How to Choose a Grad School: 7 Factors to Consider
If you’re serious about earning a graduate degree, you may have already started researching your options. But do you know what to look for in a quality postgraduate program? With so many choices out there, it’s important to find one that will help you find success.
To help determine what factors you should be evaluating in your search, we enlisted the expert help of Dr. Elizabeth Churchich, Assistant Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Enrollment at Creighton University.
7 Criteria to consider when choosing a graduate program
If you’re looking for direction on how to choose a grad school, consider the following factors.
1. Your motivations and goals
Before you start seriously researching grad school programs, you should sit down and take some time to think about your personal and professional motivations for going back to school. Dr. Churchich suggests starting by asking yourself questions like:
• How do you want to be different afterward?
• Why is now the right time to pursue a degree?
• How will this degree advance your professional trajectory?
• Are there specific skills or competencies you want to master?
• How much time do you have to devote to your studies?
• What are your biggest obstacles in achieving your goals?
Working through the mental exercises above will also prove extremely helpful if you apply to grad school. Most graduate program requirements include the following:
• Undergraduate transcripts
• A resume or CV
• A personal statement
• Letter(s) of recommendation
• Essay response or writing sample
The clearer you are on your goals, the easier it will be to find a program that aligns with your vision. Of course, you don’t need a detailed 5-year plan to be ready for grad school. But you should devote some serious thought to what you want for yourself and your career.
If you thought accreditation for all universities and colleges is the same, think again. Accreditation is a voluntary process that universities choose to engage in. The Higher Learning Commission for example, is an institutional accreditor and a great first step to determining a program’s legitimacy.
“Think of accreditation as an external stamp of approval,” Dr. Churchich explains. “We’re proud of our peer validation from organizations like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN.) These organizations feature experts in their respective fields, giving our programs a thumbs up.”
There are many benefits to attending an accredited school. Your credits are much more likely to transfer if needed, and many employers prefer to hire individuals who hold a degree from an accredited institution.
Many careers, especially those in healthcare, require additional certifications, credentials, and training to work in the field. Many of these exams or licenses require individuals to have a degree from an accredited school in order to be eligible.
3. Flexible learning formats
Another important consideration is the modality. Whether online, on campus or hybrid, make sure you know what options are available. For some people, studying full-time and in person is the best option. For many others, a part-time online program gives them the flexibility they need to attend school, work, and raise a family simultaneously.
Take some time to examine your schedule and priorities. Once you know your preferred learning format, you can determine which programs offer the options that meet your needs.
4. Outstanding faculty and facilities
If you’re investing significant time and money in a graduate degree, you want to learn from seasoned experts in their respective industries. This is especially relevant if your goal is to pursue research or a PhD. In addition, you’ll want to inquire about the faculty’s research interests, accessibility, and quality of labs and facilities.
“Not every school invests as heavily in their faculty as creators of knowledge like we do,” Dr. Churchich explains. Creighton University is a nationally recognized research institution, earning a distinguished R2 Designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Choosing a grad school with these types of accolades can make a big difference in your student experience.
5. Hands-on experience
No matter what subject you’re studying, you’ll benefit from applying knowledge in practical ways. There are many ways to gain hands-on experience during graduate school, including internships, practicums, presentations, capstones, and class projects.
“At the master’s level, there should be ample opportunities to connect theory with real-life situations,” Dr. Churchich states. “It gives you a chance to show what you’ve learned and grow your confidence in your abilities.”
Especially for working adults earning a graduate degree, these kinds of tangible learning experiences offer opportunities to build practical knowledge that can be immediately applied in their current positions.
6. Student support services
When choosing a grad school, you should also look for programs offering ample support and resources to help you thrive. Creighton University, for example, has a team of academic coaches committed to helping students achieve academic success. These specialists help connect students with helpful resources, such as career services, tutoring, accessibility accommodations, job search assistance, the writing center, and more.
“One of the things I enjoy about Creighton is that we care about the whole person. It’s built into our core as a Jesuit institution of higher learning,” Dr. Churchich shares. “School is just one part of what you need to accomplish in the day. You are a human first and a student second.
7. Cost and financial aid
Sorting out how to pay for grad school is one of the biggest concerns for those considering an advanced degree. A common mistake when evaluating grad programs is to concentrate strictly on cost. In reality, you should be more focused on value — what are you getting in return for your investment?
“You shouldn’t be looking for the cheapest, fastest, or easiest option,” Dr. Churchich advises. “Remember that grad school is an investment in your future, and that holds real value.”
Regardless of cost, you’d be wise to find a program that offers accessible support and guidance about financing grad school. Current and future Creighton students can always contact the financial aid office to evaluate their options and explore scholarship, grant, and loan opportunities.
Not sure how student aid and loans work at the graduate level? Check out our article: “13 Common Grad School Financial Aid Questions Answered.”
Set yourself up for success
The best advice for choosing a graduate school is to take the time to make a thoughtful, well-informed decision. Of course, the ideal program is the one that aligns closest with your personal goals and preferences.
Refer to this list of criteria to narrow down your options. If you’re looking for a program that checks all these boxes and more, consider Creighton University. Our graduate degrees are consistently recognized among the best online programs in the nation.
If you’re interested in joining our prestigious alumni network, explore our graduate programs today!