A prospective graduate student should look for a program with strong customer service. From admissions to graduations, ideal graduate programs should be prepared and able to answer questions, make themselves available outside of the classroom and provide key academic resources to meet learning needs as they occur. When changing careers and engaging in learning in a new area, the initial learning curve may be steep and then additional academic resources will be needed. Moreover, even adult learners need advisement and mentorship.
When students ask me about applying to a graduate program, I tell them that the first factor to consider is the school’s geographical location. Do they have to stay at home? How far away would they consider moving if they found a program that interests them? I encourage them to think about including quality programs that offer what they might want in a graduate program. Some students can’t move for family and practical reasons, others have not considered studying in another place. In my experience, students from New York often find it difficult to consider programs out of the local area. My colleagues in other states tell me that they have the same issue with students in their programs.
For those who can move, I suggest they consider all possible alternatives including foreign programs. In considering a graduate program, one must consider the programs that offer the degrees and programs that are of interest to the student. I encourage students to take advantage of the material they can find on the Internet. Taking time to research schools that might be of interest is essential. Some disciplines have specific sources that will help in doing the research. For example, the American Psychological Association publishes a very extensive book that describes all of the important features of all psychology graduate programs in the country.
When selecting a graduate school, it’s important to consider what your end-goal is and what degree will get you there. Graduate school is an investment in yourself—you will advance your career or allow for a career change and have a greater earning capacity. With that in mind, consider delivery models, faculty, and cost when searching for a graduate program.
As an adult, you are juggling much more than you probably did as an undergraduate student. What is going to work best for you? Can you go full-time or part-time? Does the program offer online, hybrid or face-to-face models? How long does it take to graduate? Are the classes weekends or weekdays? Knowing your bandwidth and preferred method on instruction can help narrow down your options.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the faculty within your program of interest. What industry and/or research experience do they have? What are their academic specialties? What type of advising and mentorship is offered? Compared to your undergraduate program, most graduate programs are small in nature so should be accessible and willing to mentor you.
Cost is always an important factor. Graduate scholarships are not as common as undergraduate scholarships but graduate financial aid is not based on income, credit score, or need like it is for undergraduate programs. Remember, value should always be a factor when considering the monetary cost.