Choosing which graduate program to attend is not easy. The task becomes even more challenging amidst a global pandemic. In this unprecedented year, we have all had to learn how to adapt to a new lifestyle, meaning that many aspects of our schooling have had to adapt along with us.
Consequently, the pandemic has made it more imperative than even to pick the right choice in graduate programs. The goal is ultimately to select a program that adapts accordingly to changing circumstances by envisioning its own future alongside that of its students. Below is a list of a few criteria to consider when picking a graduate program. Please note that these are merely recommendations and suggestions for graduate study (i.e. Master’s and PhD programs)–the ultimate choice is yours!
Notably, many graduate programs offer their students funding in the form of stipends, fellowships, and teaching assistantships. For a variety of reasons, advisors discourage students from attending a graduate program if the school does not offer some sort of financial support apart from loans.
Not only are loans a hindrance from financial stability in years post-graduation, but they are also, in essence, ways in which the school can extract free labor from students, as their graduate cohorts quite literally conduct research under their name. Subsequently, it is important that students have a stable form of income during a pandemic, when the economy can be unpredictable.
Cost of Living
Amidst a time of uncertainty and an unfortunate rise in homelessness, it is important to ensure that you have an affordable, yet comfortable living situation. We recommend budgeting your living expenses according to the funding offers received from each school. It would be helpful to conduct a quick apartment search online in order to estimate the cost of living in the neighboring areas of a campus. If a school is particularly isolated with not many neighboring apartments, then consider whether or not you will need a car to commute.
Many schools also offer housing for their graduate students at a discounted rate. Look into the housing offered at your respective schools, and see if their housing options are of interest.
Library and Research Resources
Library resources are important factors in choosing a graduate program, especially if that program is heavy on independent research. One wants to make sure that library resources are abundant, both in-person and online.
Online library resources have especially become important amidst the pandemic, as remote learning has become the norm. Thus, investigate whether or not schools have online library catalogs, librarians, and research guides, amongst other resources.
Graduate placement, or the percentage of a cohort of students that attains full-time tenured positions upon graduation, is perhaps one of the most unpredictable aspects of choosing a graduate program. Graduate programs can take years to complete (with some PhD programs going well above six years until completion), during which the job market may change drastically.
Nevertheless, the placement of a school’s graduates provides a general sense of where a graduate program lies in the job market, both now and potentially in the future. Note especially if students have recently attained considerably more and/or less tenured positions as of recent years compared to previous graduates.
Having a caring yet knowledgeable cohort of advisors can make all the difference between making graduate school an isolating experience and one that is fulfilling. Make sure that you choose a school that has faculty that are genuinely interested in your work, but who are equally well-renowned in their field. Although somewhat elitist, the job market after graduation genuinely cares about who you worked with during the span of your graduate program, which can potentially snag a job offer.
Your Mental Health
Lastly, make sure that the decision you make is for your well-being, and not that of others. What matters most to you in a graduate program, apart from prestige, money, and/or faculty? Is it geographic location? The campus life? Climate? Whatever your reasons, make sure that you choose a school that feels right for you, as it is important to remain healthy and clear-headed throughout some of the most challenging, yet rewarding years of your life.
About The Author
Rafael Franco Flores (He/Him)
Rafael Franco was raised in the small farming town of Kerman, CA, where he resided until graduating from Kerman High School in 2016. Thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a double bachelor's in English and History at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), graduating with Departmental Honors in English, Cum Laude Latin honors, and Phi Beta Kappa membership. While at UCLA, Rafael developed a passion for critical theory and Romantic literature and hopes to continue studying these fields at the graduate level. In the past, Rafael interned for UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin. He hopes to use his past experience in journalism as an editor for Central Valley Scholars in hopes of creating valuable resources for students in the Central Valley.