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Navigating the Grad School College Search Process

The college search process is difficult enough for a burgeoning undergrad. Searching for a grad school can be just as stressful.

college search grad school search

You’ve graduated with your undergraduate degree, and now you’ve decided to go to grad school. Great! Congratulations on taking the next step in your education. You’re almost on your way to a graduate degree – but first, where to? The college search process begins anew.

All rhymes aside, if you’re not going to pursue a graduate degree at the same college that you completed your undergraduate degree, it really is like starting the whole process over again. But instead of deciding which college will help mold your early adulthood, it’s a little different. The question is – which grad school holds the key to your career?

Here are some tips and tricks for navigating the grad school search process, as well as some things to think about when deciding which is the right one for you.

Tips and tricks for the grad school college search

    • Talk to your professors and professional colleagues. Use the relationships you’ve developed with faculty at your undergrad school to your advantage. Professors and people you work with will likely be chock-full of advice. It doesn’t hurt to ask around.
    • Read articles, papers and journals in your field of study. Then check out their authors. Where did they go to grad school?
    • Read through lists of grad school rankings, like this one by U.S. News & World Report. You can search by program and then filter by ranking, location and more. The result is a lovely list of the top grad schools in your field. If reputation is important to you, this is where to start.
    • Begin the search at least six months before you apply. Start looking six months to a year before you plan to apply to grad school. Give yourself ample time to put together a list of schools, learn what you can about each one and compare them.

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    • Visit each campus. Even if you don’t think you’ll be spending much time on campus, visiting each school on your list will tell you more about them than a website or brochure ever could.
    • Talk to students who currently attend. While visiting the campus, take the opportunity to talk to currently enrolled grad students and ask for their honest opinion. They’ll likely be more than happy to answer your questions (if they’re not busy napping or double-fisting shots of espresso).
    • Work, intern or volunteer in your field before applying. It helps to know that you’re in the right field before you pursue a graduate degree in it. Spending some time immersed in the field before applying will give you a sense of what kind of degree program is right for you. Plus, you’ll be more comfortable when you need to complete practicum hours or an official internship during your studies.
    • Try for an associateship or fellowship. Fellowships and teaching or research assistantships can help you pay for grad school. It helps to know that you can take advantage of something like this before you agree to the costs of grad school.

Once you have a list of grad schools, ask yourself the following questions to help you whittle it down.

Does the school specialize in your chosen field of study?

It’s not necessarily the end of the world if it doesn’t, but a school that specializes in your field may be more attractive than a school that doesn’t. A school that specializes in your field might be more likely to provide the relevant experience, research and mentoring opportunities that you’re looking for.

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Does the degree program fit your needs?

Not every graduate degree program will prepare you for the licensing or certification that you’re working toward. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the graduate degree program director to clarify any questions you have, including whether or not the program will fulfill your needs.

Does the school provide enough career services to grad students?

Try to find out – either by perusing the school’s website or by contacting the career services center – what resources and programs the school would have available to you as a grad student. Do they provide career counseling? Resume writing help? Professional skills development? Is there a job placement program?

What does it cost?

The average cost of annual tuition in a graduate degree program is $30,000 at a public college or university and $40,000 at a private college or university. Pay special attention to the cost per credit, per semester, since graduate degree programs vary in amount of credits required. Some grad schools will be cheaper than others.

What kind of financial aid is available to you?

This goes hand-in-hand with the above question. Grad school can cost a lot, so be sure to find out what kind of financial aid – other than federal loans – is available. What scholarships and grants are there? What fellowships and associateships are there? How much of the cost would they cover?

Will this school give you the tools to let your passion flourish?

You may be going to grad school because your chosen career path requires it. But if not, you may be going to grad school because you’re passionate about an art, a cause, research topic or what have you. Will this school allow you to be creative, dive deep into your research or otherwise explore your passion? What tools and funding will they provide?

How to determine if grad school is worth it for you.

Before you dive in to your college search, keep in mind that the college you completed your undergrad degree in may waive certain application fees if you choose to pursue your graduate degree there. Check with your advisor or graduate program director to see what perks might be available to you.

Are you in grad school? What advice would you give to someone in the midst of their own grad school search? Tell us in the comments below! 

Higher education comes with a hefty price tag. Learn how AAA student lending products can help offset the costs.


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