard to the numbers. Adding on an inspired personal statement, strong recommendations, and a stellar interview with your target programs, you will have a good chance at being accepted to these target schools.

Which program is best ranked by your peers? At Graduateprograms.com, other grad students (and recent graduates) rate and review their programs based on their experiences. These rankings are different from other, more traditional rankings, because they’re from those who have been in your shoes. When you ask someone your age, who has just gone through the decision-making process, the results are just more authentic.

Will you be happier in a city, in the suburbs or in the middle of nowhere? This is a question with a complex answer. Some students thrive in smaller environments with more individualized attention. Others like the shark tank of huge programs and star-studded faculty located in a metropolis. You should weigh your preferences against where you want to start your career. In addition, look into the academic and professional opportunities wherever you plan to apply.

What are the unofficial perks of each program? Sunny beaches? Free entry to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a year? Each program has a handful of unofficial perks. Consider these–because your quality of life in grad school matters.

Which program tips the pros and cons scale the furthest in your favor? Weigh the pluses and minuses of each program. Take out a pad of paper, write down any positive or negative aspect you can think of, and consider them against each other. Sometimes, the answers aren’t so black and white, but rather a composite measure of various factors. By taking the time to sort through each pro and con, you will likely see a clearer answer emerge.

At the end of the day, choosing a graduate program to apply to or attend is not only an investment in your future academic goals, but a commitment to where you want to spend the upcoming years of your life. Make sure you look beyond each program’s self-reported value and take the time to dig into honest student reviews about not only the courses you will take or the professors you will interact with, but also the way in which each program will affect the way you live your life. At the end of the day, academic success will most easily be achieved when you are happy with your setting and lifestyle, so do take the time to picture yourself living as a student of each program. This will help you choose the best fit for you.

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