How to Evaluate Graduate Programs and Find the Right Fit

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How to Evaluate Graduate Programs and Find the Right Fit

Choosing which graduate program to pursue is an extremely important decision in one’s career. It can become an overwhelming task given the number of options available nowadays. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is picking something without researching the university or program in-depth and not understanding what you are signing up for. Take the time to closely examine the program and universities you are interested in and make an informed decision that suits your needs and career aspirations.

A lot of tangible as well as intangible factors should be considered while evaluating graduate schools and their programs. You should look at a broad range of aspects and prioritize based on your personal requirements as well as career goals. While it is impossible to give an exhaustive list, below are some of the top variables to consider before enrolling in a graduate program.

Top Factors to Consider

Reputation and Brand Value of the University and the Program

The reputation and brand name of the university you are considering should be critical factors in your decision-making process. Your university name is something that stays on your resume throughout your life and can have a strong signaling effect on your future employers. Make sure to check out what accreditations the university and your chosen program have. They are proof that the university meets certain globally accepted standards of excellence. Also, check out the popular rankings that the program participates in and use the top ranking to compare different universities and their graduate programs.

Questions to Ponder

  • Which accreditations does the university have?
  • How is the particular graduate program ranked nationally?
  • Is the program well established or relatively new?

Curriculum, Coursework & Research Opportunities

Making assumptions regarding the curriculum and coursework that different programs offer isn’t a good idea. Degree titles can be deceiving, and it is critical for you to dig deeper and get a clear understanding of the content that will be covered. Compare the curriculum to your interests as well as your past experience to evaluate the program. Most universities will offer such information on their websites as well as in the university’s catalogs. Most graduate programs offer a wide variety of courses and students are expected to understand all the different options and choose their area of specialization themselves. If you enter graduate school with a clear idea of what it is offering and which areas interest you, it will be easier to plan your courses later on.

Also, the graduate program experience is defined by a ton of out-of-class activities and learning experiences. Look at the program and understand what kind of internships, research opportunities, and other fieldwork are available to the students. Sometimes these also affect the extra costs that you need to bear. Accessibility of faculty and the research opportunities available are also some of the factors that should help you compare graduate programs.

Questions to Ponder

  • Which specializations interest you?
  • Does the program focus on research opportunities or practical learning experiences?
  • Are there opportunities to work on research projects or internships in partnership with firms or other academic institutions?
  • Is the curriculum structured or flexible?

Financials & Costs

The financial investment needed to earn a master’s degree is often significant and becomes an important factor in your decision. Certain expensive programs might discourage you from pursuing them, even if some form of financial assistance is available. Make sure you think about the costs of the program and your personal budget from the beginning. Sometimes, low costs might even persuade you to consider online programs that tend to cost significantly less.

Questions to Ponder

  • What are the tuition and other fees and what is your personal budget?
  • Are there financial aid opportunities in the form of scholarships, assistantships, etc.?
  • Are you personally comfortable with taking out a loan for the program?

Admission requirements

Admission requirements like GPA, GMAT/GRE test scores or other specific examinations, undergraduate coursework or degree, etc. could become deal breakers in your decision of selecting graduate programs you are targeting. Once you have thought of a graduate program, your first and foremost step should be to understand which criteria are used by the university to evaluate and select students and if there are any mandatory requirements that could become challenging for you.

Questions to Ponder

  • What are the mandatory admissions requirements?
  • How important are the grade point average and test scores? Do they provide test score waivers for certain aspirants?
  • What is the average experience of a typical class and would it be easier or more beneficial to get accepted after gaining some work experience?

Employment & Career Prospects

Often, the most important reason for pursuing a graduate degree is to enhance one’s career prospects and land those coveted job offers. Make sure to do tons of research to figure out if the university and program you are looking at will assist you with your career goals. Comb through the university’s website, class profiles, and popular networking platforms like LinkedIn to understand where most graduates of the program are currently working and how much they are earning. Certain career paths that a lot of university graduates follow might not be attractive to you. Try to see if certain industries or companies are known for recruiting from specific universities or if the university provides assistance in locating job opportunities. Even talking candidly with actual alumni of the program can be very helpful in this regard.

Questions to Ponder

  • What level of career planning and job search assistance is available?
  • Are there on-campus services like counseling, job search training, employment leads, etc?
  • Are there career services offered to alumni even after graduating as well?

Geographic Location

The geographic location of the university can also become an important factor that could define your overall experience at the campus. Sometimes, studying in a particular location can have a significant influence on your career journey as well. You might want to consider factors like weather or the political and social climate of a place before you decide to spend two or more years of your life there.

Questions to Ponder

  • Do you have any personal reasons why you would want to live only in a certain part of the world/country?
  • What kind of impact would your chosen university’s location have on your family and friends?
  • What are the employment opportunities in that particular geographical location?

Deciding which graduate program to pursue is an important decision that impacts your professional journey. Consider your personal interests and professional aspirations and use that as the basis to do thorough research about the university and the program. Try to gain as much information about all the above aspects as you can before you start shortlisting preferences. Campus visits and candid conversations with alumni or even current students can help you find things that a simple website scan would never reveal. Ultimately, use all the different pieces of information and factors to determine which program fits well with your aspirations before making the final call.


  • Ayush Verma

    Ayush is a Test Prep Expert and Application Coach actively involved in the Test Prep and Application Consulting space for several years now. He is a GMAT 99 Percentiler and has extensive experience in delivering private tutoring sessions for GMAT, GRE, and SAT exams. Ayush has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and an MBA in Strategy from the Indian School of Business. He is an ardent ManUnited fan and when he is not helping students understand that tricky GMAT question or write that dreaded Why MBA answer, he would be likely cheering for his team at Old Trafford (GGMU). To connect with him, feel free to reach out to him via LinkedIn or his website Test Prep Buddy.

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