Nowadays, many more students are pursuing graduate programs after completing their undergrad work — sometimes immediately, sometimes after a few years in the workforce. With the variety of programs out there, choosing the right graduate program can be daunting. Below are five tips to guide you in the search for a graduate program that can help you achieve your academic and career goals.
1. Speak with professors in your major
Meet with one or more of your professors during office hours or at another appointed time. Your professors in your major may have great ideas on next steps, and will often have traversed the path themselves. Ask them if they don’t mind sharing with you their professional journey, and what a specific degree would offer you, not only as a student and learner, but also as a future job candidate. They may know of great, established programs as well as up-and-coming programs that would fit your interests (new degree programs are created all the time!). Professors are great to talk to, especially as they may be the ones you ask to write your letters of recommendation for grad school applications.
2. Meet with a career counselor
Outside of your major department, take a visit to your college career center. A career counselor can help you identify what kind of grad program you’d be interested in, not to mention what kind of career you’d like to go for. The career counselor’s job is to have and share resources with you about other programs, and he or she can point you in the direction of websites or possibly provide contacts at potential schools. Career centers often host career fairs as well, in which companies or organizations are invited to talk to you about possible jobs. Your school might have a fair for graduate programs, so ask your counselor about related opportunities.
3. Get in touch with alumni
Your career center is likely to curate an alumni database that lists contact information and current job held, which may or may not be accessible online. Try to get in touch with an alum in your intended field. They will often have insight on how to get where they are now, and be willing to talk to a current student. They also may be more in touch with the current landscape of your intended field, and know what a certain degree will confer on you. This will probably take the form of email correspondence, and if your email exchange goes well, you might ask to meet for an informal interview over coffee.
4. Shadow a professional
A great way to learn more about which graduate program to attend is to shadow a professional. This method is a bit more roundabout than other strategies, but it will put you in touch with someone with insight on grad schools. Reach out in professional (through work or professors) and personal (any relatives or friends’ parents) networks and ask if you’d be able to shadow them for a day. You’ll gain newfound perspective of what on-the-ground work looks like, and if they have time, you’ll be able to find out more about their unique path, grad school and otherwise.
5. Research program websites and blogs
The Internet is full of resources, so much so that it can be difficult to sift through. Begin by searching for top programs in your intended field(s), and look for articles about different kinds of degrees. You might come across blogs that feature certain programs, or that are focused on specific fields. Search for interviews of current and recent students in your intended field. This research can be done in the comfort of your own home, or you can visit your career center for extra support or with questions.
The search for a graduate program that fits you can be overwhelming, with the growing number of programs both in the U.S. and internationally. Take advantage of the resources at your current school, and ask questions of various people who can give you a fuller picture of what it’s like to be in your field. Soon you’ll be able to carve your own path!
Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.