Is Graduate School Right for You? An Admissions Advisor Tells All: Part 2

So you’ve decided to go to graduate school, which means you have the passion and drive to explore a deeper degree of study that you don’t get with a bachelor’s degree. It also means that (A) You have a means of supporting yourself for however long it takes to complete your advanced degree, or (B) You’re willing to go into debt to further your education. You’ve also honed your writing skills, worked on your public speaking (for those times you have to teach undergrad classes), and you’ve found at least one mentor who (when the time comes) will be happy to write a letter of recommendation for you. Now comes the hard part; choosing the right graduate school program.

And just how do you do that? Independent college admissions and scholarship advisor Lyn Eckels has a few tips that can give you the inside track when embarking upon the graduate school journey.

Support for Your Area of Study

According to Ms. Eckels choosing a graduate program is different than choosing an undergraduate college and major.

“The number one factor is find an area of study that best reflects the work you want to do. Once you’ve identified that it will be easier to select a graduate program that best fits your needs.”

Ms. Eckels also points out that even if the program sounds good, you have to ensure the school you’re considering fully supports your department.

“Make sure you have access to on-campus mentors and that the school funds the facilities and tools you need to complete your research. And if these things do exist, get guarantees that YOU will have access to them as an entry-level grad student.”

Schools typically have limited funds, so if your program is lacking in support you may want to consider other schools that are more adequately funded in your area of study.

Reputation of School and Program

Always consider the reputation of the school and the program itself, but keep in mind you don’t have to go to a big-time, Ivy League school to get the best advanced degree. It all depends on your area of study.

“If you have your heart set on a specific school, research the school’s graduate programs before you make any kind of commitment,” cautions Ms. Eckels. “There may be sleeper schools out there with graduate programs in YOUR area of study that are more well-known than the schools themselves.”

Never forget that your ultimate goal is to get a degree that allows you to build the career you want. What you can do with that degree depends on the reputation of your graduate program, the faculty, and the research that comes out of that program.

Do Your Homework

Thoroughly, investigate the schools and programs you’re considering, leaving no stone unturned.

“One of the best objective resources for researching schools is U.S. News and World Report’s Graduate School Listing
,” says Ms. Eckels. “Not only does it rank graduate schools by categories, it also tells you which programs within the schools are best, how much they cost, typical completion times, and how to properly apply.”

Ms. Eckels also recommends you visit the campus and research the financial package before you commit. Meet the faculty and view the facilities to make sure they are what you expect, and discuss money ahead of time with a financial advisor.

“The financial aid for graduate students is much more variable than that for undergraduate students. Be absolutely certain of what you’re getting, because no two financial packages are necessarily the same. Funding is much easier in some fields than others, and a lot of times the amount of money available to graduate students depends on public need.”

Get Your Own Recommendations

Too often potential graduate students focus so much on getting their own recommendations, they forget to get recommendations of the schools and programs they’re contemplating.

Talk to people who’ve been through the graduate programs on your list,” advises Ms. Eckels. “Not just two or three, but lots of people who were involved the program in different ways. Ask, ‘How were you treated? Was the program as advertised? Did you have sufficient access to the professors you wanted? Was the work relevant to your subject matter?’”

We’ve all heard horror stories about graduate students who ended up doing personal chores and grunt work for their professors. You want to make sure you don’t end in that situation.

If this all sounds overly cautious, that’s because college advisors know how far an advanced degree can take you. “A positive experience in graduate school definitely boosts your earning potential, determines your fate, and increases your opportunities in life,” concludes Ms. Eckels. “But best of all, it gives you the chance to do work that you really love and get paid for it.” What could be better?

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