How do I select a school or college?
You need to do your research carefully to choose the school that will best suit your needs and talents. There are more than 1,800 institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees; the variety is enormous. Many are highly specialized and offer only one kind of degree. Some may offer one or two professional master's degrees, often in education or business administration. Some institutions offer master's degrees only, while others offer doctorates in selected fields. Major research universities offer master's degrees and doctorates in a wide range of fields.
There are many general guides to graduate programs. Most college and university libraries and career centers and many public libraries will have at least some of these publications. College libraries, counseling or career centers, and admissions offices generally maintain collections of college and university catalogs. Web sites are also easily accessible for most institutions.
You will probably have certain personal preferences regarding the kind of institution you attend. Size and location are two factors that often influence a person's decision about where to go to school. There are advantages to both large and small institutions. Location is important if you believe you cannot make a major move because of personal or family concerns.
The most important factor should be how well the graduate program of an institution fits your particular interests, academic background, and goals. Although a university may offer a doctorate in your field, it may not have a program in the branch of that field that interests you. For example, some psychology departments specialize in clinical psychology and offer only a few courses in behavioral psychology; in others behavioral psychology courses predominate. General guides will tell you where programs are, and university catalogs will tell you about the emphasis in various departments.
One way to do research on graduate programs is to talk to faculty members at your own undergraduate school about where they did their graduate work and what they know about graduate programs in their fields. Most faculty members enjoy the chance to talk with their students about their plans for graduate study. It is highly likely that they can recommend faculty at other institutions with whom you should study as well as recommend programs that might suit you. Getting to know your faculty members in this way not only provides you with valuable information about grad schools, but it also helps the faculty members know you better. This will give them context as they write letters of recommendation for you.
As you narrow your interests in a graduate program, it is important to determine what various programs' prerequisites are. For a professional degree, work experience or overall academic preparation are often as important as specific coursework. For a research degree, however, there almost always are areas of subject matter and certain skills that you must have mastered at the undergraduate level. Particularly in the sciences, the prerequisites may be very specific.
Another important factor to determine is the selectivity of the program to which you want to apply. How many people apply to a given department or program, and how many are accepted? As the number of applicants grows in comparison with the number of "seats" open in the entering class, the selection rigor increases. It is often the case that the higher the selection rigor, the more likely it is that only the applications of the most highly qualified will be accepted. In considering the implications of this information, you must be very honest with yourself concerning your own academic background and intellectual potential.
Your background is, of course, a function of the kind of institution from which you received your baccalaureate degree and your own academic success there. If your institution did not offer the range of courses as prerequisites for a very demanding graduate program, your preparation for grad school may not be up to the level of other applicants. Assess your preparation and your intellectual potential candidly to determine not only how well you can compete in a rigorous application process, but also how well you might perform after you enter a highly competitive graduate program. In the long run, your comfort with your graduate program will have a great effect on your satisfaction and performance.
Finally, keep in mind that, unlike applying to an institution for an undergraduate degree, for a graduate degree you are applying for admission to a department or specific program. Your application is evaluated and you will be recommended for admission by the department and its faculty members rather than a central admissions office. You should be more than casually familiar with the department to which you are applying. Spend time learning about the reputation of the department and its faculty. Evaluate their credentials. Determine how often courses listed in the course bulletin are taught and by whom. Ask questions of students currently in the program. Be critical about issues like faculty turnover, accreditation, and the reputation of the department and its faculty
Graduate schools are interested in recruiting qualified applicants for their programs. To assist in the process and help students locate programs that meet their needs, the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Board has developed the GRE Search Service, which is offered at no charge to prospective graduate students. Registration for it does not require registration for GRE tests. One benefit of registering for a search service is that you may hear from institutions you may not have otherwise considered, thus giving you more information about options for your graduate education.
For more information, consult the GRE Information Bulletin, which is available in college counseling centers or by writing to the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey 08541, or go to the web site at http://www.gre.org.