Choosing a School Part 3

Career Opportunities Count

Although looking up a potential school’s alumni will certainly help you figure out what they’ve gone on to do with their graduate degrees, you should also try to find out how long it takes the average graduate to find stable employment after they’ve completed their master’s program. If there are huge gaps in the employment profiles of alumni on LinkedIn, or if it looks like they’ve had to take a series of low-paying jobs before landing a decent role, start ringing the alarm bells.


If it takes graduates a great deal of time to land their first good jobs, then perhaps the school doesn’t do a good job of preparing them for worthwhile careers. Any strong graduate school, or graduate program worth attending should offer not just a high quality education, but also a variety of opportunities for career success. The graduate schools that you consider should provide assistance with finding quality job placements, paid internships, career workshops and other career-related services. When you explore prospective schools, make sure to ask faculty, advisors, career services personnel and alumni about what they offer in the way of career development both during school and after graduation.

Size Really Does Matter

Many students don’t seem to think that the size of their graduate school matters, but it can actually make or break your entire graduate school experience. If you prefer learning in a lecture hall with many other students, you will likely benefit from attending a graduate school that offers larger classes. However, if you prefer an environment where there is more room for discussion and debate with your professors and peers, then you will probably want to attend a graduate school with a far lower student-to-faculty ratio.


A simple way to decide what kind of a class size you prefer in graduate school is to think about the learning style that worked best for you while you were an undergraduate. Don’t attend a graduate school simply because it has a fantastic reputation, because if it’s learning methods don’t sync up with your learning style, then you may end up feeling disappointed, or falling behind in your studies.


Most graduate school websites list their student-to-faculty ratios, but one of the best ways to get a feel for the size of a school is to visit the campus in person and ask if you can sit in on one of the classes that you might be attending. See for yourself whether or not it’s the right environment by participating in a real-world classroom experience.

How Long Will it Take?

The length of an academic program is one of the most important considerations that you’ll have to take into account, as it will determine how quickly you can start putting your education to work on bringing some money back into your own pockets. If you would prefer to attend a graduate program that can be completed on a part-time basis, then realize you’ll have to extend the program for a few extra years, but consider earning your degree entirely online.


Getting your graduate degree online will typically allow you to study on a more flexible schedule, and at some schools, you’ll be able to proceed through the program at your own pace. As a result, you might be able to extend your education for as long as you want, working on things when you have time, putting them on hold when you don’t, and graduating only when you’re ready to do so.

Choosing a School Part 2

On the other hand, some traditional, campus-based graduate schools compete with the 100% online schools by offering low residency programs where students only have to report to campus so many times a year, spending the rest of their academic careers studying online. And even some fully traditional graduate programs do offer a bit more flexibility than you would find in the old days, with evening and weekend classes being offered by virtually everyone, and some schools allowing you to complete assignments and your thesis at your own pace.


Depending on how many responsibilities you have, the flexibility of a program could matter a great deal to you or it could be of very little importance. If it does matter though, then make sure to look for a graduate school that offers maximum flexibility so that your independence and non-academic priorities won’t be jeopardized by classroom responsibilities.

  School Faculty Counts

Faculty can make or break a graduate school, and especially a graduate program’s reputation. Prestigious faculty is one of the most critical elements that you should use to determine where you want to enroll, since better faculty leads to bigger grants, better equipment, more interesting research opportunities and a much easier process for getting papers published.


Learning from esteemed, well-respected academics not only appears impressive on your resume, but also allows you to hobnob with the movers and shakers in your field, lining up opportunities for your post-collegiate career. Well-known faculty will come in handy when it comes to providing reliable references, receiving respected letters of recommendation and finding “ins” at industry-leading companies or academic institutions as well, so don’t neglect this important aspect of the decision making process.


Almost all graduate schools will feature faculty sections on their websites, so make sure you thoroughly check out who teaches within each of the programs you explore. One easy way to assess the quality of a program’s faculty is to see how many publication citations each faculty member has, or how many the school’s faculty averages, and to seek out their individual reputations within their specific academic fields, which you can find by searching their names on Google and spending a few minutes digging around. If you find faculty members that you instantly recognize, that’s usually a positive sign that you’re heading in the right direction.


If you’re not looking to study an academic field but more a practical, industry-based subject then you’ll still want to choose a program that includes faculty who are or were currently top producers within their field. If no one on the staff has been involved in the field, outside of academia, in the past ten years, then you might want to think twice about relying on them for your instruction, as things tend to move a lot quicker these days than they used to.


Faculty may not seem all that that essential at the outset of your search, but they really do play a major role in a program’s reputation, and in the quality of the education that you’re going to receive from your graduate degree program. You might even want to consider turning your school search upside-down, and instead of looking for a  school, then vetting its faculty, try to seek out specific faculty members that you know are the best and brightest, then apply to the schools where they teach.

Choosing a School Part

Some online graduate degree programs even offer accelerated paces, where you can get credit for previous work experience, military experience, or other things you’ve done and avoid paying out the nose for credits or ‘knowledge’ that you’ve already developed outside of the academic sphere. Accelerated master’s programs can provide you with fully accredited degrees in a year or less, so if you’re in a huge rush, you may want to look into these types of programs.


However, if time isn’t of the essence, and you don’t have a great deal of commitments outside of academia, then think about attending a traditional on-campus graduate school program. These typically take 2 years to complete, and involve regularly, daily or weekly class meetings, and some would argue that they’re the best way to deliver a reliable education program.

Make your determination based on your specific needs, including financial obligations, career expectations, and family responsibilities, but don’t forget to take the length of a potential program into account when determining your ideal graduate program.

Location, Location, Location

Location really is everything, especially when you’re choosing where to attend graduate school. If you want to study somewhere different from where you currently live, make sure to include relocation costs in your budgets, look into rental rates in the area, and think about what types of career opportunities will exist for you in that location after you’ve graduated from the program.

Do you prefer to live on the coast, or do you like the dry heat of the desert? Want to be able to go backpacking, or do you like living in the city? Even though you’ve been told to make your decisions based on school reputation your entire life, you can’t forget to think about the actual environment in which you’ll have to live while pursuing your degree, and you should be thinking about what makes you happiest, and what will encourage you to do your best work.

If you don’t think it matters, or if you can’t afford or are unwilling to relocate for graduate school, then look into earning your degree online. Whether you live in the middle of an extremely rural area with little access to institutions of higher learning, or you want to attend a school on the other side of the country, attending graduate school online might just be your ticket to getting the education of your dreams.

Next Steps

Now that you know how to vet potential graduate schools, it’s time for you to do your part in researching the different elements that play a role in determining which school will provide the best fit for you.


Don’t forget to consider all of the above factors as you complete your search, and don’t feel forced to settle for a school that fails to live up to your aspirations and expectations.

Once you’ve made your choice, make sure that you begin applying to graduate school as early as possible and start working on figuring out how to pay for grad school tuition long before your first bills are due. Good luck!