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What Information Should I Gather?

Previously: Taking Stock of Your Grad School Options

By Winona Wynn, Professor of Arts and Sciences, Heritage University

Gathering relevant information about potential graduate programs requires patience and persistence. This article guides you through the process of researching potential programs and their scholars.

As with any new endeavor, it can feel like there are myriad things you do not know. As a first step, it may be useful to momentarily reflect on diverse questions shared by others who are also conducting their search and are intent on completing their applications for fall deadlines.

How do I glean information from program websites? Where do I find reliable rankings? Who will help develop and shape my research interests? How do I reach out to programs of interest? Why is it important to connect with both professors and graduate students? When do perceptions of who I am become less of a focus than the relentless pursuit of my goals?

As an emerging scholar, you have honed the skills needed to research and analyze relevant information. These skills will serve you well toward the end of compiling a reasonable working list of ten of the best graduate programs, a list from which a final choice will rise to the top! Compiling your findings within a reasonable timeframe (one month) will complement your overall timeline for the graduate application process.

Begin by looking at a few programs in your field to get a feel for what the programs are like and how they tend to differ. Accessing graduate school and graduate program sites will offer a complete set of information regarding expectations, financial support and application deadlines. Also, consider research opportunities offered by centers or institutes within the larger university community.

Reviewing the biographies and research interests of professors and current graduate students in programs of interest is recommended; doing so will offer multiple perspectives. To follow-up your review, draft a brief email to several (not all) graduate students in individual programs inquiring about their research and their experiences in the program. As you review publications of professors in your programs of interest, ask for guidance from your current mentors regarding ways to draft a two or three sentence email expressing your interest in their work. Be sure to ask if they are planning to mentor students in the near future.

Note the qualities that are the most important to you in a graduate program, listing pros and cons as you sort your findings. Remember to prioritize graduate program ranking, reputation, and research interest match, as you consider the general appeal of the institution itself.

Finally, consider applying for travel fellowships that will allow you to attend national student conferences or professional society conferences where you can present your research and network with faculty and program directors to discuss their research and graduate programs.

Action Items:

  1. 1. Track your exploratory grad school program searches with a detailed spreadsheet.
  2. Record your “pros and cons” about graduate programs you research.
  3. Involve your current mentors EARLY in the process—grad program suggestions, guidance with emails, etc.

Up next: Scheduling and Prepping for your Entrance Exams