How to narrow your graduate school choices

Frequently, prospective graduate school applicants have to choose from dozens of graduate school programs. As a result, it may be difficult to narrow your choices to your top 15, 10, 5, or however many applications you can afford, time- and energy-wise. So, I’ve created a list of categories I used to narrow my graduate school choices below:

  • Location: state/province, city
    • I didn’t want to live in a small city or cities that were mostly for students.
  • Fitness studios
    • Some of my hobbies require having a studio to practice in, so if the city a program was located in didn’t have an available studio, I cut it from my list.
  • Temperature highs and lows
    • Although I live in one of the coldest cities in Canada, I don’t like being cold! So I had a cut off of certain average yearly temperatures.
  • Cost of living
    • I based this number off average costs of rent. You may also choose to include the cost of groceries, etc. I had a certain cut-off cost, which greatly reduced the number of programs I could realistically apply to.
  • Tuition cost
    • Some programs don’t guarantee funding, so this point was important to me.
  • Funding
    • I made notes on whether the program offered department scholarships, graduate scholarships, teaching assistantships or research assistantships, or anything else in the way of funding.
  • Thesis or project or coursework
    • Here I made notes on what kind of stream the program offered. I wanted to do a thesis or project, so any program that just offered coursework was cut.
  • Length of the program
    • My priority was attending a 1-year master’s program, but I was still open to other options.
  • “Highlight”
    • I made notes on whether the program offered anything unique or valuable to my student life or future career, like professional development workshops, department colloquiums, creative writing classes, internships, etc.
  • Courses offered
    • I looked at previous courses the program had offered. I made a note on whether they sounded unique and/or were to my interest or if they were just general courses without anything necessarily special about them.

Other factors

  • Deadline to apply
    • While this point didn’t sway my decision to apply, it was helpful to set my expectations for when my applications were due.
  • Average applications and offers per year
    • If a program provided this information, I wrote it down to have an idea of how competitive the program was.
  • University ranking
    • This point wasn’t as significant to me, but I thought it would be useful to know anyway.

Please let me know in the comments if there are other criteria you used when choosing where you applied to!

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