Guest Author - Stephanie A. Allen
So youíve decided you want to go back to graduate school. Now that youíve made the decision to go back to school, youíve got to decide where to go. If youíre like me, you may have had an inkling while you were in undergraduate school that you may be headed for an advanced degree and might therefore already have some ideas in mind. If not, then itís time to get your search on!
First and foremost is deciding what schools have the degree programs you want. Depending on your field, professional associations such the Modern Language Association (MLA), or American Psychological Association (APA), may have some of the information youíre looking for. For example, the MLA website has a feature that allows you to search for English language and literature graduate degree programs based on criteria such as degree type, whether or not the school offers insurance to graduate students, and geographic location. Of course you can do an internet search for graduate programs in English, but you will come up with thousands of hits that will probably have nothing to do with what you are looking for. For starters, try professional associations related to your field or try asking a trusted professor or colleague. Several magazines (U.S. News, Newsweek, etc.) rate graduate schools annually and they are excellent sources of information on graduate programs.
An important consideration when applying to graduate school is geographic location. Depending on your field, the program you may desire may be hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. Are you willing to move? What about your family, if you have one? How will you pay for the move if you do decide that the program on the other side of the country is the program for you? Generally, graduate programs do not pay relocation costs, so your moving expenses will be on you.
Another consideration is cost of attendance. Lots of graduate programs offer stipends to students, along with other forms of support such as research or teaching assistantships. If these are of interest to you, make sure you understand what the school has to offer in the form of financial aid. Most graduate students fund their education with student loans, and they can get really expensive, really fast. Itís important to make sure that you do your homework on your programs of choice as schools differ in what they offer to incoming graduate students.
Graduate programs can be extremely competitive; however, and some have better support systems than others. As you research schools, try to make contact with current or former students of the program to see what itís really like at that institution. Graduate school is supposed to be tough, so Iíd be wary if someone told me it was easy. However, you donít want to drive yourself into an early grave either. Check out the graduation rate to get an accurate picture of how many students actually finish their degrees.
Finally, itís also a good idea to research graduate faculty and see what professors are working on, and to see who you may be interested in working with. Remember, these scholars and researchers may very well be your future colleagues, depending on your career path. And if youíre working on a doctorate, you may be working with them for five or more years while you finish your degree. Most of their professional information will be located on their university webpage, and lots of professors post their C.V.ís as well. If not, email them and ask them what theyíre working on and tell them youíre interested in their graduate program. Some of them will be more than happy to talk to you about their work.
No matter where you end up, itís important that you start your search well in advance. Graduate schools have strict application deadlines, and financial aid is often awarded early in the decision-making process. To have the best chance at funding and acceptance, start your search the year before you want to apply. Youíre about to dedicate the next several years, and several thousands of dollars, to graduate school; make sure the school you choose is the perfect fit for you.