Selecting a graduate program can be challenging because it requires you to weigh out some of life's biggest questions. How much money do I have / can I spend on my education? What field do I want to focus on, and is it critical that I earn a graduate degree to work in that sector? How do I know which programs are right for me?
Here are few considerations to help focus your attention and get your grad program search started off on the right foot:
Reflective writing: Deciding to attend grad school is a big decision. Before you really delve into the research process, I recommend doing some reflective writing. Answer for yourself, on paper: in an ideal world, how do I want to be spending my time? How do I want to be remembered? What kind of professional legacy do I want to leave? What is most important to me? Step away from what you have written for a few days, then come back to it. Does it still ring true? Do this a few times until you feel you have a grasp on your priorities and goals. Also, later on when you do start to write your personal statements, you have some writing to go off of!
Choosing a flexible program: For students who are unsure about exactly what industry they want to go into, it is best to choose a degree that’s flexible and applicable to many fields. Examples include: Master of Business and Administration, Master of Arts, Master of Education, and Master of Science in Nursing.
Investing in your hobbies: Maybe you are looking to grad school as a way to professionalise one of your hobbies (dance, social work, painting). First, you must determine how much time you are ready to invest. Are you ready to make the transition to a professional artist? Do you want to leave your graduate program ready to be a social worker? Some degrees can take a full 2 years while others can be earned in just a year. Consider how much time you are willing to invest as well. If you are stretched for time already, you could also consider online institutions that provide you with a great degree of flexibility. Full time graduate studies are not everyone’s cup of tea!
Location: For most grad students, location is a major factor. Are there programs in your current area that would suit your post grad goals? If not, where are your ideal grad programs located? Are you prepared to make a cross country move to attend grad school? What about to another country? Consider these personal boundaries to help you narrow down on post grad programs in locations you prefer.
Finances: While it is true that financial support is harder to come by for Masters and PhD degrees, it is also true that there are some innovate ways to make money / cover tuition through certain programs. For example, some companies will actually pay the tuition fees for their employees, provided that they come back to work for the company afterward. Additionally, some Masters and PhD programs offer a stipend in return for teaching undergraduates. Lastly, research-heavy programs usually offer tuition reimbursement or a stipend in exchange for doing research for the university or a specific university affiliation. These financial options are out there, you just have to really look for them!
Accreditation: Keep in mind that most employers are looking at accredited institutions when hiring. Degree Accreditation Program Society works with employers to find out exactly what skills they are looking for from graduates. They will then pair those companies with graduates with the appropriate skills. Companies such as Google or Ernst and Young are hiring only from accredited institutions for example.
Career goals: According to Indeed’s career guide, the most in-demand graduate programs at the moment are healthcare administration, computer science, economics, marketing and business law and ethics. These degrees demand a high capacity of understanding and plenty of technical skills. Consider whether you need these degrees to achieve your career goals. If the answer is yes, make positive that the programs you are interested in will get you where you want to go. Do they have the proper accreditation? Do they have a strong alumni network? Does the school help with recruitment?
Ranking: Ranking is just a number. Some institutions have a high ranking in some specialty areas, but a lower overall ranking. This does not necessarily mean it's a bad school, but rather that their resources are focused on a specific area. If your focus is also in that area, it could be a great program match for you!
Speak to alumni: Lastly, it is important to speak to people who have already pursued an advanced degree in the same industry. Listening to their experience as a graduate student and the job market after they graduated can help gauge if the program they attended is in line with your expectations and goals.