How to Choose the Right Grad School Program for You

The median income of grad students is around $38,040. This means applying for grad school is a great way to earn more money. With this said, to get the most out of a graduate degree, you’ll need to sign up for the right program.

This guide will help you to navigate the labyrinth of choices to find a grad school program that’s right for you. Here are some of the steps you’ll need to take to find the grad school to suit your needs.

Research Your Field

Before going to grad school, one of the first steps you might take is to research the top schools in the field you want to study. You can do this by taking note of the institutional background of the leading scholars in your academic area. When you read scientific journals, take a look at who the authors are and what university they work at.

Often, you’ll find that patterns start to emerge. For example, let’s say you want to attend grad school to study international relations in the United States. Look into the background of leading scholars.

Many of them teach at universities like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. This suggests these universities are good choices for international relations and related sub-fields.

Consider Program Specialization

When you go to grad school, consider choosing a more specialized program. If you want to make yourself more employable, narrowing your focus makes a lot of sense.

For example, let’s say you already have a degree in international relations. You could specialize by studying a subdiscipline of international relations. For example, consider something like security studies.

If employability is your goal, you should match your specialization to the job market. Security is a good choice of specialization. Global events such as the COVID-19 Crisis and the war in Ukraine have increased demand for the field.

If you intend to stay in academia, you should also think about your specialization. Your grad school options could have a significant impact on research opportunities.

For example, maybe there’s a specific expert in your field who you’d like to work with. In that case, it makes sense to follow their specialization. Some sub-fields also favor specific research methodologies. If you have a favorite research method, consider choosing a specialization where you’ll be able to use it. 

Read Scholarly Publications

Reading the latest academic journals is another excellent way to help you decide on the best graduate schools. Doing so can help you to stay updated with the newest research and advancements in your field.

This will help you stay updated on the latest theories, methods, and findings. This information will help you to identify which graduate courses most align with your academic interest.

You can also read these journals to establish which schools have the most influential researchers and scholars. If you read the work of an academic who inspires you, you’ll be able to work with them by picking a particular specialization.

Journals can also help you to evaluate the quality of research from a specific university. If you’re considering attending an institution, try searching academic databases.

You can narrow your search terms only to include results from that particular university. By doing this, you can evaluate the quality of a specific universities research output. 

Consider the Alumni Benefits

When applying to graduate school, you’ll need to think about more than just the immediate future. You should also think about how attending this university can benefit you post-graduation. Almost every university will have some alumni benefits.

Strong alumni networks mean you’ll have excellent networking opportunities in the future. This means you’ll be able to connect with fellow graduates who have substantial careers in your chosen subfield. Through this network, you’ll gain valuable industry insights and guidance from people who know the field.

You may also get the chance to attend alumni events and reunions. These events are a great way to reminisce with your old classmates. They can also help you to build your professional network. A robust professional network is crucial as it could lead to more future job opportunities.

Another often-overlooked alumni benefit is that you can access your university library services after you graduate. Universities always have access to a wide variety of databases.Being able to access all of this information in the future could be a huge benefit.

For example, you might be able to withdraw books for personal use. You could also download data for professional purposes. Alumni may have to pay a small annual fee to keep their library access. This fee is almost usually very affordable. 

Career Services

You might also choose a grad school based on the career services. Many students underestimate the importance of a strong career service. A good career service can help you to find a future job.

For example, they can help you to navigate the job search process. They might teach you how to stand out on your resume and cover letter.

They could also assist you in preparing for interviews. This could involve meeting with you to critique your resume. It may also involve doing mock interviews with you.

Many graduate students choose their fields based on their passion. Students who choose to do a degree based on a passion for the subject may need guidance on what to do for a career. In this situation, a good career service is essential. A careers service can offer one-on-one career counseling sessions.

This can help you consider potential career paths you may have yet to consider. These services can also administer personality tests. These allow you to understand your unique strengths and weaknesses and may help you find the ideal career that suits your personality.

Through such career services, you may also be able to access internal job and internship postings. Universities tend to have access to various job and internship posting databases. Sometimes, these postings might be exclusively available to students enrolled at the university.

Many graduates don’t realize that some career services are still open to you as an alumni. Some career services are available for a short time after you graduate. Other career services might be available for graduate students for the rest of their life. Career advice can be expensive, so having access to this for the rest of your career could be a significant benefit. 

Campus Location

When you attend grad school, you’ll spend a lot of time on campus. You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a campus that feels right for you. For example, imagine you want to go to grad school to study terrorism.

St Andrews University in Scotland is regarded as one of the best institutions for this niche in the world. However, St Andrews is quite a small town. If you’re looking for a more cosmopolitan and urban campus, you might consider studying somewhere else.

You should also think about your own personal circumstances. If you’re in the USA, attending a top university in Europe could be a fantastic opportunity. With that said it could have a significant impact on your family and personal life. Maybe you’re responsible for taking care of a family member.

Maybe you have a significant other you don’t want to be separated from. In this situation, finding a university with a more local campus could make more sense.

The local cost of living is also an important factor to consider. Attending a grad school somewhere like London, Los Angeles, or New York could be a great experience, but it could also cost you a lot of money. The cost of living in these cities is quite high. If you’re trying to stretch your budget as far as possible, it makes sense to avoid these expensive cities.

With that said, pursuing a grad degree in an expensive city far from home in the right circumstances could make sense. Maybe a researcher you’d love to work with is based in London. In this case, you may want to take a risk. It all depends on your personal situation, career goals, and risk tolerance. 

Check Out Online Rankings

When making grad school applications, you can easily find out more about the quality of universities by looking at online rankings. These ranking lists offer information on institutions’ reputations and credibility. You can even find ranking lists specifically aimed at your interests.

For example, you’ll see ranking lists based on specific academic programs. This is useful because if you plan to study social science, it doesn’t particularly matter how good a school is for computer science. Examples of noteworthy university ranking lists include the Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings lists.

While these ranking lists offer you valuable information, you should approach them cautiously. Every student’s situation is different, and these subtleties can’t ever be captured in a general list.

As a grad school student, you might have a specific academic area of interest in mind. This means the top university for you personally could be significantly different from what you may find on a list. 

Talk to Current or Former Students

One of the best ways to get the lowdown on what a specific university program is like is to talk to former students. While you can gain a lot of insight through research output and ranking lists, these won’t tell you much about day-to-day life.

By talking to students, you can gain a unique, insider perspective. This informal information will help you to envision what life at a university will be like.

Speaking to former students can also help you to understand what real-world outcomes look like for graduates. For example, you might talk to a number of former students and discover they’re finding it hard to find a job. This suggests that pursuing that specific grad school track might not be the best career move.

One of the main advantages of talking to students is that they’ll give you an unbiased viewpoint. Official program websites might provide you with valuable information. The downside is that these websites are meant to promote the program. Talking to current and foreign students lets you hear about a university free from self-promotional bias. 

Attend Information Sessions

Finally, you can select a graduate program that’s right for you by attending information sessions. These sessions could be either online or in person. Attending in-person information sessions is more desirable.

This is because when you attend in person, you’ll get more of a feel for the campus atmosphere and culture. Attending in-person information sessions also may allow you to have informal conversations with other students.

With that said, you should also take advantage of online information events. If you’re based in the USA, you could attend information sessions for European universities. Attending these sessions in person would cost thousands of dollars, but by attending online, you can learn more about these programs without spending a cent.

You should use these information sessions to clarify any doubts you might have about the program or the application process. For example, if you’re concerned about accommodation, attending an in-person information session could allow you to see the area you’d live in person. 

Now You Know More About Applying for Grad School

Applying for grad school is an important decision. For example, it could significantly impact your future career opportunities. Always make sure that you consider your grad school program holistically.

Just because a grad school course is high on university rankings, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. You’ll also need to consider things like campus culture, career services, and cost of living.

The grad school you choose can have a huge impact on your academic and professional prospects, so it makes sense to find one that suits you. If you want to learn more about other education-related topics, check out the rest of our blog posts.