Choosing a Program
Continuing on to graduate study is a long-term commitment, and it is critical that you gather enough information about your field to make a wise decision about graduate and professional school. Every field is different; in fact, in some fields you can be in a negative position if you attend graduate and professional school at the wrong time during your career. Talk to faculty, professionals in the field, or the Career Center to gather information about your chosen field.
For more information about graduate and professional school, view the video on Gaining Admission Into Highly Competitive Graduate Schools by Donald Asher. *Video is for eligible Titan Connection Users. You will be prompted to login and may need to register.*
Be aware of the application deadlines which can vary between different programs. For fall admission at most graduate and professional schools, applications are due in January or February; some are even earlier. Students need to start to take steps before the end of their junior year.
Examine the curriculum keeping in mind personal goals and educational needs. It may be important to know if the program offers an interdisciplinary approach to the field or focuses specifically on one approach. Other important considerations are the class size, fieldwork opportunities, philosophy, and methods of instruction.
Additional questions to consider include:
- What is the program reputation?
- Is the opportunity for specialization present? Is specialization required?
- Does the school offer the type of enrollment option you want?
- Does it offer sufficient courses and career options?
- Are internships or work-study programs part of the curriculum?
- If certification is required, what percentage of the class passes? What states have reciprocity?
- How long is the program (number of credits)?
- What are the prerequisite requirements?
- Will it offer knowledge within your capability and interests?
Students will be working extremely close with faculty in graduate and professional school, so it is important to research them. Find out who they are including areas of specialization and research interests they are currently pursuing. Good sources of information are college and department catalogs and journal publications.
Factors to consider include:
- Make-up of faculty
- Professors with doctoral degrees
- Professors' work experience in the field
- Faculty accessibility to students
There are several kinds of financial assistance available for graduate students including fellowships, scholarships, teaching and research assistantships, and loans. Financial aid application deadlines are frequently earlier than the general application deadline. Check with the Financial Aid Office and individual departments at your institution for further financial aid resources.
- California Student Aid Commission - Dream application
- Cornell University Graduate School - Fellowship database
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - Apply as of January 1st and the deadline is March 1st.
- UCLA Graduate Education - Graduate and postdoctoral funding
- Fergusons Online Career Guidance Database
- Eureka Database
Questions to consider include:
- Do the tuition fees fit your budget?
- What type of work-study programs, loans, scholarships, research opportunities, and assistantships are available?
Get an idea of available facilities by reviewing the school website or visiting the campus. Find out about the libraries, laboratories and research facilities, graduate housing as well as any partnerships with other research educational and professional organizations.
Consider the overall size of the program. The critical aspect of size is the ratio of faculty to students in the specific graduate program. In a large program, the applicant should be concerned with the ratio of active faculty to students and the number of students in the common first-year graduate courses. In a small program, the concern is focused upon the number of active faculty and the number and scope of the graduate courses offered.
Additional Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do you know the procedures and timeline?
- Are any advanced exams required?
- What documents will you need?
- Is there an interview process?
- Is the school selective with regard to admissions?
- What is the make-up of the student body?
- How many enter directly from their undergraduate degree?
- Is there a student association? What are its activities?
- What social/cultural life will be available?
- Do most students reside on campus or off campus?
- What living accommodations are available and what are they like?
- Do you prefer an urban or rural environment? A hot, cold, or mild climate?
- What is the distance from home?