Attending a graduate or professional school is a good decision provided that you have conducted sufficient research, obtained a clear understanding of your goals and expectations, and that you are realistically prepared. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to evaluate your reasons for seeking a graduate or professional degree and to find a program that best suits your academic needs and interests. There are many factors to take into consideration, and it is often easier to begin weighing your graduate school decision by conducting a personal assessment and by speaking with faculty members and alumni.
Before making the decision to attend graduate school, take some time to learn more about yourself and your motives for seeking a graduate or professional degree. By carefully outlining your goals, talents, and abilities, you can avoid the frustration of choosing a school or program that is not in your best interest. To begin your assessment, start by asking yourself the following questions. Feel free to record your answers and share them with your faculty advisor or whoever is assisting you in your decision.
Faculty members and your pre-professional advisors are among the best sources of graduate and professional school information. They posses tremendous knowledge in their areas of study, and they are abreast on current issues and trends facing their industry or field. Faculty members can give you information about their graduate institution(s), and most are happy to share their experiences as graduate students with you. They can help you locate programs that suit your needs and interests, and they can help you decide whether a master’s or Ph.D. program is best. Also, your professors can give you valuable contact information of faculty members at other institutions, and on some occasions, they may even contact a friend or colleague on your behalf. While interviewing faculty members, consider asking the following questions:
Note: ALWAYS ask this question or something like it, and remember to follow up when a professor shares his or her contact information with you.
Sewanee Alumni are also an excellent resource for graduate and professional school advice. By searching the Alumni Gateway, Sewanee’s online community, you can find alumni who are currently enrolled or have graduated from an institution that interests you. Also, you can locate alumni who are professionals in your field of interest. Alumni are usually happy to give you information on their programs and what the transition from Sewanee to graduate school is like. Alumni can tell you which degree or combination of degrees is helpful for the work they do or if a graduate or professional degree is necessary.
Note: ALWAYS be sure to ask this question. If you need any help with arranging informational interviews, contact Career & Leadership Development or refer to our Informational Interviewing and Networking handout.
Our office is also able to help you with your graduate school decision. We can assist you in contacting alumni and finding resources in our library or on the web. The office also offers individual appointments and sponsors a host of events that can provide you with graduate and professional school information.
Finding the right graduate or professional program requires a great deal of research and thought. You do not want to waste time, money, and energy applying to schools that do not provide a good fit. When building your list of potential schools, you should consult several sources of information. Your sources should include (at a minimum) your professors, Sewanee alumni, and the graduate institutions that you are targeting. You may also choose to consult PhDs.org's ranking tool, U.S. News and World Report; America’s Best Graduate Schools, Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Schools, and other helpful resources located in duPont Library, the Career & Leadership Development library or online.
When investigating graduate and professional institutions, remember to make several contacts at each school. It is important to contact the faculty members who share your interests or who may be future advisors. Feel free to ask questions about their research, what they teach, and how their program operates. If you are unsure about how to contact faculty members, consult with your professors or refer to Don Asher’s book, Graduate Admissions Essays: Write Your Way Into the Graduate School of Your Choice. Also consider contacting students currently enrolled in your targeted program and ask them to share their thoughts about the institution, the professors, the quality of student life, and any other information that you would like to know.
Building a list of contacts can be a little overwhelming if you are not organized. Your research will go much easier if you keep all of your correspondence in order and if you plan ahead. Professors, students and admissions staff can be very busy, and you will need to give your contacts plenty of time to respond to your questions and concerns. When writing to these individuals, remember to be polite, concise and appreciative. Also, remember to follow up with your contacts in a prompt manner.
The following is a list of considerations that you might want to investigate: