Other Criteria for How To Pick Grad Schools
The factors that go into choosing grad schools should mirror your own individual preferences and personality. Besides rankings, research focus, funding, and your own background, there are lots of other reasons why you might pick one school over another. We can't decide for you, so we've put together a list of additional variables to consider. There's probably a lot more that you could add to this list, so think of it as food for thought.
Your Lifestyle Preferences
Not everyone likes the same thing (except perhaps chocolate). You might prefer the laid back culture and sunshine of Florida whereas someone else might like the hustle and bustle of New York City. The point is that focusing exclusively on the academic merits of graduate programs ignores other important, personal dimensions. Remember, you'll be spending the next 2 to 7 years in school, which isn't an inconsequential amount of time. Some things to consider include: climate, local activities, population, culture, and distance from family and friends.
Access to (Great) Facilities
How to pick grad schools can also be a function of the facilities and equipment that institutions have to offer. If you're planning to attend a graduate program in the sciences, for example, the school's labs and equipment will play an important role. Did you want to conduct particle collision experiments but there's no particle collider at your university? Shucks! It's these kind of questions that could prompt you to pick certain schools over others. The same can occur if you're pursuing a program in the humanities or social sciences and want, say, access to ancient manuscripts or a linguistics acoustic lab. Decide if it matters to you.
Your Preference for Department Size
Bigger is better, right? Well, in many cases, yes, because it means access to more resources and faculty. But in other cases, you might prefer a smaller department. One that's intimate, where faculty and students form strong relationships and address each other a first name basis. Again, it comes down to personal choice.
Schools' Placement Record
As far into the future as it may sound, at some point you'll have to worry about finding a job. Some schools publish information and statistics about where students go after graduation, while others don't publish an iota. Nonetheless, you should be able to glean how successful a school is in placing its graduates in the job market. Besides the school's web sites, we recommend researching graduate school rankings (as a proxy) and asking the schools' departments directly.
Your Schedule...and Online Programs
Over the past years, there's been an explosion of distance learning programs. The primary advantage of online education is the convenience that it offers: it's now possible to earn a master's degree from the comfort of your home. In many cases, you can hold a full-time job and schedule classes around your schedule. But it's not all sunshine and roses. Online programs often carry the stigma of a second-class education, although this is slowly disappearing. They also lack the richness of faculty and peer interactions found in a brick and mortar university. And they require you highly self-motivated. The leader in online education is the University of Phoenix, which offers a range of online master's programs in areas like Business, Education, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Psychology, and Technology.
Your Wallet....and Application Fees
We weren't sure whether to put this on the list, but figured it wouldn't hurt. As you probably already know, graduate school applications aren't free. Schools charge anywhere from $50 to $150 per application. This means that if you're applying to more than a few programs, your bank account will receive a kick in the posterior. So, while it's great to have options, you should also consider your costs. One piece of advice: some schools offer application fee waivers based on financial need. So if you're struggling with your finances, be sure to inquire about this before submitting the submit button.