Choosing a Graduate School

Programs at UCF and Rollins College

A master’s degree is no longer icing on the cake for students with a four-year college diploma. Many professions now require a graduate degree just for entry-level positions. In other fields, a master’s degree may improve your job prospects or your salary.

As a graduate student, you’ll spend at least two years in full-time study, or up to four years if you attend part time. 

Many colleges and universities offer online graduate programs that serve independent learners well; for most students, though, interacting with professors and peers in an on-campus setting is part of the lure of higher education, including grad school.

In addition, a grad school’s location can be critical to your success. With some exceptions, the value of an advanced degree is usually strongest in the region where the school is located. If you’re planning to stay in Florida, enrolling in a graduate program at Rollins College or the University of Central Florida makes more sense than attending a school in Oregon.

With that caveat in mind, here are some other tips for choosing the best graduate program for you.

  • Give yourself at least six months to do your research before applying to schools. It will take you that long to review 15 to 20 schools’ websites, thoroughly research your options and narrow your choices.
  • Focus your initial research on accreditation, program quality and faculty reputation: Determine the type of accreditation – institutional or program-specific – that your field requires, and make sure that the schools you’re considering carry that accreditation. A master’s degree from an unaccredited school won’t help you in the job market. 
  • Rankings, such as those produced by U.S. News and World Report and Business Week, can help in determining a program’s quality, but make sure the program meets your specific needs. For instance, a grad program that focuses on research may not be as beneficial to you as one that prepares you to work in your chosen field.
  • Another element of program quality is student success. Find out how many students graduate from the programs you’re examining, where they’re finding jobs and how much they’re earning.
  • Faculty reputation is critical to any graduate program. Look up each professor’s academic credentials, publications and research specialties. Determine the student-faculty ratio of each program you’re considering and the number of classes taught by full-time faculty.
  • Cost is a crucial component of grad school. For each school on your list, determine the opportunities for fellowships, assistantships and scholarships.

Remember: The best rating system is your own. Once you’ve narrowed your choices down to a manageable number, visit the campuses to get a sense of each place. 

Consider housing, campus support services, student diversity and the surrounding community. If you prefer big-city life, a rural campus won’t be a good choice. Make sure the libraries, computer labs and research facilities meet your requirements.

Most important, prepare a list of questions and talk to students and alumni, asking them to be completely candid.

Invest time in conducting your research, and you’ll find the perfect graduate school for you.

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