These criteria may help you decide which graduate programs are best suited to your talents, your ambitions and, at a time of soaring college costs, your pocketbook:
What are admission requirements? How important are GPA and test scores? What criteria are used to evaluate and select students? Will it be easier to get accepted after gaining work experience? What is the ratio of acceptances to applications?
What specializations are available? Does the program focus on theory and original research, or does it stress the practical application of knowledge and skills? Does the program provide real work experience such as practicums or internships? Is the curriculum structured or flexible? Are there opportunities to work on research projects? What resources, such as computers and laboratories, are available?
Who are they? What are their credentials? Do they hold degrees in fields of expertise from leading universities? What awards, grants and special recognition have they earned? What have they published? What research projects have they conducted? Does the published and research work of the faculty represent your interests? Do they hold chairs or professorships? Does the department have nationally or internationally known scholars in the field? Do the top scholars in the program teach, or are they primarily involved in research? Do they actively participate in the graduate school community? Is there diversity? What is the faculty/student ratio?
Possibly, the most important thing is finding a faculty mentor at the graduate school who is available to work with you and whose style will be a good match for you.
What is the average length of time spent in the program? Do opportunities exist for specialization in areas of your own interest? Is the approach theoretical or practical?
Is the university accredited? Is the program nationally ranked in terms of excellence? Is the program well established or relatively new? Who has graduated from the program and what are they doing now? What is the attrition level?
What are the faculty and student composition? Will you have an opportunity to work with students from other cultures? What foreign exchange programs are available? Is it possible to study foreign languages? What multicultural experiences do the faculty bring to the classroom? Are international concerns substantially integrated into the curriculum?
Is there a comprehensive reference collection in your area of specialization? How many volumes? What special collections? Is the material accessible? Is a computerized system available? How many trained staff members are there?
Teaching Assistantships are helpful in not only financing your graduate education but in gaining experience. Find out how many are available each year and what courses you would be teaching.
Are there adequate study facilities? Sufficient classrooms and seminar rooms? Are there areas for student interaction? Are the surroundings attractive and pleasant enough to endure throughout the program?
What are the tuition fees? What financial aid is available in the form of loans, scholarships, internships and work-study funds? How long is the financial aid offered? Is it offered throughout the full course of study? What about teaching and research assistantships? How much is non-resident tuition? Does the department itself guarantee any aid to selected students?
Considering the weather and political/social climate, do I want to live here for several years? Would I be happier in a small town or a large urban area? Does the area offer cultural and recreational activities? Is this a place where I might want to stay? What kind of impact will this location have on my family and friends? What are the employment opportunities in the area?
Look at the size of the department as well as the university. A large institution will have more extensive facilities and libraries, while a smaller school will offer more personal attention and a sense of community.
Many state universities are required by law to give admission preference to in-state residents. These regulations apply to your legal residence and may affect the cost of your tuition.
What career planning and job search assistance is available through the department? Is there an on-campus career center that offers counseling, job search training, employment leads, and library resources? Does the program provide real work experience such as practicums, cooperative programs or internships to give you solid work experience? Are career services offered to alumni?
If you hope to develop relationships with industry leaders, select a school that prides itself on real-world orientation and partnerships with businesses and non-profit organizations. If you want a program that encourages graduates to network, seek a school with a well-developed alumni relations office.
Reproduced and adapted with permission from Sarah Lawrence College's Graduate School Guide.