Deciding what graduate programs to apply to is hard enough. But deciding what school to attend after you’ve received multiple offers? That can feel almost impossible. Today, I’d like to share some tips to help you choose which graduate school to attend.
Get your facts straight. Even though you most likely did a significant amount of research when choosing which schools to apply to, now’s the time to dig even deeper. Many programs host Admitted Student Days, or connect accepted prospective students to current students or faculty members in other ways. Take advantage of this opportunity, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Ask current students what their cost of living is, how available faculty are outside of classroom hours, and what their workload is. Ask faculty what mentorship opportunities exist, what their current research projects are, and what their expectations of their students are. Try to get a feel for what the environment of the program is: is it more collaborative or competitive? What activities are available to students outside of classes? What are the relationships between students and faculty like? Remember that there are no right answers; only what would fit you best.
Compare financial aid packages. Take a close look at the financial aid packages you’ve been offered. Some packages cover fees, while others don’t. Similar programs can vary in length, so a longer program may end up costing more in the long run, even if they’ve given you a higher scholarship. Some packages or stipends are contingent on being a teaching or research assistant, so factor that in as well. If you live out of state, you might also want to consider the cost of traveling home to visit family during your time in the program. The College Board has a great tool for comparing different financial aid packages, although it is intended for undergraduate programs, so you’ll need to substitute estimated living expenses for room and board, and you’ll want to factor in the length of the program as well.
Weigh your options. For some students, it comes down to a gut decision. But for the more indecisive among us, it can be helpful to create a spreadsheet that takes into account your priorities. Here’s a sample one that I made to help illustrate this, but remember, the weight that you give each category is totally up to you, and you may have other priorities that I didn’t even list.
|College A||College B|
|Factor||Score||Weight||Weighted Score||Factor||Score||Weight||Weighted Score|
|Research Opportunities||10||10%||1||Research Opportunities||9||10%||0.9|
|Community Feel||6||10%||0.6||Community Feel||8||10%||0.8|
|Academic Rigor||8||40%||3.2||Academic Rigor||6||40%||2.4|
|Student Life||8||10%||0.8||Student Life||5||10%||0.5|
By adding the weighted scores together, you should get a total out of ten. In this example, College A scores an 8.3 out of 10, while College B gets a 6.7. Looks like School A is the place for me!