Last month I talked about how to initially narrow your search for the perfect graduate program for you by looking at basics like population size, program format, geographic area. But once you have a list of about ten to twenty schools, making cuts can seem almost impossible. Especially now, when visiting schools is virtually impossible (pun intended!), how do you know which to cross off your list? Today I’m sharing some tips to move from a list of schools that meet your criteria to the four to six schools you’ll end up applying to.
Step 1: Take inventory. I referenced this briefly in my previous post, but this is the stage where you’ll really want to dive into what’s motivating you to go to graduate school. What are the holes in your knowledge? What do you want to gain from your time in graduate school? Try to make this list as concrete as possible (i.e., not “I want to make connections” but “I want to make connections with people in fields x, y, and z.”).
Step 2: Dive in. Now that you have your list, compare that to the curriculum and faculty interests of each program. If you know you want to gain hands-on experience, programs that don’t offer an internship or practicum option can be crossed off your list. If you want to focus on behavioral health issues in Southeast Asia (for example!), and none of the faculty at the school have experience in either behavioral health or Southeast Asia, you can eliminate them as well. If you know you need to learn STATA (a statistics software), and there’s no classes or support for that in the program, you know that the program would not be a good fit for you.
Step 3: Final cuts. After step two, you should have narrowed your initial list significantly; if you didn’t, it’s a sign that your list of objectives wasn’t concrete enough. But once you’ve gotten your list under ten, that’s where the fun part of the research comes in. Reach out to admissions staff members to get any answers for your remaining questions. Connect to current students and alumni, and ask questions like, “Do you have enough academic and career guidance? What do you like and dislike about your program? How available are your professors?” Attend virtual events for prospective students! Many schools, including Heller, are offering a ton of virtual events to help students connect to faculty, program directors, and current students, so take advantage of this opportunity.
Only you can decide which program will be best for you, so think of this as an opportunity to reflect on what you want to do after graduation. In the end, remember that graduate school is a stepping-stone toward your personal and professional goals, not the final destination; every person’s path will look different depending on where they see themselves in the future. Start early, keep your search organized, and know that whichever program you choose, your passion and hard work will be the keys to success!