Choosing a graduate school is, unsurprisingly, very different from selecting your undergraduate institution. For one thing, your priorities are different. You’re much older, and with advanced age comes new, specific goals that you have honed over the course of your previous four (five…six?) years. Therefore, it is important to make sure that when deciding what graduate program to attend you don’t think of it as the same type of rah-rah rose-colored selection process as before. Think of graduate school as one final step into your transition to the working world, whether you are entering for the first time or looking for a career change. Five things to think about:
Cost: Like undergraduate work, graduate school often comes with significant cost. Let’s not fail to acknowledge the obvious. Tuition and student fees (and living expenses) are the elephants in the room when determining the right place to continue your education, and they shouldn’t be ignored. Loans are great — there’s a stigma to taking advantage of them, but they do help people who otherwise may not be able to afford a great education — but you only want to take out so much. Remember, you’ll need to pay back what you take out eventually. Don’t be afraid of loans. Most students here at B.U. take advantage of these, and we have a great staff to help you figure out all of the scary vocabulary, confusing percentages and indecipherable fine print. On the other hand, you want to take advantages of scholarships and grants, just like you did at your previous school. If a school is offering you a hefty scholarship, this will most likely be (and should be) a significant factor for consideration. Make sure to make the best decision for you, but be equally sure that you can afford it, either now or down the road when you start making repayments.
Location: The real estate matters. Remember, graduate school is about honing (there’s that word again) a refined skill that you are hoping to turn into a lucrative career. Part of that process is making sure you receive a first-class education, which B.U. and other schools provide. The other part of that is networking, which is one of the major keys to success. You aren’t just choosing a school for the information you are going to get in the classroom. The professors and career contacts and fellow students you will meet along the way are a big part of the graduate experience. To best take advantage of this, make sure that you are comfortable with where you are geographically. Boston is obviously a leading city for creative, innovative, entrepreneurial minds. Aside from the city’s undeniable intellectual clout, Boston offers a wide array of academic, social and cultural resources, including museums, PR firms, corporate headquarters, leading journalistic enterprises, history, entertainment, sports and much more. It’s hard to not like Boston once you’ve been here, but whatever your decision, make sure that you can make yourself feel enough at home to take advantage of your environment.
Who’s in charge here: Look up your future professors. Find out what their interests are. Here at B.U., we have some of the most welcoming staff members, from administrators on down, that you will find anywhere. Trust me. These people are ready to help you. They want to help you. If you find a professor with similar interests as you, ask what you can gain from their program. Make sure to do your research: find out who teaches the classes, what they’ve done, who they know. Ask them questions about their work, about their classes and the school. You can find out so much information this way, and all it takes is a quick email or a short phone call. Not only will you get a better sense of what a graduate program is like, but you will give that graduate program a sense of who you are. These connections are invaluable once you arrive on campus.
Think logistics: Once you decide that you like a certain program, you’ll have to start thinking of the practical necessities that are often forgotten in the decision-making process. Where are you going to live? How much does it cost for a typical apartment? Stake out each location and think ahead. Many schools, including B.U., have resources to help you with this sort of thing. Most of that will take place after accepting an offer, but it doesn’t hurt to start considering these factors beforehand.
Have fun deciding: It’s very easy to get stressed out while you are trying to decide between two or three (or more) terrific schools. When you find yourself on the verge of pulling out all of you hair, just remind yourself that two or three great schools want me to join their program! Getting admitted to graduate school is a great accomplishment and a pretty big deal for most people. Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back. Don’t feel like you need to rush your decision. Think of how great your future looks. Daydream about the possiblilites, try to imagine yourself at each school, and find out what will truly make you happy as a graduate student. Once you do all of that, the choice will be a much easier one to make.
Good luck and enjoy the ride. It’s an exciting experience.