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How to Choose a Grad School: Tips & Flowchart

graduate student

Choosing a grad school is an exciting but daunting process. Not all grad schools are created equal, and learning how to evaluate degree programs is a huge part of the process.

In order to weed out the schools and programs that aren’t for you, keep these 10 tips in mind when conducting your search and check out our flowchart below for more insight into your decision process.

1. Start researching at least 9 months in advance.

Don’t wait until the last minute to start sending in applications. Most grad school deadlines are in December or January, and you should allow yourself at least nine to 12 months to start your search. This will reduce the stress involved and give you enough breathing room to set up on-campus visits. As you start the research process, remember to keep your options open. Begin by researching 15 to 20 schools and apply to anywhere between four and eight.

2. Clarify your career goals.

Before starting your search, clarify your career goals. Research which graduate degrees will give you the qualifications you need for that role. For example, if you are a nurse who wants to take on an executive leadership position, research whether a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) would be most appropriate. If you want to become a healthcare administrator, look into Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Health Sciences (MHS) programs.

3. Research programs offered.

Browse through course catalogs online to look at curriculum, learning methodology (on-campus or online), duration, start dates, and more. All of these need to align with your overall vision to be a good fit.

4. Consider the school’s resources.

Not all grad schools have the same resources accessible to students. For example, if you’re in the healthcare field, make sure the school has labs with updated equipment. Does the school offer opportunities for hands-on practice and interprofessional collaboration? Does it provide networking and career support?? It’s key to find a school that will set you up for success not only during your studies but in your future career as well.

5. Visit campuses.

Once you’ve narrowed your search, visit the campuses of some of your top contenders. Scheduling an on-campus tour will give you a general feel for the school. Use this opportunity to network with faculty and current grad students to get a feel for the dynamics of the department you’re interested in and an idea of what life is like at that school. Can you picture yourself walking to class or grabbing coffee with a friend before heading to the library? If not, this may not be the school for you.

6. Research the school’s reputation.

What is the school’s general reputation? Is it accredited? How many students actually graduate and get their degree? Do faculty members have a good reputation? These are all important questions to ask yourself in the research process. You don’t want to apply somewhere that has a low retention rate or inexperienced faculty.

7. Consider your reasons for choosing each school.

Are you interested in a certain school because all your friends are going there? Are you considering it because it’s where your parents went and they want you to continue their legacy? Many students will choose a school solely on the basis that they know someone who went there. You should want to go to a school because you want to go there. Don’t let outside factors and opinions sway you from doing what’s best for you.

8. Keep a spreadsheet.

When doing your preliminary research, keep a spreadsheet to stay organized and compare and contrast between schools. Create columns for each school, detailing factors like location, programs offered, the time it takes to graduate, and overall investment. This may seem like overkill, but it will help you during decision time.

9. Be patient.

Don’t get frustrated during the research process. Not every school is going to be the right fit, and you need to stay positive when conducting your search. Choosing a grad school is a huge decision, and in the end, you may find everything you’re looking for—or you may decide to delay.

10. Go with your gut.

In the end, grad school is your decision and you have to do what’s best for you. Go with a school that feels right and checks all, or most, of your boxes. If you haven’t found one yet, keep searching—and don’t give up hope. You’ll know when you find that perfect school for you.

Is grad school right for you?

Following these tips will help you make a decision that you can feel confident about. If you’re still unsure, check out our flowchart below to help guide you through your decision process.

how to choose a grad school


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