Deciding to go to graduate school is often a tough decision. Once you’ve made a decision, the next step is to research programs that match your interest and fit your needs. While applying for undergrad, oftentimes university rankings are useful to figure out where to apply. However, for grad school each specialization often has its own rankings. The quality and reputation of the program is often tied to the faculty within your field. This sort of information is hard to find, particularly if you are looking at universities abroad. This post is about what factors you can use to evaluate graduate programs:
- Reputation and Quality of the program: Look at the academic credentials of the program and the research interests of the faculty. The student-faculty ratio is often a good indication of how much time and attention you receive from the faculty. For masters programs, this is a good indication of the ease of building personal relationships with the professors that many benefit you during and after grad school. However, if you want to explore options, a larger department with more faculty and course offerings might be more beneficial. The perceived reputation of the program or brand recognition is also useful to build your brand. Often, talking to alums from the school can help you assess the reputation of the program and the expected career after graduation.
- Admission requirements: The course specific admission criteria can be used to shortlist your schools. These include GPA, GRE scores, undergraduate coursework or essays/statement of purpose. Often, graduate schools require you to submit a statement of purpose (SOP) indicating why you want to join their school and what you expect to gain from the program (this may depend on the program to which you are applying). Some programs have short essay requirements where you are asked to describe your career goals. For me, coming from India where graduate school applications are usually based on exams testing your skills, it took time to frame my SOP. Therefore, I suggest starting 2-3 months before the deadline so that you have enough time to refine your answers.
- Student Life/Location/Facilities: Consider the location of the university and evaluate whether studying there will help you meet your personal or professional goals. If you like a particular sport, look up the quality of the facilities that the university offer and factor that into your decision, particularly if you are applying for longer programs like a Ph.D. If you have the opportunity for a campus visit, this can be very useful in getting a good feel of the campus before you make the decision. If you’re applying from outside the country, this can be a little challenging. I’d talked to students studying at the university to understand what living in that city would look like.
Ultimately, you are going to graduate school to further advance your professional goals so the most important factor would be to evaluate how the school is going to help you to do that and what you can leverage (brand reputation) 10 years later in your career. All the best!