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Choosing among Graduate Programs


What graduate programs will you apply to? What graduate program will you ultimately attend? Selecting a graduate school entails many considerations, much more than just what field.  Although you know what you want to study at the graduate level, you may not be aware that there are differences between graduate programs, both in academic goals and practical philosophies.  In deciding on a graduate school, you may want to spend some serious time thinking about your own precise goals and directions, and use that knowledge to weigh differing graduate programs before you decide where to attend.

First, consider the basic facts when selecting a graduate school.  The location, the cost, and the types of programs offered are the most commonly cited considerations by most potential graduate students.   What many students may not know, is that even though different schools may offer similar programs, many academic departments have very clear and specific goals for their students and graduates that can be very unlike a comparable schools graduate program.

To make the most of your education, and of your future beyond, it is worth the time to compare departments, learn about the professors and their teaching goals, their fields of expertise, and what sort of expectations the department hold for their graduates.  Ask questions:

· Does the program emphasize theory or practice?

· Where do graduates go?

· Do graduates go into academia or into “the real world”?

· Do they have fields of specialization within the department, or is it a general degree?

Additionally, if you are considering a number of different departments that seem equally attractive, take some time to look over their class offerings, deciding if any one program has classes that hold a particular appeal for you or seem to be particularly important in helping you meet your own personal goals.

Whether you’re working on a professional degree, or an academic degree, take some time to look into a department’s reputation.  Are most of its graduates placed afterwards? Are there opportunities to teach? Are there additional educational perks such as proximity to conferences, a professional journal, or opportunities to become published in your field?  The Internet is a particularly useful tool for scanning the staff of colleges and universities across the country to see what schools the professors hail from.

You might also  take the time to interview the so-called professional movers and shakers your field and ask them for useful information.  Where did they go to school?  What kind of experience do they look for in that field and what schools to they feel provide that experience best?    While it’s true that one can never have too much information, it’s also a wonderful way of networking with the people that may some day become valuable connections.

There are so many things to consider when selecting your graduate program.  While it may seem time intensive and at times overwhelming, putting in that time and effort before going into a graduate program will pay off handsomely.  When it comes time to hang that sheepskin on the wall and begin the next step into your future, you will find yourself more focused and prepared for that wide, wide world.

Written by Tara Kuther

Western Connecticut State University, Developmental Psychology and author of Graduate Study in Psychology: Your Guide to Success, The Psychology Major's Handbook, Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World, Your Career in Psychology: Psychology and Law, as well as several other books.