You earned your bachelor’s degree! You’ve spent a lot of time and money obtaining a very expensive piece of paper. The last thing that may be on your mind is experiencing even more school in your life. All joking aside, the process of deciding what grad school to attend can be hectic. Consider these seven tips that I did when I was led to Lewis & Clark College.
1. Explore what you want to study
You are about to pursue an advanced degree! This is a huge endeavor, and you should be proud of considering this next step in your academic career. Regardless of what you decide to study, make sure it is something that maintains your interest and aligns with your career aspirations.
2. Develop your non-negotiables
What I mean by non-negotiables is the list of factors that will highly affect what kind of institution you would like to attend. Be sure to identify every factor that will affect your decision—even the little things. Do you care if you identify as a republican but attend a college in a democratic or swing state? Do you care if your institution sells Coca Cola products instead of Pepsi products? Does it matter to you if you bank with Chase, but there aren’t any branches or ATMs near your college? If you’re a sports fanatic, will it affect you if your college is in a state that has no professional sports teams? Some people may say these factors are petty, but they are still important to someone. When a person goes to Starbucks, they usually order a drink customized to what they like. A student should be able to do the same thing with the college they want to attend for grad school.
3. Look for a community
During your time as an undergraduate student, were you involved in a national organization? Something such as a service group, a human rights campaign, or even a Greek organization are prime examples. When looking at grad schools, I checked to see if there was a community present with my fraternity brothers along with members of my service group. For example, when I knew I was going to attend Lewis & Clark College, I started reaching out to members of my service group in the Portland area as well as fraternity brothers from the local chapter. When I first got to Portland, these individuals welcomed me into their community with open arms and made my transition much smoother.
4. Assess affordability
The cost of grad school was a huge factor of where I was going to go. Luckily enough, I was able to obtain a graduate assistantship that covered the cost of my tuition, housing, and health insurance. Some institutions offer scholarships, while others offer fellowships, graduate assistantships, and paid internships. Be as persistent as you can; it may determine whether or not you have to pay for grad school or nothing at all.
5. Connect with students/staff/faculty/alumni
Once you already identify what you would like to study, don’t be afraid to reach out to current students in the program as well as current faculty that teach the courses part of the curriculum. Ask important questions and make sure you are getting the necessary answers to determine whether or not the institution and its program are what is best for you.
6. Look for professional development opportunities
For example, check to see if you can attend a national conference that aligns with your career aspirations or possibly be a part of a local group that caters to the needs of individuals with your professional interests. It is imperative to excel in the classroom, but it is just as important to gain as much experience as you can outside of the classroom.
7. Visit the campus
If you have the time and it’s not too much of financial burden, make an effort to visit the campus. Try to have that experience where the moment you take your first step onto campus, you think to yourself, “This is the place for me!”
I am a first-generation graduate student and will be graduating in June of 2016 with my master’s in student affairs administration. I have no regrets choosing Lewis & Clark College, and the process I endured to choose this institution will be the same process I experience when choosing one to pursue my doctorate. Nonetheless, grad school is totally worth it!