Researching Graduate Programs

Researching graduate programs takes a great deal of time and effort, but the more information you gather, the better equipped you will be to make good decisions. While you may begin by perusing websites and perhaps print directories, you should also talk with professors, students, and alumnae, attend graduate school fairs, and visit the institutions themselves whenever possible.  Below is a list of sources of information about graduate programs.  Consult as many as you can.

Search through online databases. These will help you find which schools offer your program of interest and at what degree level.

GradSchools.com is a huge database of graduate schools worldwide and a good place to start. You can choose a subject, specialty, format, and location to generate a large list of possibilities. You can then narrow your choice of subject and program level (certificate, doctorate, or masters).

Peterson’s Grad School Bound will enable you to sort initially by level of degree and then location, or by keyword or names of schools.

GradProfiles provides profiles sorted by location, program, or institution name.

GraduateGuide, a database of graduate programs is limited in terms of the information it provides about each school, but enables you to quickly find lists of available programs.

Talk to faculty and professionals. Faculty members in your desired field of study will know about many of the programs and will be familiar with the work of faculty at universities around the country. Make an appointment to talk with a faculty member or department chair and ask his/her advice about programs. If you plan to apply to professional graduate programs, seek the advice of professionals that you, your parents, or friends know.

Consult websites of professional associations in your field. Every field has professional associations (e.g. The Association of Social Work; American Anthropological Association; Modern Language Association; American Public Health Association; American Institute of Biological Sciences.)  If you don’t know what they are in your field, ask your professors or do a Google search. Websites for these associations sometimes include lists of graduate programs and often also provide information about sources of funding for study.

Check for accreditation. The most recognized and accepted type of accreditation in the US is regional accreditation. Such accreditation distinguishes legitimate colleges and universities from “diploma mills” that aim to essentially sell degrees to unwary students.  You can check whether a particular U.S. institution is regionally accredited at The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs website.

Many graduate programs are also accredited by the field’s professional associations. There are specialized accrediting agencies for art and design, dance, engineering, forestry, library science, health, and many other professions. Professional associations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) will provide information on their websites about colleges and universities that have accredited programs in this field. If your future career goals include professional licensure, be sure to check out a program’s accreditation with the most prominent professional association in your field.

Consider lists of rankings. Many students think that the best way to select graduate programs is to find the “top five best schools” and only investigate those. In the same way that this is a mistake for college applicants, it is short-sighted when choosing a graduate school. Criteria for ranking can be different from what matters most to you. Rankings, however, will give you an idea of the reputation of a school and its programs. US News & World Report ranks graduate programs in business, education, medicine, engineering, law, the sciences, library and information studies, social sciences and humanities, health, public affairs, and fine arts.

Find out where the writers of your favorite academic articles are teaching. In your course readings, you have no doubt found authors of academic articles whose work you find particularly challenging, enlightening, or thought provoking. Most of these writers are faculty at universities teaching graduate students these very ideas in person. Often, a short biography at the end of an article will tell you where the author teaches. If not, just look up their name on the internet.

Check out what current graduate students are saying.  Students who are currently in a graduate program can tell you about their own experiences regarding the workload, expectations, access to faculty, and more. How do you find these students? One way is to attend a disciplinary conference.  At these conferences graduate students from all over the country deliver papers on their research. If you approach them after one of their talks, they will likely be very open to talking about their experiences in school and giving you advice. You can also consult online bulletin boards such as thegradcafe.com. Whether listening to someone’s experience in person or online, remember that this is one person’s perspective.

Attend a graduate school fair. Mount Holyoke College and Smith College take turns hosting a shared graduate school fair during the fall semester of each academic year. During September of 2013, the Graduate School fair will take place at Smith College. For detailed information about dates, times, and transportation for MHC students, check out the various career fairs posted on the Career Development Center's website.

Narrow down your list. Once you have a list of the schools that are “out there,” you must begin to think about your selection process – how to narrow down your list to a group of schools you want to investigate more closely. You can begin by making a list of all the criteria that are important to you. If you don’t know what those are yet, thoroughly read the graduate program website for one of the schools on your list. Read faculty biographies, course descriptions, and program requirements. Read about support services, research and internship opportunities, and housing and dining options. You’ll begin to notice features of the program that appeal to you, and some that don’t. As you learn what one school has to offer, you’ll begin to be able to compare them. Soon you’ll find you are developing a clear sense of which programs are the best ones for you.

Finally, make an appointment to talk over what you’ve discovered with Mount Holyoke’s National Fellowships and Graduate School Advisor, Christine Overstreet.