1. Tuition Costs – While most prospective grad students don’t like the idea of figuring tuition costs into the equation when searching for a school, it is quite necessary, particularly if you do not have a full scholarship. The average grad student spends tens of thousands of dollars each year on tuition. If you can’t get a return on your investment or if you can’t afford to pay your student loans after graduation, you may regret attending a high-priced school.
2. Cost of Books and Supplies – Tuition costs aren’t the only financial matter worth considering. It is also a good idea to estimate how much you will spend on books and other supplies. You will be surprised how quickly these costs can add up. In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to pay as much as $10,000 to $15,000 per year.
3. Average Financial Aid Package – The average financial aid package awarded to students at each school is just as important as the cost of tuition itself. The more you can receive in grants and scholarships, the less you will have to borrow or pay out of pocket. In most cases, the financial aid office at your school of interest will have this information readily available.
4. Selectivity Rating – Some grad schools accept nearly everyone who applies, but others are extremely selective. The more selective a school is, the lower your chances are of getting an acceptance letter. This does not necessarily mean that you should avoid applying to the schools that don’t accept high numbers of applicants; it simply means that you might be better off finding more than one school that fits your academic needs.
5. School Reputation – A school’s reputation in your field of interest is worth checking out. Grad school is an excellent opportunity to study with leading professors in your field, and a chance to jumpstart your career. By studying at a school with a good reputation, you increase the likelihood of getting an education that you can be proud of.
6. Class Size – Some students prefer large classes that allow them to blend in, while other students prefer small classes that do not limit student participation. No matter what your preference, class sizes will have a huge impact on your overall education. If possible, determine which option is best for you, and then find a school that meets your needs.
7. Accreditation – Making sure the school or program that you are interested in pursuing is accredited is an absolute must. While accreditation doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality, it does provide an insurance against potential problems later on. For example, if you study law at a grad school that is not accredited, you may not be eligible to take the bar exam or practice law.
8. Degrees Offered – When looking at a particular graduate school, one of the first things you need to do is find out what type of programs are available and what kind of degrees are being offered. Some schools provide the opportunity for dual degrees and some don’t. If a school doesn’t have the degree you need to further you career, there is no sense wasting any time with that school.
9. Student/Faculty Ratios – The student/faculty ratio of a school is the ratio of full-time (instructional) faculty members to all enrolled students. This figure is important if you thrive in an environment that provides individualized attention. A school that has a student/faculty ratio of 30:1 is less likely to provide individualized attention than a school that has a student/faculty ratio of 5:1.
10. Teaching Method – Teaching methods are another aspect of the grad school education that can vary from school to school. Some grad schools focus more on research, while others employ lecture and case study methods. Choosing a program that utilizes a method that is conducive to your learning style and academic goals will be to your benefit.
11. Professor Reputation – Your graduate school education will only be as good as the professors who lead your classes. This is why it pays to check out a professor’s reputation prior to enrolling in any graduate program. If at all possible, you will want to find professors that are leaders in your field of study.
12. The Alumni Network – The alumni network of any given grad school can provide you with important contacts that last throughout your career. You can learn more about alumni by checking a school’s website. Most schools love to brag about their former students and offer complete access to lists of alumni.
13. Average GRE Score – State schools frequently have minimum GRE score requirements, as do private schools with competitive admissions. When researching schools, you should investigate average GRE scores to see how your score measures up and to determine whether or not you meet the minimum requirements.
14. TOEFL Requirements – To evaluate a student’s ability to communicate and understand the English language at the grad school level, many English speaking grad schools require non-natives to supply TOEFL scores. Some schools have minimum score requirements, so you will want to factor that into your grad school decision.
15. Average Undergraduate GPA Ranges – Didn’t do so hot in undergraduate school? You may want to take a close look at the average undergraduate GPA ranges before applying. If your GPA falls too far below the average, it could hurt your chances of acceptance. Some schools may even have minimum GPA requirements, which general scraps your chances of getting in altogether.
16. Minimum Work Experience Requirements – It isn’t unusual for the admissions committee at a grad school to impose minimum work experience requirements. In business programs, for example, most applicants are required to have at least two to three years of professional experience prior to applying. Before choosing a school, it is a good idea to scan these requirements to make sure you are eligible for the program.
17. Average Age at Entry – Do you care how old your classmates are? If so, you will want to check the average age of applicants at the school you are interested in attending. You can usually find this information on the school’s website or in grad school guide books.
18. Admission Requirements – If you are trying to get into a top graduate school, the admissions process can be a trying experience. This is why it is recommended that you make note of admission requirements as you research schools. Knowing what is in store with each school you apply to will not only increase your chances of getting your application in by the deadline, it will also help you to determine whether or not you are a good fit for a particular school.
19. Application Deadlines – Every grad school has different application deadlines. Some schools have one application round, and others have two or three. You should carefully keep track of the deadlines for each school you are interested in, and make sure you apply on time. In some cases, the earlier you apply, the greater your chances are of getting accepted.
20. Application Fees – Most grad schools charge prospective students an application fee. These fees can add up very quickly, and are likely to drain a nice chunk of your savings if you aren’t careful. While there is generally no way to get an application fee waived, you can control how much you spend by keeping track of the fees and limiting the number of schools you apply to.
21. Location – The location of the graduate school is a major consideration because it will affect not only where you live while you complete the program, but also the cost of your education. For example, if you reside in the same state as the school you will be attending, tuition costs will be less than they would be if you were an out-of-state student.
22. Student Housing – While you earn your graduate degree, you will need someplace to live. The school you are interested in attending may provide dorms for students or they may not. If you have no interest in living in a dorm, you will have to find a suitable place to lay down your head while you aren’t in class. Since the cost and availability of housing can vary greatly depending on the school’s location, it is a good idea to hammer out housing details as soon as possible in the search process.
23. Program Length – How long do you want to attend grad school? This is something you need to ask yourself before you begin researching programs. Some schools offer accelerated programs, which will allow you to earn your degree faster. Other schools have lengthy programs and residency requirements. There is also the option of attending school part time versus full time.
24. Program Flexibility – When searching for the perfect grad school program, you will want to pay special attention to program flexibility. This is especially true if you aren’t exactly sure what line of study you want to pursue. Some grad schools offer a multidisciplinary curriculum, and the opportunity to pursue one interest in the beginning of your education and another later on. Other schools are much less flexible, and have programs that are virtually set in stone.
25. Part Time vs. Full Time Programs – The decision to attend grad school part time versus full time is a big one. If you go part time, you can still work and maybe even have a social life. If you attend school full time, holding anything more than a part time job will prove to be very difficult. As tempting as it can be, make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you do, your education and your career will suffer.
26. Course Load – The intensity of a graduate program varies by school. Some schools load their students up with so much work that there is very little time to do anything else. Other graduate schools take a more laid back approach and make an effort to keep the coarse load manageable.
27. Evolving Curriculum – A good grad school program is up-to-date with recent changes in the field and the curriculum reflects it. To determine whether or not your school has an ever-evolving curriculum, ask as many questions about the program as you can. Find out how it changes from year to year and question how the need for updates is determined.
28. Competition Levels – Some grad schools have a reputation for being particularly cut throat. Students are competitive, and every class is like a race to the finish. Other schools have more of a collaborative atmosphere and emphasize teamwork. Deciding which competition level would suit you best will help you to pick a school that is a better fit for your learning style.
29. Diversity – Attending a graduate school with a diverse group of students will enrich your education experience and better prepare you for working in a global environment. You can usually get an impression of a school’s diversity from national school rankings and from grad school guide books. You may also be able to learn a few things from the school’s admissions office or website.
30. Campus Culture/Social Atmosphere – Every grad school has a different reputation in regards to social atmosphere. It’s best not to get any preconceived notions from glossy brochures. Your most valuable research tool for this grad school factor is current students. Talk to them about what the school is like, and use your instincts to determine whether or not the social atmosphere (as they describe it) fits your personality.
31. Academic Strengths – Before investing any time or money in any one grad school, you need to make a list of that school’s academic strengths. Is the school known for excellence in one particular program? Will renowned professors teach your classes? What makes this school’s academics stand out among other schools’?
32. Academic Weaknesses – Although identifying a graduate school’s academic strengths is highly recommended, it is perhaps more important to single out a school’s weaknesses. For example, if a grad school is not known for having a strong program in your discipline, this would be a definite academic weakness, and possibly a good enough reason to consider another school.
33. The School’s National Ranking – There are many different organizations that rank graduate schools. A few examples include Business Week, U.S. News, Wall Street Journal, and The Princeton Review. Although these rankings are considered to be important, and may even help you to decide which school is best, you should not let the rankings influence your decision without investigating the criteria used to rank the schools.
34. Opportunities for Minorities – If you are a minority student, you should pay special attention to the grad schools that offer special opportunities for minorities. These schools are probably more vested in your future, and will be more likely to provide a supportive culture for minority students.
35. Opportunities for Women – Female grad school students should also consider the opportunities that are available for women at a particular grad school. Things to inquire about include the number of women on the faculty, the number of female students currently attending, and the resources that are available specifically for women.
36. Networking Opportunities – A big part of grad school is networking. You will network with not only professors and other students, but also with other people who are an influence in your field. While some grad schools offer outstanding networking opportunities, this will not be the case everywhere you go. For this reason, you should research the different networking opportunities that will be available to you at each school, and then factor the research into your decision.
37. Distance Learning Options – If you have a busy schedule, or if you don’t like the idea of relocating to attend graduate school, you can always look into the option of distance learning. More and more graduate schools are beginning to offer this option to satisfy student demand. In many cases, the schools’ online program is exactly the same or very similar to the campus-based program.
38. Campus Facilities – Many graduate schools claim to have state-of-the-art facilities, but definitions of the term “state-of-the-art” can vary. For this reason, it is essential that you do investigative work of your own. Start by making sure the school has the type of facilities you need, and then find out the condition of each building, and the year it was last updated.
39. Life Outside of Class – You will be spending years earning your graduate degree. To make sure you won’t be completely miserable when you aren’t studying, it pays to learn more about the area in which the school is located. Is there entertainment? Places you would be interested in touring? What about the community? Is it nice? Are the people friendly?
40. A Day in the Life – Before enrolling in a graduate school program, one of the best things you can do is find out what your daily life will be like. You can do this by visiting the school campus or by speaking with students who are currently enrolled in your program of interest. Ask them how busy their day is, how much time they devote to their studies during the week and on the weekend, etc.
41. Commitment to Foreign Applicants – If you are a U.S. student attending a foreign school or a foreign student attending a U.S. school, it is essential that you investigate the level of commitment your school has to foreign applicants. Some grad schools will help guide you through the entire process, and with other schools, you are more or less on your own.
42. Transfer Policies – If you are transferring from another grad school or think there is a possibility that you may be transferring later, you will want to pay careful attention to the school’s transfer policies. Some will allow you to transfer all of your credits; others will not. Finding out this information ahead of time can save you a great deal of stress later on.
43. Internship Programs – To get your grad school degree, you may need to successfully complete an internship program or residency. Learning whether or not your school helps to place you in such a program will be beneficial. If they do not offer automatic placement, you will want to question what kind of recruiting opportunities will be available to you and what happens if you are unable to find a suitable program on your own.
44. Work-Study Programs – If you don’t have enough in grants and scholarships to pay for your grad school education, and you don’t want to sign your life away on student loans, it may be worthwhile to search for a graduate school that offers a work-study program to students who need assistance paying for tuition, room and board, books, and other supplies.
45. On-Campus Recruiting – Top grad schools offer top notch recruiting opportunities to their students. With lower level grad schools though, this is not necessarily the case. If you do not already have an internship or a post-graduation job lined up, you will want to carefully evaluate each school’s on-campus recruiting procedures, as well as the type of recruiters who visit the school each year.
46. Career Placement Statistics – One of the main reasons people decide to go to grad school involves the desire for career advancement. If you fall into this category, it makes sense to research the career placement assistance each school offers, as well as the career placement statistics for the schools’ most recent grads.
47. Employment Rates After Graduation – As important as career placement statistics are, you will probably want to take it a step further to get a really good idea of a school’s overall employment rates. With a little bit of sleuthing, you should be able to find out where schools are placing their students and what type of jobs these students are getting. Although some schools plump these numbers to look more favorable, the numbers can still give you an indication of how successful your job hunt will be after graduation.
48. Regional Bias – Some companies like to support schools in their area by hiring graduates from these schools. There is also a trend among large national companies to hire grads from schools that are located near the companies’ corporate offices. In other words, regional bias could play a huge role in your ability to get a job. For this reason, it is a good idea to factor regional bias into your grad school search.
49. Reputation with Employers – If you plan on pursuing a career in a field like business, the school you choose will need to have a good reputation with employers. Some Fortune 500 companies only recruit graduates from certain schools. Getting into one of these schools will bode well when it comes time to get a job. You can usually learn more about a school’s reputation with employers directly from the school itself or from published reports by U.S. News and World Report and similar organizations.
50. Return on Investment – If you are like most prospective grad students, you probably have more than a little undergraduate debt left on your plate. While attending grad school, you are likely to at least double or triple your financial obligations. Before taking on this much debt, you need to seriously analyze what your return on investment will be like. You can do this by researching your earning potential upon graduation and the amount you are likely to spend getting your degree.