How to Choose a Graduate School
Selecting suitable schools is much more complex that it first seems. Sometimes, you have to delete some in your original lists because some simply do not fit your chosen study field while others may be much more competitive than you thought. Also, due to the limited time to prepare for a full application package, you finally have to give up some that you are particularly interested in. This is often caused by improper timing. Therefore, it is wise to carefully select your schools as early as possible. The other advantage is to save money. Graduate School application fees range from $30 to $100, and the average is $50. If you apply to 10 schools, the fees sum up to $500. Our experiences indicate that it pays in time and money to narrow your field down to around five target schools.
Then, how to choose target school? In our opinion, the school selection should be approached as a market behavior. You choose a school because you are interested in it and would like to enroll if accepted. You choose that school also because you believe there is a possibility that you will be accepted. In other words, you will not apply to a school if you don’t intend to enroll that school or if you believe your application will definitely be denied. This sounds something like a deal — you pay your interest and the school sells you admission. If you are not interested in the school or the school do not grant you admission, then the deal can’t be reached. Now, the process turns out to be two sub-processes: list the schools that fit you (you are interested in), and delete those that are most likely to deny you until five remain.
Determine the Fit
The most important aspect of a school is its academic fit or how well-suited the school is to the research you want to do. If you’re a prospective grad student in history, then it’s certainly a good idea to find out where the leading history departments are. However, to have a really good graduate experience, you need more than just a respected department. You need the faculty who share your research interests, and will become involved in your work and involve you in their own.
Also in your consideration are the research facilities available, learning environment, and the school curriculum. To get such information, you may speak to the department faculty or talk to its current students.
Your Admission Possibility
The second equally important is your admission possibility to this school. Although no one except admission committee can determine your admission possibility, you can predict your chances by comprehensive review of your background and the school’ published data. Most school clearly states their requirements for admission. These requirements are general, but some of them, such as the minimum GPA, GRE score etc. are a good indicator of your chances. If your numbers do not meet the minimum requirements, it is safe to say that you are wasting your time and money.
Also, the published rankings by U.S. News can be a signal for how competitive the school’s admission may be. However, there is no magic formula. A strong GRE score may compensate a less than stellar GPA, but a score of 800 doesn’t guarantee admission. A strong interview may offset a lack of academic experience. If you are applying to the top schools you probably cannot afford to have more than one weak area in your application.