Deciding Where to Go for Grad School? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions First

This article has been syndicated from SpeechLyss, an InfluenceHer Collective Member. Read the full post here

Applying for undergrad was definitely an experience, but applying for graduate programs is a whole other story. The grad school search is seriously strenuous, yet the very first question friends/family/faculty will ask you is where you will be applying. It was the number one question I received whenever I mentioned grad school applications. I also found that it was the hardest question to answer. The question always sounded so casual, “So where are you applying?” …As if I’d had one specific place in mind forever. My first thought was always "how do I find the right one?" There's such a vast variety of schools out there that offer incredible graduate programs. Determining the exact list of schools to send your application to takes time – and some pretty extensive research.

Choosing the schools you want to apply to is so much more than picking them out of a hat (even though it may certainly seem like that is what we are doing sometimes!). Discovering and further selecting your top schools to apply to is a complex process, but it can be made much easier by narrowing down your options. The whole “narrowing down your options” deal can seem exhausting, too. But, not so much if you ask yourself what you are truly looking for. Luckily, these 5 simple questions to ask yourself will help to guide you in discovering your perfect program.

1. Do you prefer to stay close to home?

This may be the single best question that will help you narrow down your search. Think about whether you can see yourself living far away from home for the next two years. If you can’t, you can easily narrow your search to find schools within a drivable radius of your hometown. While the U.S. does have hundreds of incredible programs, not all areas have large numbers of programs within a proximal driving distance. It is also important to keep in mind that there are thousands of people in the same shoes. Narrowing down options too much can decrease chances of acceptance for first-time applicants.

If you are planning on actually living at home while you complete your program, you can narrow your search to schools within roughly an hour of where you live. However, there may not be many, if any, programs quite that close to your hometown. If there aren’t any schools within driving distance, another option you have is to look into online programs.

2. Are you an adventurer?

Many of us millennials are thrill-seekers and explorers. You may be interested in going somewhere farther away from the comfort of your hometown, home state, or even home country! If this description fits you, you will likely be looking for a school that both suits your interests, and is located somewhere off your parents’ ideal map of potential graduate schools (sorry mom!)

Even though you may be down to go just about anywhere, you likely have specific opinions on what exactly “going somewhere adventurous” means to you. Is it somewhere warm and sunny? How about a busy city? Maybe it’s somewhere near snowy mountains. Regardless, you likely have somewhat of an idea of a climate or setting in which you’d like to spend the next two years of your life. However, if you’re not so sure, there are plenty of ways to seek out the programs in your ideal location. 

3. Do you have specific interests?

This is a great question to ask yourself before you begin looking into programs. If you have specific interests within your field, find out whether a program offers related courses or clinical experiences. Finding this information out can help you easily narrow down your search. Specific interests may be as broad as medical vs. school-based Speech Pathology. Some people just know they want to work in a hospital. Others can’t picture themselves anywhere but an elementary school.

Interests can also be as narrow as research in a specific disorder. During my grad school search, I kept my interests in mind as I scrolled through each program’s site. By searching with my specific interests in mind, I was able to quickly skim through any research projects a program completed. This allowed me to easily discover whether any of the school’s researchers had similar interests as me, simply by skimming through their “Research” page. Whenever I saw either of my interests listed as the same interests of a certain professor, I would click on their bio to learn more about their research.

Researching faculty members also helped to narrow your interests down. I was able to form an opinion about the school fairly easily. I presumed the researchers would likely be the professors I would be learning from when I would attend the program. Because you’ll likely be learning from these professors, it’s important to find a school that researches topics you’re interested in.

4. What kind of financial aid are you seeking?

Financial aid is a necessity for many students. A big downfall of some programs is that they simply don’t offer it, and some only offer certain forms of financial aid. For example, some programs offer scholarships students must apply to. Other programs instead offer opportunities such as Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships. If you are seeking scholarships, it is important to find out what scholarships your department offers. Not all departments offer scholarships to first-year graduate students who didn’t come from their undergraduate program. Schools will do this because even though your transcript says you have great academic abilities, your work ethic may be a different story. The program may wish to get to know you as a student before dishing out the cash.

Finding out what the general graduate school offers is also a great idea for those seeking financial aid. Many programs are apart of a “general graduate school”. This means a broader school that oversees various operations of the graduate programs within it. Often times the graduate school will have many more scholarship opportunities for students to apply for. The most important thing to ask when finding out about scholarships you can apply to is when you can expect their application deadlines.

When I was applying, I had no idea where to even start in my search for a concise list of schools! I asked myself these questions to help me seriously narrow down my search. I first looked into rankings, location, and whether or not my interests were shared with the faculty. Finally, I looked into the financial aid offered at each school. Asking myself these questions proved to be the most efficient way to compose my list of schools and ultimately find the right grad school for me!

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