Criteria to Choose Grad School – What Should You Look For?

Grad school

Applying for a Masters is not a simple one-step process, but a set of multiple tasks. One of the tasks is selecting schools, which is presumed to be the most important and also the most daunting. Each application has a fee attached to it; you cannot blindly apply to all possible schools. And yet again, applying to just a couple of schools reduces your chances of receiving an acceptance letter. Hence, it is important to figure out which is the correct school for pursuing your Masters Degree.

Universities around the world are ranked based on teaching, research, internationalisation, and employability. Assuming that applying for the top few Universities will be a good strategy is a mistake made by quite a few people. Of course, you should check the ranking of the institutes you consider (you would want to), but you should never let that be the only criteria in making your final choice. There are some other factors to be considered, and only schools which meet these criteria should be on your list.

With the massive number of schools in the world, where and how exactly do you begin?

  • Fields of Interest: Begin with listing down the courses or disciplines you would like to apply to. This would depend on your graduation major, your interests, your work experience (if any).
  • Institute Rankings: There are multiple rankings available on the Internet, so find one that, ranks schools which offer courses in your fields of interest. You can choose to include top 25 or top 50, depending on your comfort. This will provide you with an exhaustive list of institutes.
    • First Filter:This is the first level of filtering of the list. Since you have already chosen schools offering courses in your field of interest, the criteria to apply here will include choosing the particular courses and schools offering them, the faculty teaching those courses and the job opportunities after graduating from those Universities.
      • Courses of Interest: You may be interested in the field of Computer Science, but you might prefer a course in Network Security instead of Software Engineering. You will now focus only on the institutes which offer a Computer Science Masters in Network Security. This decision is made for you to a large extent by your undergraduate scores, the subjects you excelled in, the projects you have done, and your electives. So your task here is to introspect your academics and co-curricular and find the best-fit course.
      • Faculty: In a Masters degree, it is very important to know the academic accomplishments and research projects of your faculty. The more extensive their industrial network is, the likelier they are to get funding for various projects. The exposure you will get as a student in research projects, to a large extent, depends on the professors with whom you work. Your task here is to read about the various teachers in your course of choice and figure out the ones who will be good mentors. You should also take into account the accessibility of the faculty, how easy it is for you to approach them should you have any doubts.
  • Admission Standards : One more factor to consider is the admission standards which the university you are applying to has. Do they have strict benchmarks while admitting candidates like high GRE scores or good CGPA? or are they open to everybody?
    • Job Opportunities: Companies are likely to recruit from institutes that are in the vicinity of their establishment. Some areas are popular for churning out professionals in certain domains. So the location of the school matters. You will have to shortlist the institutes which have shown a consistent performance in placements for your chosen field.

After applying the three criteria mentioned in this first filter, you should have shortened your list down to a maximum of 17-18 schools.

  • Second Filter: This is the final level of filter you will apply to your list. The criteria you apply here will depend on the non-academic factors: location, costs and campus life. Often overlooked by people initially, these factors end up affecting academics too eventually.
    • Costs: Expenses can be the cardinal decision-maker at times. From tuition fees to living expenses, there are various costs involved in going for higher education. There is financial aid available in most Universities, which takes care of tuition fees, and part-time jobs are available for extra income. You can also work as a Teaching or Research Assistant to supplement your income. You have to figure out your financial plans and find schools which comply with that.
    • Location: Living in smaller towns based around the University tend to be cheaper than the major cities. The location is important to job prospects as well. Moreover, climate can be a major factor at times, as not everyone can adapt to stark changes in temperatures. Location may not seem to be a major factor in itself, but combined with living conditions, costs, and opportunities make it a significant deciding factor.
    • Campus Life & Facilities available: The campus life defines the support system you get in a new and unknown place. Sometimes the diversity in the student population also matters. This factor varies for every individual, and only you can judge your social requirements. So you will have to read about the campus life of all the shortlisted schools and find the ones that suit your requirements the best. Equally important are the facilities which are available at the university which includes the lab equipments, the library etc.

The second filter should leave you with not more than ten schools, which is the final choice of institutes for you.

After you have shortlisted 6-10 schools, divide them into three categories: dream schools, match schools and safety schools.

  • Dream Schools: These schools will require a very strong profile and high GRE score, with impeccable past academic records. These are the schools you want to go to, but cannot be sure about getting an acceptance because of their highly competitive selection process.
  • Match Schools: These are the schools where your profile seems to be a right fit. Here you can be pretty sure about getting an acceptance, still without any guarantee. You will focus on these schools mostly during applications.
  • Safety Schools: These are the schools where you will get an acceptance. These are less sought after, and as the name suggests, a safety net for you to guarantee at least one acceptance letter.

So there you have it – the criteria to choose the perfect grad schools.

Once your list is ready, you can start listing down the requirements for these institutions and work on your profile accordingly. Always remember: it is not about choosing the best school or the best student, it is always about the best match.

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