Choosing Your Graduate School Program

“You know you’re a grad student when…the concept of free time scares you.”– Shlomi Fish, Grad Student Humor Whether you’re pursuing a graduate degree in one of the Sciences or one of the Humanities, grad school’s not a laughing matter. Getting through it will require a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. So naturally, when you put your application in for grad school, the last thing you want to do is find out that you’re stuck in an institution that’s not suited to you. Imagine how much harder your graduate degree becomes in that scenario. Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing your grad school program:  

Why Do You Want to Go to Grad School?

For some professions, a stint in grad school is pretty much taken for granted. If you plan to pursue a career in any type of academia, you’ll definitely need a graduate degree (and then some). At the same time, there are some individuals who require the additional education in order to be eligible for management positions and other career-advancement opportunities. Depending on what your plans are after receiving your degree, you may have more flexibility when it comes to selecting your program.  

What Type of Program Are You Aiming For?

With many post-secondary institutions, “prestige” is largely in the eye of the beholder. While a big name might impress an employer, the same school might not have the same reputation within the profession. Another issue is the challenge of the program as well as the content. Is an academically rigorous experience important to you? Is there a thesis involved? Would a practical program make more sense than an abstract one? Is the program you're considering geared more towards academic work or industry work?  


What’s the median age for the students? Are there any clubs or social groups that you think you could join? Although most of a grad student’s time is spent studying, it’s important to have a support network. Trust us on this. These people will keep you sane during the busy times and can be a valuable resource as you adjust to life as a grad student. If you’re allowed to live with your partner on-campus, finding accommodation and settling in becomes that much easier.  

How Much Flexibility Do You Have with Instructors and Advisers?

If people are reliving their old high school memories when you mention your professor at holiday parties, it's safe to say that you're in rough shape. Unfortunately, sometimes personalities may clash or you may find that your learning style’s different from your professors' teaching styles. By necessity, grad students work very closely with their classmates, lab coworkers, co-writers, professors, and especially their advisers. Discord can have a negative impact on your networking prospects as well as your grades. If you see yourself going for your doctorate or otherwise staying in grad school for a while, you might want to make sure you're applying to a program where there are several professors you could see yourself working with or asking to advise you. You could wind up thanking yourself for it later. Speaking of which…  

How Does The Program Fit Into Your Plans?

If you’re planning to go into Clinical Psychology or something similar, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll have to earn a PhD. Depending on the plans you have for your career, however, you may not need to go beyond a Master’s. For those who are planning to continue in academics, it can’t hurt to find out whether or not you can get your next degree at the same school. You should also look into a program's placement rate in your desired field. Do lots of people from the program get jobs in academia or in industry? If you want to go into academia, you should also look into how quickly people achieve tenure-track jobs after completing the program you're interested in. Simply because of the impact that the institution can have on the rest of your life, you want to be selective when you go through possible grad school programs. It’s the only way to ensure the best possible outcome. By considering the campus, your future goals, the type of program, and the options available to grad students once there, you can narrow down your list in record time. Looking for more information on graduate school? Check out our articles on deciding whether to attend grad school, taking the GREgetting awesome grad school recommendations, and building relationships with graduate faculty.