I could see the lines on my father’s face as we looked out over the grassy lawn of Coleman Commons, with Infocision Stadium glittering in the distance. He looked at me wearily and asked the fateful question, “Emily, is this the one?” I had lept to finding the perfect fit for my undergraduate program like a bride jumps to finding the perfect wedding dress. I dragged my father across the Midwest looking at schools to only declare that they were “too urban”, “too rural”, “too small”, and “too expensive.” But Akron? Akron was just right. With the gusto only a father who has given up the better part of two years worth of Saturdays and football games could have, he all but threw my deposit at the Office of Admissions and whirled me away to get matching t-shirts. Four long years later, I know I made the right decision. The moment I stepped onto campus at the intersection of Buchtel Avenue and South College Street, I knew I was meant to be a Zip.
Just four years ago, I was searching for the place I would spend my undergraduate experience. I had a lot of questions about what I wanted my journey to look like. How far away did I want to move? What did I want to major in? Did I want a big sorority experience? Did I want to move to a big city? Did I want a big school or a small school? Did I want to be in a college town? I ended up having a moment when I knew the right school was right for me, and I got to spend four amazing and terrible and exhausting and life-changing years with my best friend which I am so grateful for. I am now wrapping up my time at the University of Akron, and while my journey is not over yet, I am looking forward to a new journey in law school. As I have been searching for a graduate school I wanted to share with you the five criteria that I am using.
Location, location, location. While the location of a school is really important in undergraduate education for the kind of experience you want, the stakes feel even higher when looking at graduate schools. While at a minimum you will be living there for the duration of your graduate experience, you may end up starting your career there and starting a family. I know when looking at law schools, the common perception is that where you go to law school is where you’re likely to actually practice. That’s a big decision to make, and while it’s not permanent, it is a big change, especially because I am looking at moving into my first apartment, not another dorm.
- Type of Program
This is probably the most important decision to make about graduate school. Deciding to further your education is a great idea and opportunity, but it needs to be worth it. It’s usually a lot of time and money to continue to further and specialize in your chosen field. If you are looking at graduate school, you have likely already decided whether that means law school or medical school or a doctoral program or a master’s program which is a great first step. However, it is important to know more about what you want to do with this degree, specifically, more so than with an undergraduate degree. What kind of medicine do you want to practice? Are you interested in micro versus macro social work practice? What type of law are you interested in? What do you want your Master of Fine Arts speciality to be? These are all important questions that can help you pick which school is right for you.
- Financial Aid
College is always a big financial commitment, but graduate school can be another very expensive commitment on top of any debt or loans from your undergraduate years. It is definitely important to determine what kind of loans and grants you might be eligible for from the government, when you need to start paying back undergraduate loans, and if you can qualify for money from your graduate school whether it be a scholarship, a teaching assistant (TA) or graduate assistant (GA) position, or even a stipend.
When you were looking for an undergraduate program, likely you did not take notice of what professors taught there or what research the school specialized in. However, in graduate school the research the school sponsors, the clinics, the internships, the labs, the hospital/community affiliations, and yes, the faculty can be crucial to getting not only your degree but also an informative and educational experience. This real-life experience and networking will allow you access to better career opportunities, as well.
Of course you always want to go to the best possible school that fits your needs and provides you with the opportunities to succeed. In undergraduate, the specific ranking on the school in the famous US News and World Report may not have mattered too much. You can still get an amazing education at a community college versus a state school versus the Ivy League. This can be a little different when looking at graduate school. For professional degrees, the prestige of the school can be a big boost in the job market. It is important to evaluate the value of prestige and the effect on your resume versus the other criteria on this list. Don’t a number sweep you away on your journey.