Selecting the Best Graduate Program for You

Even though a program has a high ranking and a sound reputation, it may not be the best choice for you. Although general evaluations and resource guides do offer a broad perspective on a school, your own focus is much narrower and harder to characterize. The key to selecting the ideal program for you is to know yourself and what you want to study. A program may have an excellent reputation, but may not, for example, have the faculty or facilities to support your studies Also, you may have to relocate to attend a program of your choice and you will need to research the location as well as the student life at that school.

Important questions to consider-

  • Does this school offer the program I am seeking, at the time and location that fit with my financial and personal situation?
  • What is the student profile for this program? [something about diversity, age, professional experiences, interests, student life]
  • Does the faculty exhibit special strengths and research qualities through their graduate mentoring, published works, and funded research?
  • Have my undergraduate academic and/or professional experiences prepared me for this program?
  • Will this program give me an opportunity for hands-on experience, either as a professional practitioner or researcher?
  • As I approach degree completion, what type of career counseling/job search support would be available to me?
  • Does the department of interest have a sufficiently large and varied curriculum to allow me a broad offering of courses and options?
  • How senior are the professors from my area of study; what are their interests and availability?
  • Is financial support available (including teaching and/or research assistantships)?
  • What are the class sizes and what is the student/faculty ratio?
  • How active is the faculty in my field?
  • Are there facilities to conduct my research?
  • What is the program's reputation versus the university's reputation?
  • Are the classes I am interested in offered and if so, how often?
  • What is graduate student life like there; will this institution and location be a good fit for me?

Sources of Information

Professional Journals in your field of interest will help to identify who is doing what type of research and where they are located. The reference librarian and faculty members can help you to identify the right journals for your area of study

Once you identify a program that you are interested in, research it thoroughly. Check out the faculty members at the prospective school to learn about their areas of expertise and how they may relate to your interest. If there are a few faculty members who impress you, you should review some of their recent research and publications. You should also ask your UMBC faculty mentor if s/he is familiar with the program you are considering. Faculty members may be able to provide a professional assessment of the program's quality. If you are interested in a science program, for example, make sure the University has the necessary facilities and laboratory space to conduct your specific research.

You should also go online and find a local newspaper site and read any recent news or articles on the school. Check out the institution's internal publications as well. This will help you to find out a lot of background information on the internal culture of the school.

Directories and guidebooks
University directories and guidebooks should never be the only source used to research schools, but, they can be useful. These are particularly useful during the initial stages of your application process before narrowing your search to a select short list of programs. Some of the links in the Additional Helpful Websites list (below) will take you to online directories.

Student Organizations
Many student organizations, especially major specific organizations such as your council of majors, can offer keen insight and advice. Often, these organizations can provide networking opportunities with alumni currently enrolled in a graduate program that can provide direct advice and can answer some of your questions about the quality of the academic program and graduate student life at the institution. Similarly, organizations can serve as a good way to talk with other students interested in the same field.

Additional Helpful Websites

Additional Resources

  • The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students has useful information at http://www.nagps.org.
  • Get Into Grad School: The Strategic Approach, Eileen Mager, 2003*
  • America 's Best Graduate Schools , U.S. News & World Report/America's Authority on Education, 2006*

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