A common trap students often fall into when applying to graduate school is insufficient background research! Given the pricey and time-consuming nature of most graduate degrees, you really owe it to yourself to make an informed and carefully thought-out decision when choosing a course and putting together your application. Get started with our list of seven key areas to research when applying to grad school.
1. Career prospects
For many, a graduate degree is also an opportunity to develop the expertise and connections required to kick-start a career, move up a level, or enter a new field. Save yourself time in the long run by pausing to consider all your options. What matters to you the most? Income? Flexibility? Job security? What are your interests? What would your dream job be? What would your ideal employment prospects and earning potential look like? You might actually find that while you completed a bachelor of arts in film studies, you actually – deep down – really aspire to become an environmental journalist or a lobbyist. Which graduate degree would help you get there?
2. The faculty
This can’t be stressed enough. Researching the faculty and looking up some of the research published by key figures in the department could help you figure out whether a university is right for you, and also help you win over the admissions officers in your personal statement and interview. While universities are expected to remain wholly neutral and academic, different departments do favor different methodologies, theoretical frameworks and perspectives on their fields. They also have different areas of focus, reflected in the expertise of faculty members. When researching grad schools, make sure you choose a department well-matched to your academic and professional interests.
Depending on your research project and discipline, you might need to have access to various pieces of technology or special library collections. Researching the facilities will help you decide whether to pick school X over school Y, as well as making a convincing case in your application. When applying to grad school, it’s absolutely crucial that you sound as specific and focused as possible, and referring to specialized facilities will help you achieve this.
You need to be in the right frame of mind to tackle all of the challenges academia throws at you. Ensuring that you pick the best city for your graduate degree – a place propitious to work, play, affordable living and job hunting – will go a long way toward helping you secure happiness and perform your very best! You might want to take a look at the QS Best Student Cities 2016, which ranks the world’s best student cities based on a mix of factors: employer activity, affordability, desirability, student mix, and university rankings.
5. Fees & funding
Tuition fees and funding opportunities vary greatly by country. Some countries, such as Germany or Sweden, offer free tuition; while other study destinations, such as the UK or the US, charge hefty fees for their world-renowned programs – in some cases offset by full tuition waivers, scholarships and assistantships for a select number of students. So before applying to graduate school, make sure that you can afford it and that you’ve got a fool-proof funding action plan. You don’t want to find yourself unable to complete your degree because you’ve run out of money!
6. Course structure
Each university will implement its own course structure and reading list, and one course structure may be better aligned with your interests. Take a look at the syllabus outlined online in the course description. It might be worth shooting off an email to the course leader or other faculty members, to get a better sense of the course’s theoretical framework and overall structure.
7. Teaching and assessment methods
Some graduate degrees are mostly taught, leading up to an end-of-course research project, while others have a strong focus on independent research from the outset. You need to figure out which teaching and assessment methods work better for you. Do you need regular contact hours with a supervisor and peers, or are you a lone wolf/independent researcher? Would you prefer more hours in class amongst your peers? What about assessment methods? Are you a confident test-taker or do you thrive on coursework?
Get personal answers to your questions about grad school
If you’re keen to get more personal advice before applying to grad school, look out for the QS World Grad School Tour – coming soon to a city near you. This is a chance to meeting representatives of grad schools from around the world, attend free seminars, and get all your questions answered in one place. You’ll also be eligible to apply for exclusive graduate scholarships.