Choosing The Right Graduate School and Program

The purpose behind graduate and professional degree
programs is to turn promising students into competent
specialists well suited to a specific range of
careers. Accordingly, the most important consideration
when choosing which degree to pursue is whether it
will give you the qualifications you need for the
career you want. Do not underestimate the importance
of this match. It is one of the main things that
admission committees are looking for when they
evaluate applicants to their programs. 

If you are unsure as to which career you wish to
pursue, talking to faculty members of your department
or career counselors is probably the best way to get
the answers to the questions that you need.
Researching at the library for the kinds of careers
available to someone with an advanced degree in your
field may also prove to be fruitful in making your
final decision. There are also many helpful books on
the topic.

Where to begin n your search

The internet is of course a wonderful tool to use in
finding information about graduate or professional
programs, its faculty and students and about the
university, the city and much more. In most cases, you
can even download the application package and even
calculate your tuition fees. However, the vastness of
the internet can make your list of potential programs
enormous and leave you feeling overwhelmed, especially
if the particular degree that you are looking for is
general and available at most Universities. If this is
the case, narrowing down your criteria will be
important to do right from the beginning.

The location of the University may be an important
factor for you and one that can be used to help you
narrow down your search. You will need to ask yourself
whether you are willing to live in a particular city
or town for the next several years.  If this is the
case, then remove those programs that are in
undesirable locations right from the beginning. If on
the other hand, you do not care where you will be
living or you wish to remain in the same town or city
that you reside in now, then there are many other
factors that you will want to consider.

The competitiveness of the program is one such factor.
Some programs are more competitive than others. Often,
this means that only students with exceptional
credentials will be accepted. Students with mediocre
grades and average standardized test scores may not
have much of a chance of getting into one of these
more competitive and high-profile programs. If this is
your situation, it may not be prudent to spend time
and money applying to programs that are clearly not
realistic for you in light of your qualifications.
However, there are likely to be dozens of other
programs that also offer the education and training
you seek and that are considerably less competitive.

Do not assume that you will receive an inferior
graduate education in a lower-profile, less
competitive graduate program. As with many other
things that reflect supply and demand, the prestige of
a program can be unrelated to the real value of what
it has to offer. Don't listen to anyone who tells you
that you will always receive better training at a
high-profile school like Harvard or Johns Hopkins than
you will at a university with a lower profile. This
does not have to be the case. The general reputation
of a school can often be totally irrelevant. Be aware
that many well-educated people also share common
misconceptions about the relation between a school's
general reputation and the quality of its graduate or
professional training.

For more information on choosing the right graduate
program and the right graduate supervisor, download
e-Chapter 4 (Making the Right Choices) at
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