While it's no doubt exciting to have the entire graduate school selection process ahead of you, it can also be rather intimidating!
GradSchools.com alone has over 58,000 programs, and even if only a fraction of those match your interests, that still provides you with hours of potential browsing, plus even more time when comparing the information you will get from those schools.
Decide exactly what you want
Almost as soon as you begin the process, you will realize there are certain aspects of a graduate program that are vitally important to you.
You will certainly want to learn a particular subject, and might want a precise specialization or research interest to be available. You might want a certain location or access to a city or a region of the country that is optimal for your field. Price and the competitiveness of different programs are also factors in the decision process although at this stage you should continue giving yourself a wide range of options in both categories.
Deciding on these basic requirements will help you eliminate programs that don't fit the basic criteria you want. Even after you've eliminated programs that don't fit your basic criteria, you are still likely to have many choices to make. You need to know how to investigate and compare programs.
One good place to start is the program's website. Browse through the information available. Read about the institution's graduate programs, the faculty, the admission requirements and program features, the facilities, the location, and any other information you can glean from the website. Some will be far more useful than others. Request further information and contact someone from the school if you have questions that the website does not answer.
Talking to people is going to be one of your most important sources for information after that which you receive from the school itself. If you pursued an undergraduate education in the same field, your professors will probably be more than happy to share their knowledge and advice. They were once in your shoes and want to help you as much as possible. Ask them what schools or programs have the best reputation and facilities in your field. Ask them what professors are well known for their work in your field. You could even ask them for general advice on the process itself.
You can also obtain a wealth of information from professionals already working in the field you plan to study. Most people will be happy to take at least a few minutes to help an interested student. Find people working in the field or professors at local schools who would have knowledge of different graduate programs. If you can get contact information from alumni of the programs you are considering, those people can often be the most help in determining the benefits and challenges of a particular program.
If you currently have a graduate school advisor, that person is obviously one of the most important people you can talk to in order to obtain more information.
For direct comparison, you may also be able to find rankings in newspapers or magazines that compare different programs. Various books may also offer advice.
No matter whom you talk to or which sources you use, always make sure to take a balanced and realistic look at the information provided so that one lopsided opinion doesn't influence you more than it should. Weigh what people say to you.
And overall, enjoy the process. While it can seem overwhelming at first, it's vital that you give this selection the time and energy it deserves in order to find the best fit for your graduate education.