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How to Choose the Right Graduate School

Earning an advanced degree can come with a variety of benefits—from potentially increasing your salary to helping you remain competitive in the workforce and gain important industry connections.

Deciding to go to graduate school, however, can be one of the biggest life decisions you’ll make, so it’s important to select the right college or university. But how do you do make that choice? By asking several important questions to figure out your wants and needs.

Below are six factors you should consider when determining your grad school options.

How to Decide Which Grad School is Right For You

Determine What Career You Want

When choosing the right school, it’s important to figure out your ideal career. Look into the post-graduation career opportunities at your select schools, and decide which college or university will provide the best return on investment. Ask yourself, “Do I need this degree to do what I want to do? Can I leverage it to achieve my goals?”

A graduate degree can make it easier to transition into more high-level roles, such as management and leadership. Many companies not only recognize the benefits of an advanced degree, but prefer their employees to have one. In fact, 74 percent of employers have raised their educational standards over the last several years, with many companies looking to hire those with graduate degrees.

In certain industries, such as education, an advanced degree provides required training and the best path for certain jobs or promotions. In other fields, the gain is less clear. Figure out the career you want, and research the best path to get there.

Figure Out What You Want to Specialize In

Going to graduate school offers the opportunity to further specialize in a particular topic. For example, if you want to pursue an advanced degree in engineering, then you first need to decide what area you want to specialize in, such as bioengineering, computer science, or mechanical engineering.

Also, look into the type of research you’ll be doing at your select school. Will you complete a thesis, internship, project, or capstone, and could that help advance your goals? Determine what you want to learn, and find schools that align with your needs.

Focus on Faculty

Faculty can make or break your graduate school experience. Take the time to reach out to your potential professors and get to know them. Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about their background to see if it aligns with what you want to learn.

Apply to universities that have one or more professors who focus on your area of interest, and with whom you can imagine collaborating with while earning your degree. Determine if they can help facilitate your growth, and go with a program where you’re comfortable with the faculty.

Look at Your Environment

Take a closer look at your graduate school options, and determine if your select school’s region has ample career opportunities in your desired industry. For example, if you want to break into tech, then go where there’s a rich startup community like Silicon Valley. If you’re eager to study healthcare, then look into Charlotte.

Also, determine if you are looking to earn your graduate degree online or in a classroom. Some schools like Northeastern allow you to take classes entirely online, in-person, or in a combination of the two. Lastly, decide if you wish to study part- or full-time to work around your busy needs, and choose a school accordingly.

Talk to Students and Alumni

When determining your graduate school options, it’s important to talk to current students and alumni. Begin by creating a list of questions to ask, such as:

  • Do you have enough academic and career guidance?
  • What do you like and dislike about your program?
  • Are you happy with your professors?
  • How do you feel about the student community?
  • What do you wish you knew before enrolling?

What students and alumni tell you might surprise you and could be extremely valuable in determining the right graduate school for you.

Decide on the Cost

Decide what can you afford for graduate school, and don’t forget to factor in both the up-front costs, such as tuition and textbooks, and hidden fees, such as transportation and student activity costs. While your education is an investment, make sure you can cover the costs associated with earning your graduate degree.

Look into your financial aid options at each university, and don’t forget to contact their financial aid or admissions department to figure out your options. You may also be eligible for assistantships or fellowships, in addition to loans, scholarships, and grants.

If you are currently employed, speak with your organization to see if they cover tuition costs. More than 60 percent of companies will help pay for their employees’ education.

Lastly, don’t forget to consider your future earning potential and career opportunities when considering your graduate school options. Your graduate degree should be worth the cost, time, and effort you put into it, so having ample job opportunities upon graduation can make all the difference.


Explore Northeastern’s more than 200 graduate programs and learn more about how to apply.