First Step: Assess Your Needs and Goals

For your degree of interest, you will have to select from dozens of grad programs with different specializations. When choosing a grad program, consider the following factors:

Location and Setting

Are you interested in moving? Do you prefer a school in a large city, on a leafy campus, or a more remote setting? Which location best serves your career interests? For example, if you're targeting biomedical research, does the area have top-notch hospitals and research facilities?

Reputation of the Graduate Program

Which schools in your field are most highly regarded? Is a more prestigious school the right fit for you? What is the reputation for job placement? What is the alumni involvement and contribution?

Curriculum and Program Quality

Does the school offer your particular field of interest? Find out if there are any prerequisites. Is there a particular professor with whom you'd like to work? Is there a particular facility at the school that's noted for offering great learning opportunities?

Career Services

Find out whether prospective employers visit the campus to recruit. Major industries or organizations will often visit to interview prospective candidates. Are your target employers visiting the campus? What career and job placement services does your graduate program provide? What is the average starting salary for graduates in your specialty?

If you're considering academia, find out whether recent grads have accepted academic positions, how long their searches took, and where they're working. Are they getting tenure track positions or one-year contracts? Are they working at top schools?

School Culture

Schools and particular graduate programs often have big differences. What's expected of the class? Will you be able to keep up with the workload? What is the expected level of involvement with the faculty? Does the school foster a collaborative environment or expect more individual work?

Cost and Financial Aid Opportunities

What are the total cost obligations—including tuition, room and board, books and materials? What are your other obligations such as utilities, transportation, and child care? What financial aid opportunities like scholarships or research assistantships or fellowships are available at the school?

These are just a few of the major factors to consider as you evaluate schools. The next step is to rank your programs of interest. You can create a chart with these criteria to compare your options and identify the one that meet your needs and goals.