Digital campaign copy: How to choose the right graduate school

University of Wisconsin-Madison

An advanced degree can unlock many doors to career advancement, but those doors won’t spring open spontaneously. Choosing the right school matters. Ask these questions when comparing grad programs.

How does your industry regard the school and program?

Rankings are just one piece of the big picture. You need to know if a grad program will increase your value in your industry. Ask colleagues which programs have the most clout in your area of specialty, and research the day-to-day work of professionals in positions you’d like to hold one day. Also find out what alumni are up to. Are they content with their careers? How soon did they find work after graduation?

What’s required of you?

It’s essential to know how much time you’ll spend meeting prerequisites, and which aspects of your program you get to design. For instance, some programs require mastery of a foreign language. Contact an academic adviser for details.

How much will it cost?

What sort of financial aid package can you expect to receive? Are scholarships and fellowships available? Speak with financial aid officers, and determine how much student loan debt you can shoulder safely.

What are the instructors’ credentials, research interests, and teaching styles?

Your teachers should hold advanced degrees from well-regarded institutions, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Have they worked in the field, and do they know how it has grown and changed recently? Do their research interests complement yours? Can you handle their teaching styles? View course syllabi for clues and, if possible, observe some classes.

Will the program expand your professional network?

You’ll have a leg up on job opportunities if you use grad school to grow your professional network. Is there an alumni group with members in cities where you’d like to work? How helpful is the school’s career office?

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