Picking a grad school can be a very daunting experience. You need to consider not only your academic aspirations, but also your employment prospects, return on investment, job market, and personal preferences. Add to that other aspects such as geography, relocation, school size, and academic environment, and you've quickly got a huge pile of considerations you need to keep in mind as you narrow down your list.
I've found that it's always good to have a road map when starting out with these kinds of decisions, and a undertaking self-analysis is always a good way to begin.
With that in mind, here is a brief questionnaire that is meant to get you thinking about all the different aspects you should consider as you make your school decisions.
Answer the questions posed here thinking about your ideal grad school scenario. The answers will help you determine what you value and what you should look for when selecting a school.
- Are there any geographic areas in which you would not want to live?
- Are there any geographic areas in which you would definitely want to live?
- Would you rather be in a big city or a small town? Urban, suburban, or rural location?
- What’s your ideal weather scenario?
- Can you deal with sweltering summers, or freezing winters? Do you like snow?
- Where do you want to work post-graduation (it’s okay if you don’t yet know)?
- Do you need to be close to family, or to a specific town or state?
School size and academic environment
- Do you prefer a smaller, cozier school, or a large, bustling institution?
- Do you want to know well and be close to most/all of your classmates, or be in an environment where you’re always meeting someone new?
- Do you thrive in a competitive environment? Would you rather be someplace that’s laid back?
- Is being able to live on-campus important to you?
- Would you like to have easy access to your instructors and professors, or is this not necessarily important to you?
Available programs and specializations
- Do you have specific research requirements or desires?
- Do you want to work closely with experts in your field?
Career aspirations and personal goals
- What kind of work do you want to do post-graduation?
- What do you want to get out of your grad school education?
- What is your ideal job?
- Do you expect your school to help you with the job hunt?
- What kinds of resources (if any) would you like your school to make available for you when you’re searching for employment?
- Will you look for internships or externships during the year?
- Do you want to be able to teach classes or lead seminars during your time school?
- Do you want your school to be able to help students obtain jobs in a specific geographic area? Nation-wide? Internationally?
Of course, there are other things to consider, such as cost, financial aid, and program availability. Don't forget about the other items mentioned in the questionnaire above, though--remember that it's not just about making sure a school has a particular program; it's also about making sure you'll be happy there. Think of the characteristics that would make you happy in an academic institution, and make sure the schools you pick have most or all of them.
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