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Researching Your Options

What is graduate school?

Deciding to pursue a graduate education is not a decision to make lightly. Graduate school is a very focused occupation, so it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to study. While an undergraduate education allows you to explore a variety of areas, graduate school dives into the details of a specific topic. You may work closely with one major professor and additional faculty members to design your course of study, particularly if you pursue a PhD. You may become part of a lab group or research team, and work closely with other students on that team. Often, these students work on similar, but not identical, topics as you.

How do I determine if a graduate school is right for me?

Graduate school requires a lot of commitment, both from you and the people with whom you will be working. Your major professor will invest a great deal of time, energy, and training to help you succeed. Determining the major professor you want to work with is one of the most important decisions you can make. While the reputation of the school you are considering is important, even more important is the reputation of the program and the professor with whom you want to work. As a full-time student, you will generally commit two years working toward a master's degree and an additional three to four years working toward a PhD. You may not necessarily have scheduled school breaks (such as winter, spring, summer, and fall breaks) as vacation. Understanding this ahead of time will prevent some unexpected frustration.

Approach the graduate school process with the same attitude you would approach a job because ultimately, that's exactly what it is.

When researching various graduate programs, important questions to consider are:

  • Are you going to enjoy working here? Are the people and environment going to encourage and support your best efforts?
  • What are the course offerings and how are they scheduled (i.e., day or night classes)?
  • How many graduate students has your potential major professor had?
  • What is the average length of time it has taken for one of this professor's students to graduate?
  • What have been the professor's current students' experiences and how long have they worked with this professor? How long do they anticipate their degree completion to take? (Talk to the students directly.)
  • What are the expectations and management style of your potential major professor? When does s(he) expect you in the office? Will (s)he be available when you have questions?

Remember that the interview process is a two-way process. Not only is your school of interest trying to determine if you would make a good graduate student, but you should try to determine if your school of interest is going to be a good fit for you!

Where can I go for more information?

Although your best resources of information about potential graduate schools and programs are often your professors, advisors, career services staff, professionals in your field of interest, and peers pursuing graduate study, there are several online resources where you can search for schools and programs that may fit your interests and needs. These include: