How to Choose the RIGHT Graduate School

Right Graduate SchoolWe couldn’t do our national survey of current graduate students without asking our respondents to reflect on their grad school search experience and to give some advice to the next generation of grad students on how to choose the right graduate school.

Nearly half of our respondents indicate that knowing what they know now, they would change the way they researched grad schools. And while the majority of our sample is satisfied in their current grad program, a quarter of our respondents indicate they wish they had chosen a different grad school/program or decided not to pursue a graduate degree at all.

So with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, what do current graduate students recommend to prospective students for choosing the right graduate school?

Our respondents indicate that in addition to spending time researching program/school websites, the following three things are the most critical to choosing the BEST grad school for you:

  1. Contact program faculty/staff

82% of the current graduate students surveyed indicated that communicating directly with program administrators or program faculty would have improved their ability to make an informed decision about graduate school and prospective graduate programs. Grad students indicate these interactions were not only influential in deciding which programs to apply to but also affected their final decision of which program to attend.

  1. Contact current/former graduate students

While many prospective grad students consider communicating with program faculty far fewer reach out to current/former grad students at programs they are interested in. This is a mistake! Current and former graduate students may be the best resource for determining which faculty to consider working with, understanding the academic/social environment and even for getting tips/suggestions on how to make your application stand out!

This is likely why nearly 90% of our respondents indicated that communicating directly with current or former graduate students would have improved their ability to make an informed decision about graduate school and prospective graduate programs.

  1. Seek advice from academic professors/mentors

Lastly, our respondents suggest seeking advice from academic professors/mentors. Tapping into these resources would be a great way to learn about a program or a field you know little about. And while our respondents do recommend seeking advice from professors and/or mentors from your undergrad institution, less than a third of students found their Career Services Advisors and/or On-Campus Academic Advising Offices useful in their graduate school search.

We at Gradschoolmatch are not surprised by these responses! We have always seen the value in direct communication between prospective grad students and faculty, admins and students. That is why facilitating communication between student and program is at the core of what happens on gradschoolmatch.com.

So get matchin!

 

Check out the other articles on our current graduate student survey:

Survey of Current Graduate Students

Graduate Student Survey – Demographics and Fields of Study

Students Don’t Apply to Many Graduate Programs

Getting Into Grad School – How to Improve Your Chances

Are Grad Students Happy?

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Are Grad Students Happy?

One of the most important issues facing prospective graduate students, is choosing the right program. To hone in on the best practices for doing so, we asked our respondents to report on their satisfaction in our national survey of current graduate students.

As you can see in the figure, our respondents indicate overwhelmingly that they are satisfied with their decision to attend graduate school, and with their current graduate program. This data is in stark contrast to many of the gloomy reports seen published widely across the internet.

While the majority of grad students are satisfied, 10% of our sample are unhappy with their current graduate program. That number is too high and is probably the costly basis for the known rates of attrition. If we extrapolate our data to the over a million new graduate students across the nation each year, this suggests that in the upcoming months tens of thousands of students will be choosing the wrong program!

Of the small fraction of unhappy graduate students, 70% say that knowing what they know now they would have chosen a program at a different school, while only 11% say they wouldn’t go to graduate school at all.

This data underscores the importance of choosing the “right” program and the “right” school. Indeed, 79% of these students indicate that if they were to do it over again, they would change the way they researched graduate schools/programs.

We know that communication between prospective students and faculty and/or administrators who really know their program, is the best way to find out if a program and a school is the “right” fit. And our respondents agree, 82% of all students surveyed indicate that communicating directly with faculty or program administrators would have improved their ability to make an informed decision about graduate school and prospective graduate programs. Over 70% of students went on to say that these interactions would have made them more likely to apply to, and accept an admission offer from a graduate program or school.

These data reveal that current students recognize the importance of communicating with faculty and program administrators before choosing a graduate program, even if they didn’t do so as a prospective student themselves. Only 64% of our respondents indicated they contacted faculty or program administrators at their current program as a prospective student. But, of those who did, 92% reported that this interaction was influential in their decision to apply.

These data support the need for direct communication between programs and students. Matriculation of a student into the “wrong” program isn’t just difficult on the student, it is extremely costly to the program!

In addition to a fast and reliable method for finding suitable graduate programs, Gradschoolmatch offers students and programs a mechanism for direct communication.

 

Check out the other articles on our current graduate student survey:

Survey of Current Graduate Students

Graduate Student Survey – Demographics and Fields of Study

Students Don’t Apply to Many Graduate Programs

Getting Into Grad School – How to Improve Your Chances

How to Choose the RIGHT Graduate School

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Getting Into Grad School – How to Improve Your Chances

One of the most frequently asked questions of any prospective graduate student, is “How can I improve my chances for getting into grad school?” While there is no single answer to that question, our national survey of current graduate student offers one suggestion: wait to apply.

Respondents from our graduate student survey report taking an average of two years between graduating college and beginning their first graduate program. When divided across program type, the average number of gap years is slightly lower for Certificate and Doctoral students at 1.3 and 1.6 years respectively, whereas current Dual-degree and Masters students take an average of 2.5 and 2.8 years, respectively.

As can be seen in the figure, students with more gap years, the time between college and graduate school, had higher average acceptance rates. This effect can likely be attributed to the fact that students with multiple years out of college also have multiple years of work experience and a larger skillset in their field of interest, which is very important in the evaluation of applicants.

While at first glance this may seem discouraging for students planning to enter graduate school immediately after graduation, it should rather be seen as a learning opportunity. It is well known that graduate programs are looking for candidates committed to their choice of study and fully aware of, and prepared for the task ahead.

Although students with additional years of experience in their chosen field may have a leg up when it comes to skillset and proving a commitment to their chosen path, those who wish to start grad school right after the baccalaureate do have some options! If you are not planning to take a gap, be sure to use your college years wisely. In addition to taking and excelling in your relevant coursework, plan your extracurricular activities accordingly and in advance.

Gain useful skills while spending summers and holiday breaks getting your feet wet in your chosen field. For example, if you want to do research in graduate school, gain research experience as an undergrad. This can go a long way to showing graduate schools just how well informed and committed you are.

Work experiences help you become more knowledgeable about your prospective career path. Talk to current graduate students, faculty or professionals in your field. Educate yourself on the challenges and difficulties you might face in your journey. These additional experiences and thoughtfulness will not only help you ace your interview and with the dreaded task of writing your personal statement, but they will certainly improve your chances for getting into grad school!

 

Check out the other articles on our current graduate student survey:

Survey of Current Graduate Students

Graduate Student Survey – Demographics and Fields of Study

Students Don’t Apply to Many Graduate Programs

Are Grad Students Happy?

How to Choose the RIGHT Graduate School

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Graduate Student Survey – Demographics and Fields of Study

demographicsContinuing the discussion of our recent Graduate Student Survey (for an overview see our introduction here) we have explored the demographics of our sample.

Predictably, our respondents are predominantly in their 20’s with an average age 27.5 years. However, both younger and more mature respondents are well represented, with nearly 10% of respondents aged 22 years or younger and 3.5% over the age of 40.

Female students make up 65% of our sample. This value is slightly above the national average where women make up almost 60% of students in any type of graduate program.

Sixty-five percent of our survey respondents are currently in doctoral degree programs. The other represented degree levels and the fraction of students from each level type are shown in the first figure. Annual surveys of current graduate students (e.g. by the CGS) consistently report doctoral students as making up only 25% of students in any type of graduate program, with the remaining 75% of students in master’s programs. The disparity between our results and the CGS data results from our sample being skewed towards universities with very high levels of research activity.

The survey respondents represent a variety of different academic fields as shown in the second figure. The “Other” category is comprised of the following academic fields: Architecture and Related Services, Communications, Legal Professions and Studies, Library Science, Military Technologies and Protective Services, Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies, and Theology and Religious Vocations. Each of these disciplines were represented by 50 or fewer respondents.

Respondents to our survey represent students in all stages of the degree process, from those just beginning their program to advanced students in their 10th year. The fraction of respondents from each year are shown in the third figure.

Although limited in the number of universities represented, the survey sample may be generalized to represent the average graduate student, particularly those classified as very high and high research universities. With that established, we can now delve into more interesting and revealing data, stay tuned!

 

 

Check out the other articles on our current graduate student survey:

Survey of Current Graduate Students

Students Don’t Apply to Many Graduate Programs

Getting Into Grad School – How to Improve Your Chances

Are Grad Students Happy?

How to Choose the RIGHT Graduate School

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Survey of Current Graduate Students

graduate students

Our focus at Gradschoolmatch is to solve the problems graduate students and programs face in creating their perfect graduate school match. This entails taking a data-driven approach to understand the graduate school search and admission process comprehensively. To deepen our understanding of the prospective graduate student experience, we’ve just conducted a random, national survey of current graduate students to assess what they experience in finding, applying to, and choosing a graduate program.

Finding a national sample of current graduate students is trickier than you’d first imagine. We randomly selected 20 universities from a pool of 450 institutions. This larger pool awards 90% of all doctoral degrees and half of all masters each year in the US. For each university in our sample we asked graduate Deans and program administrators to disseminate our survey to their graduate students. Five of the 20 universities accommodated our request and distributed our survey to their graduate student bodies.

Our survey instrument is comprised of 44 questions. The survey was sent to over 20,000 graduate students and we received a total of 1445 responses for a response rate of ~7%. The participating institutions and the fraction of students from each responding to the survey are shown in the figure.

The data provide several important insights into the wants and needs of prospective graduate students. In particular, our results highlight where opportunities exist for graduate programs to better connect with prospective students and improve their recruiting outcomes.

Over the next several weeks we will be highlighting our findings on the blog. Keep on the lookout for our next blog post on the demographics of our sample!

 

 

Check out the other articles on our current graduate student survey:

Graduate Student Survey – Demographics and Fields of Study

Students Don’t Apply to Many Graduate Programs

Getting Into Grad School – How to Improve Your Chances

Are Grad Students Happy?

How to Choose the RIGHT Graduate School

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