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Selecting a School and Program

Once you decide that graduate school is the right next step on your career path, you must then answer a very important question: Where will I go?

You will need to explore a number of programs to find the best fits and increase your chances of being admitted to those programs. However, graduate schools’ application fees can often be as much as $100, so you should examine your personal goals and values concerning your graduate education and apply only to programs that would meet your needs and satisfy your goals. You may start with a list of approximately 10 to 15 programs, but a good rule of thumb is to narrow your application list using the “Rule of 6” as an example: two “reach” programs, two “middle-of-the-pack,” and two “safe bets.”

 

Gathering information

Faculty Members of the UT Knoxville faculty have attended and taught at a number of universities and may be able to provide inside information or suggestions about programs you should consider.
Other students and alumni Alumni of and students now in graduate programs will give you the most honest information about the quality of the program and its faculty. Ask your program contact to schedule time for you to speak with current students during a campus visit.
Individual program websites Visit each program’s website for general information, such as the program’s mission, faculty qualifications, admission and graduation requirements, and deadlines. But don’t stop there—contact the school for more details.
General graduate school websites These sites can provide a wealth of information on graduate school in general or on specific fields. Many of them also provide search engines to help identify programs that meet your needs.

Specialty guides Find guides for your field (for example, Graduate Programs in Neurosciences if the neurosciences is your field of choice) by asking professors which guides are the most reputable, by using the subject search engine at amazon.com, or by using the subject search engine from BooksinPrint.com. Some associations also print guides to graduate programs. Find out about them by looking up the association’s headquarters phone number in the Encyclopedia of Associations; then just call and ask.
Academic journals in your field. Top students should get grad school ideas directly from the academic journals. The best programs generate the best and the most often cited articles, so look in the journals for articles and reports of research that interest you. Then find out where the article writer teaches and research his or her program.

 

Questions to ask about programs

Accreditation There are two main types of accreditation, institutional and program specific. You need to determine the properly accredited degree programs in your field. While accreditation is not necessarily the key indicator of quality, you could face negative consequences if the program that confers your degree is not accredited. NOTE: A school that is not properly accredited may not volunteer this information, so dig deep.
Admission standards Most schools publish this kind of information, so look for the number of applicants compared with the number of acceptances and the base requirements for admission, which usually include undergraduate grade-point average and scores on standardized tests.
Multicultural/diversity opportunities Better programs tend to be diverse because diversity of all types often can signal a broader worldview. Examine the composition of both the faculty and the students in the program. You need to determine a mix where you’ll feel both comfortable and appropriately challenged.
Reputation/ranking Lots of different organizations rank graduate programs, so while rankings are an important measure of quality, you also need to investigate the source of the rankings. Examples of organizations that rank graduate programs include U.S. News & World Report and Business Week.
Size There are two aspects of size you should evaluate—size of the program and size of its home university. Just as with your undergraduate school, you need to find a size that feels right for you. Examine the resources available to the program, as well as the faculty–student ratios.
Faculty Are the program’s faculty members well published? Do they publish in well-regarded peer reviewed journals? What are they currently researching? Does this research match your interests? Are they available or do they travel frequently?
Current students Request contact information or arrange a talk with current students to learn the pros and cons of the program from an insider’s view.
Student life What is the student population? How large is the graduate program? What is the student–faculty ratio? What is the average age of the students enrolled? Do students attend primarily full or part time? Are there any student organizations? Where do most of them live with respect to the campus? What support services are on campus?
Location Where is the school located? What is the climate? What recreational activities are available?
Social atmosphere Can you be happy in this environment for the duration of your program? Ask questions about activities of interest to determine if they are offered on-campus or in the community.
Finances What is the tuition for the program? What kind of financial assistance is available? Do they have a variety of assistantships, fellowships, grants, and loans? Make sure you examine all associated costs, including tuition, books and supplies, housing, and miscellaneous fees and expenses. Learn more about funding your graduate education.
“Fit” with your career interests If you have a specialized career interest—like environmental law, for example—you need to know whether the graduate program offers specialized courses and experiential opportunities in that area and whether it has faculty members with research interests that will allow you to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and contacts to start your professional career successfully.
The future Does the program assist with the job search after you receive your degree? Are there career center services designed for graduate students? Where do the graduates end up working? What opportunities for internships, research, and jobs are available while you are in the program?
Graduation requirements Does the program require an exit project, such as a thesis, dissertation, or comprehensive test?

 

 

 

 

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