Jul 09, 2012 04:31 PM EDT

Tips for College: Finding the Right Grad School For YOU

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Finding the right Grad School for you may sometimes feel like one of the most daunting tasks in the world. It can make any student feel like his/her career is at stake by just one decision.

Here are some critical tips to keep in mind if you're trying to find the right grad school:

RELAX

Stress isn't healthy; simple as that. If you're applying to Law School, for example, and don't know what grad school to apply for and on top of that are stressed out about the LSAT, relax and take it step by step. Invest in a reliable study/review book for the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT (whatever it may be) and create a schedule that divides your study time, grad school searches, work and other obligations, rest and free time. This will allow for a clutter free thought process.

There may be those that are stressed with the thought of tuition, fees and loans. That alone is enough to start pulling hair out. Research scholarships and any kind of financial aid that may be available. It is highly unlikely that an organization will find you and try to give you money; rather, many are waiting for you to find them! (If you need strategies on how to save money while in Grad School, click here.)

 

MANAGE YOUR TIME WISELY

Good time management is very important if you want to meet strict deadlines. Waiting a few weeks before the application deadline to begin your research is not only too late, but not wise. Allow yourself a good six months before you apply, to review websites, gather info, and contact people that you believe will help you clarify your grad school options (More on that later).

 

KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY

When it comes to graduate school, it helps a great deal to know exactly what you will be getting yourself into. Although passion is helpful and you may have loved the field in college, graduate school is an entirely different ball game. It is in grad school that many students either start to reconsider their career or in some cases feel a sense of purpose and belonging in that particular field.

It is still wise to ask an individual in the field you are considering if you can "shadow" him/her for a few hours so that you can fully understand what to expect. Also, one question that would be good to ask is: "If you had to do it over again, would you choose the same profession?"

 

CAST A WIDE NET

You may have only two different schools in mind, but the problem is, those particular schools may have been the only ones on your mind since sophomore year of college. The best way to choose the right grad school is to toss a wide net and start with a large number of options. Start with 15 to 20 schools and begin to check out each one.

Do an Internet search using keywords such as "graduate programs in law" or business, education, medicine, arts and sciences, etc. Don't be afraid to include schools on the other side of the country or oversees! Remember, you are just being open to more options and researching schools you might not have originally thought about applying to, but then realize it has what you're looking for all along.

 

GET ORGANIZED

Create a spreadsheet and compare and contrast so that you can eventually narrow down the schools and cross out the grad schools that are a no-go. Who knows, you might be left with the same two schools that you started out with, in addition to another school that appeals to you as well. This doesn't create a greater dilemma, just a chance to open your eyes at everything that is out there.

 

ASK QUESTIONS. GET ANSWERS.

In order to find the "right" college, you'll have to come up with reasons why the others aren't good for you in the first place. The only way you can make your top three schools dwindle to just one, pick up the phone and start making calls. Test the admissions office at each of your top schools that you don't have the answer to and cannot find the answer for on the school's website. For instance, you can ask, "What kind of career services are made available to students?" You can also ask via email and see how long it takes for your question to be answered.

Make a note on your spreadsheet if your inquiry was answered in a friendly, professional manner or if you were treated poorly as a prospective student. Also, see how long it takes to get the response if you asked via email. This all matters, because if you haven't even paid your first tuition bill, how will you be treated after you are enrolled in the program?

 

VISIT THE CAMPUS

There's nothing like making a campus visit and checking out a school for yourself. You will get the real feel of the environment, unlike online virtual tours. Although virtual tours have come a long way and provide a pretty in-depth look at prospective institutions, you want to make sure that wherever you decide to spend the next year or two will feel like home.

 

TALK TO THE CURRENT STUDENTS AND ALUMNI

Find out from the students who are already there what you can expect, even those who graduated. This is vital because although you have been obtaining facts about each school from the website and various recruiters, students will not sugar coat anything, but will instead tell you the positives and negatives of the school that appeared to be "perfect" on the web.

Of course, no school is perfect but taking the time to create questions and ask some students and alumni their honest opinion will put you in a much better position to make an informed decision about where to apply.

Need tips on writing a cover letter that will sell you? Click here.

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