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Selecting a Field of Study

Inherent in the decision to attend graduate school is also the choice of a specific field of study. Some graduate degrees are academic and others are professional in orientation. Academic degrees focus on original research (i.e. Ph.D., M.A.) whereas professional degrees stress the practical application of knowledge and skills required for practicing in a profession (i.e. M.B.A., M.D., Ed.D.). Before you can begin to apply to graduate schools, you will need to make two important decisions:

  1. In what specialization or area are you most interested?
  2. What degree do you wish to earn? (Masters of Art, Ph.D., Specialist, etc.). Keep in mind that some programs allow students to pursue the Ph.D. directly from a bachelor's program-i.e.: essentially, you bypass the Master's degree. Depending upon your career goals and the general protocol in a given profession, this may be a wiser choice than earning a Master's degree followed by a Ph.D.

As for making your decision to attend and in what specific field of study, your professors can be your most prized resources. Also consider talking to your friends who are currently enrolled in graduate school as their first hand experiences will offer valuable insight.

Choosing Among Schools

 Once you have decided that it is time to seek admission to graduate school, you are confronted with the challenge of choosing the right school(s) for you. Conducting research on the schools you are considering takes time and effort. By selecting schools from the rated top ten, you are allowing someone else to decide what is best for you. A school may be rated highly because of its outstanding faculty - but what if those faculty are not accessible to you? What about geography, or a social being, and a person in need of ___________, establish your own basis of criteria considering the following:

  1. Faculty: What is their academic training, research activity, and productivity? How is their teaching effectiveness viewed by present students in the program? How active are they within the specific program (i.e. concern for student development, advising, group morale, etc.)? Do they represent a broad cross section of approaches? Are they accessible to students for advice and research assistance.
  2. Students: What is the caliber of students presently in the program (i.e. entrance GPA and test scores, achievement, background, etc.)?  Are women and minorities represented? What is the competency level of students upon completion of their degree? What are they doing after graduation? Are they securing jobs in their field? How satisfied have they been with the quality and other aspects of the program? Are the graduate students a cohesive group often working in collaboration with each other?
  3. Resources: How much financial support does the program have? Do they have the quality and quantity of laboratory equipment and facilities necessary? Will you have access to computers? What are the library facilities like? What are the available supportive community resources? Will you have quality practicum and assistantship sites from which to choose?
  4. Program Curriculum and Operations:Be sure to look closely at the general functions of the program.
    1. Goal statement and purpose of program and institution
    2. History of program and duration of program's existence
    3. Course and program offering
    4. Flexibility of electives and further specialization
    5. Evaluation of student progress
    6. Program leadership/decision making opportunities
    7. Student/faculty ratio
    8. Internships, assistantships, and other opportunities
    9. Degree requirements
    10. Accreditation for future licensing requirements
    11. Job placement for graduates
    12. Respectability among other programs
  5. Personal Needs:Consider your own personal needs.
    1. Campus environment - ethnic diversity, resources available, aesthetics, personalness
    2. Community environment - climate, recreational opportunities, proximity to family and friends, employment opportunities for partner
    3. Financial assistance - grants, fellowships, and teaching and research assistantships available

Prepare a "Graduate School Comparison Chart" to help rank the schools under consideration, according tot he criteria you have established for yourself. You will first need to rank order your criteria by assigning weight values to each one to be assessed. The single most important criterion should carry the most weight, and your second most valued criterion, the second highest weight. For example, if you have identified eight criteria by which to evaluate a school, and student to faculty ratio is your most valued criterion, assign that characteristic with the weight value of eight. If geography is second most important, assign it a weight value of seven. For each criterion that a school meets to your satisfaction, enter and "x" in the appropriate column. Compute a "numerical score" for each school by totaling the "weight values" assigned for each criterion met. The "ranking" or each school can then be determined according to the "numerical scores" - the school with the most points being ranked #1 (a.k.a. your first choice).

Graduate School Handouts

Graduate School Handouts

The following documents were created by Rosalie Walsh, director of Career Services to assist you in your graduate school endeavors. 

The Complete Grad School Guide
This guide contains everything you need from researching grad schools, to applying, and more.  If you are looking for something more specific, sections of this handout are also found on the website.

Helpful Career Resources

The following resources in the Career Resource Library can help you in your decision making process.

  1. Bound for Graduate School? Getting Into Competitive Graduate Programs, a video by the nation's foremost expert on the graduate school admission process, Don Asher.
  2. Peterson's Annual Guides to Graduate and Professional Programs
  3. Institute for Career Research - Career Monographs.
  4. Institute for Career Research - Career Monographs, Internet version.
  5. College Source Online
  6. NACE Link (hot linked to Career Services' front web page)
  7. The Educational Testing Service
  8. WorldWide Careers
  9. Graduate Admissions Essays -- What Works, What Doesn't and Why, by Don Asher
  10. Reference and career books within your specific area of interest (i.e. science and technology, Health and Medicine, etc.)