Students who do thorough research and carefully match what they want from their graduate education with what a particular program has to offer are generally more satisfied with their choice. As you conduct research on graduate programs, consider the following aspects of the programs.
Curriculum & Course Sequencing - Review each program's required coursework and course sequencing to gauge your interest and skills in those areas. Many programs allow students to take electives or choose areas of focus within the program.
Faculty - At the graduate level, it’s especially important for students who want to specialize in a particular area to attend a program with a professor(s) with the same field of interest. Working closely with a faculty member who is highly regarded in the field is often more important than attending a prestigious university. Since many graduate students hold Research Assistant positions or conduct research for a thesis or dissertation, having access to program faculty with similar research interests in important.
Admission Standards - Graduate programs often consider a range of factors when looking into prospective students, and some programs can be very competitive. Does your profile match that of the typical admitted student? Does the program require or recommend full-time work experience before enrollment? What is the deadline to apply? Do applicants that apply early have in edge? (Also keep in mind financial aid deadlines may be earlier!)
Program Length & Progress Requirements - Consider how long it will take to complete the programs (a master's degree typically takes 2 years and a doctoral degree takes four to either years) and whether there are options to take courses part-time (if that's an interest of yours). If you plan to work while pursuing a graduate degree, taking into consideration the timing of classes and minimum course loads. It may be wise to talk to program staff to find out about the average time-to-degree for students in the program (which may be different than how long the program is "supposed" to take).
Student Profile - Many graduate students say that their interactions with other students in the program contributed greatly to their learning and overall experience. What is the ratio of students entering the program directly from college to those with several years work experience following their undergraduate degree? What is the ratio of full-time to part-time students? Are there relevant student organizations?
Funding Availability - Assistantships and fellowships can be valuable sources of financial support and professional experience, so discuss opportunities with program staff.
Accreditation and Program Reputation - In some fields, attending an accredited program is very important and may impact licensure and employment options. Program and faculty reputation is also important. Talk with professionals in your field about programs they feel are considered strong.
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