There are infinite factors to consider when choosing a graduate program. You can’t anticipate everything, but you can avoid some amount of misery if you think through the questions listed below. Many of the answers can be gleaned from program websites (especially using this pdf, which will guide you in taking notes on the information you can usually find there), but it would also be beneficial to talk to professors, current students, program graduates, program dropouts, etc., either by collecting their e-mail addresses or, ideally, by visiting the program (you won’t find the graduates or dropouts there, but it might be worth tracking them down—they know all the dirt!).
Start by asking Augsburg faculty for recommendations of compatible programs.
Competition: What are your chances of getting in? Do you consider it a safety school, or is it beyond your reach? Just right? Look for average GPAs and GRE scores for the last year’s class, or e-mail the Program Coordinator and ask for them.
Rankings and reputation: Rankings aren’t everything (they aren’t very much at all, in fact), but you want to be sure that the school isn’t so harshly and consistently spurned that graduating from it will look worse for you than not going to school at all. (though that’s so extreme as to be nigh impossible), so reputation is important. Here are some ways to measure it:
- The reputation of a graduate program is tied to the quality and quantity of faculty research in the department. Are the faculty receiving grants? Publishing? With students? Are they presenting at conferences? Are students presenting at conferences? Do they have a role in national organizations in the field?
- The reputation of a program can also become apparent when graduates enter the job market. What percentage of graduates from this program find jobs? In their field? Within six months? A year?
Program focus: Is the program’s overall focus compatible with your interests? Are there professors doing research you’d like to work with? Is there a broad range that would give you room to explore?
Social and political climate: How big is the program? Are most of the students your age? Are there turf wars within the department (current graduate students can alert you to these)? Does the program take a collaborative or a competitive approach to learning (or some balance between the two)? How flexible is the program in meeting students’ needs? How available and accessible are the faculty members? Do you get any vibes of dysfunction from the professors? (Remember that these people will control you for a large chunk of your life. Make sure they’re benevolent rulers.)
Money: What financial aid is available? Is there guaranteed funding? Jobs? For how many years? What is the average dollar amount? Is it allocated based on academic merit? Need? Work experience? Age/class year?
Graduation: What percentage of students graduate from the program? How long does it take them, on average? Are there any who begin as Ph.D. candidates but are forced to (or choose to) leave with only a masters? What percentage? What percentage of students pass their qualifying exams the first time? The second time?
Location: Do you have family or friends there? What is the climate like? Is it in a big city, or a smaller town? What is the cost of living? (A teaching stipend of $15,000, for example, goes farther in Grand Forks, North Dakota, than it would in Boston.)
What draws you to this program? (You should be able to list several things)
Here are some other sources of information and advice for choosing programs:
The Princeton Review is an authority on the educational process. Here is a list of useful links about graduate programs and the application process.
This site provides general information, and links to a few articles if you scroll down.
This article, titled Criteria for Choosing a Graduate Program, is exactly that. It is a concise, helpful list.
This site has tons of information all from The Grad School Handbook, by Richard and Margot Jerrard.