Choosing a Graduate School

Graduate degrees come in all shapes and sizes, but, with careful research, you can find the grad program that is a perfect fit for YOU. Graduate degrees are often classified as academic or professional. Academic degrees focus on original research, whereas professional degrees concentrate on practical knowledge and skills needed for a particular profession. The amount of time it will take you to complete an advanced degree will vary, but, in general, most masters-level programs can be completed in two years; a law degree (J.D.) may takes three years to complete; a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree is four years plus specialty training which can account for one to seven additional years; and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is usually awarded two to three years after completion of a masters level program.


Where Should I Go? 

After you have identified your area of study, you must begin researching appropriate programs. Start by talking with faculty who share your academic interests or with a career counselor. For a listing of all accredited programs in your area of interest, consult one of the graduate school reference guides such as the Peterson’s Guide, available in the Career Resource Library. These directories will provide general information including: degrees offered, faculty/student ratio, percentage of women and minority students enrolled, average tuition costs, and contact information. The following Web sites can assist you in creating your list of preferred graduate programs.

Rollins undergraduate students planning to apply to graduate school outside the United States may find helpful information at the following Web sites:

Narrowing the Possibilities

Once you have identified several graduate programs of interest, you will likely find that you need to cut your list down to size, as it could be quite large. In order to make the best possible decisions for yourself, you may want to consider the following criteria:

Type of Program - First and foremost, you are well advised to seek admittance to the program that is the "best match" between your interests and the program focus. There is often no best school, only a best school for YOU.  When researching graduate programs, it is important to remember that the specific department (program) where you are applying is often more important than the institution itself.  For example, Harvard is widely regarded as an excellent university with a world-renowned business school, but how is the Music Education department?  It may or may not be the right program for you.  Perhaps a lesser known institution has the best program in your field. 

Accreditation - Secondly, make sure that programs under consideration are accredited. You are encouraged to apply to programs that have strong academic reputations; you will find these programs to be more rewarding and, for the most part, better career opportunities will be available upon graduation.

Faculty- The interests, availability and experience of the program faculty should be critical in your decision-making process.  For students applying to PhD programs, the selection of a thesis advisor is an extremely important part of the admissions process.  Even master's level students are well-advised to learn about the faculty and look for those with similar research interests to their own.

Cost and Financial Aid Options - For many students, cost is an important consideration in your decision about where to attend graduate school.  Just like colleges, graduate programs vary greatly in costs.  Depending on the program, you may be charged a flat amount for tuition, or you may be charged per credit-hour, where you will pay according to the number of classes you take each term.  In addition to tuition, you will also incur expenses for fees, books, health insurance, rent, utilities and other needs.  It is a good idea to investigate your loan, scholarship, assistantship and work options prior to enrolling in a graduate program.  Check the Financial Aid page of our Web site to learn more about this topic.  

Alumni Career Placement
- A great question to ask a graduate school representative is, "What do graduates of your program do?"  You will want to insure that graduates of this program are successfully employed in their chosen career fields.  Ask yourself, are these the types of careers I think I want to pursue?  You may even want to inquire about the availability of alumni networking opportunities to assist you during your job search.

Specialties/Concentrations and Practical Experience - Many graduate programs offer the opportunity for you to specialize in a certain area within your field.  For example, MBA programs often offer concentrations such as Finance, Entrepreneurship, Marketing or Management.  If you have specific interests that you wish to pursue, you will want to look for graduate programs that allow or encourage you to focus in a particular area.  Many degree programs are enhanced by the opportunity to apply what you learn in the classroom in a practical setting.  It is a good idea to research whether practical work experience is part of the curriculum or whether you will have time as a student to pursue internships on your own.

Program Reputation
- As a potential graduate student, you probably want to go to the best grad school you can get into, right?  Ratings and rankings are readily available for some types of degree programs, but for others, you may need to dig a little deeper.  Ask your faculty and colleagues working in the field, what they have heard about certain programs.  You may want to read articles and research professional associations to see where the authors went to school or what advice the association offers.  Additionally, the selectivity of the program, meaning how many people apply and how many are accepted, can offer some understanding of the program's reputation.  The acceptance rate statistic can also help you determine your chances of being admitted to the program.

Location - Although location is usually not a major criteria when selecting a graduate program, you should be sure to only apply to institutions in areas where you will be comfortable living for a few years.  Additionally, some career fields require licensure or certification, which may be administered by the state.  A student wanting to practice law for example, may want to consider attending law school in the state where they plan to sit for the bar exam.  Depending on your plans for living arrangements, part of your research might be to investigate on and off-campus housing options in the area.

Size/Composition of Class
- Some students are interested in the demographic profile of their classmates.  You may want to attend graduate school with people who are your same age, for example, or, you may be comfortable in a classroom with students from backgrounds very different than your own.  Even at a large university, few graduate courses are very big, but it may be a good idea to research the student-faculty ratio and look for programs that are the right size for you.

Facilities - If possible, you may want to visit certain graduate programs that you are seriously considering.  While it is important to get a sense of the entire campus, as a graduate student you should be sure to see classrooms, laboratories, the library and any other facilities related to your department. 


Research and Request Information 

After identifying your target list of programs, you should write to those institutions requesting a course catalogue, application materials, and financial aid information. Most of the information you will want should be on the institution's Web site, but it does not hurt to make contact with someone from the program to see whether additional resources are available. The number of programs that you should include on your "target" list will vary depending on your academic credentials, the type of degree sought, and the prestige of the programs to which you are applying. Your research should be completed during the summer before your senior year or very early in the fall semester.


As you begin to review graduate school information, make sure to always give special consideration to your individual interests and goals. Where to apply is an important decision and you will want to spend a significant amount of time planning for this next step. You do not want to get behind, miss application deadlines, and limit your opportunities.



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"The Path to Graduate School"

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