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Going Beyond Rankings: What to Look for in a Graduate School

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Grad »

Although the rankings frenzy is more common for undergraduates, there is still a market for grad school rankings lists. Each year, publications like U.S News and World Report, Princeton Review, and Poets and Quants, release rankings list for graduate programs. As you begin your search for the right grad program, you might be wondering if you should pay attention to how your prospective schools rank on these lists. You might ask yourself, does this really matter to my search? While rankings can give you a baseline about a school, they won’t be able to tell you what you really need to know about the program. 

There is no denying that big-name schools—such as Ivy League universities—look good on a job application. But there is more to a graduate school than prestige. When considering grad schools, you want to consider what type of school you are applying for. Does it offer you the student support and career development opportunities you seek? Is it located somewhere where you can live? Whether you want to pursue a Master’s degree or a doctorate, finding the right school can make all the difference in your graduate school experience. Graduate programs are so much more than the “most highly ranked” grad school lists. Depending on how you learn, you may excel in a smaller, less well-known graduate school. Or maybe you’ll excel on a huge campus. Here, we’ll dive into some of the most important factors to consider when selecting a graduate school to ensure that you are finding the right grad program for you.

What to Look for in a Grad School

Without further ado, here are seven critical factors to consider that aren’t related to rankings: 

1. Student Support

Schools and programs that offer resources for student needs should be at the forefront of your wishlist. Even if you feel like you prefer to learn independently without making strong connections with your professors, having student support available is crucial for any good graduate program. Not only does this show you that the program cares for its students, but it also ensures that you can find the help you need should something come up in your life.

2. Program Requirements

Studying the requirements and qualifications for grad programs is crucial. However, not all programs require the same courses, grades, or test scores. Therefore, if you are applying to a graduate program, ensure that you have taken the time to ensure that you meet the requirements.

You will also want to take the time to study the course requirements for graduation. Are there a number of classes that you have to take that do not seem appropriate for your post-graduate goals? If this is the case, that particular program may not fit you well.

3. Location and Cost of Living

Living in a new place can be intimidating and expensive. If you cannot afford moving costs or the costs of living in certain areas, you may find that programs that offer online learning may be a good fit for you. Alternatively, you can restrict your grad school search to your current neighborhood or areas that you can afford to live in.

There are many reasons apart from cost that may keep you from moving. For example, some people may have familial obligations that prevent them from moving, and some people may have jobs they need to work to support themselves while paying for their schooling. Everyone’s life is different, and because of this, taking the time to consider your own ability to move and live in a new place is crucial to determining which grad program you select.

4. Tuition And Financial Aid Options

Speaking of costs, graduate school is an investment. Typically, it is quite expensive, and not all schools or programs offer the same amount of tuition reimbursement or financial aid. Therefore, if you do not have a lot of money to spend on graduate school, you will want to pay extra attention to the financial aid options available for each program you are applying to.

Sometimes this information can be hard to find, so taking your time to truly understand what options are available is crucial. Typically you can also contact someone from the program to answer questions about financial aid, so keep an eye out for any “contact us” options as well.

5. Career Development

Many people pursue graduate degrees to advance their careers. Because of this, ensure that you look at your grad school options from a career outlook. Will the program help you advance your career? How passionate are you about this field? Can you see yourself staying in this particular field for a long time?

Asking yourself questions like this can help you narrow down what types of graduate school programs will best fit your career in the long term.

6. Program Format

People go to graduate school at many ages and during many different parts of their lives. If you are already working and supporting a family, you likely do not have time to take 2-5 years off to pursue a graduate degree full-time. This is not the only option, however, when it comes to graduate school programs. Some schools offer part-time programs that can be completed over a longer period. Additionally, online programs can provide the flexibility to learn at a time that works best for your schedule if you cannot get onto campus to learn.

Of course, not everyone works or supports families when they go into grad school. These individuals may find a full-time program that allows them to graduate earlier to be more appealing than a part-time program.

7. Faculty and Facilities

A graduate program is a place for you to learn from the best in your field. Suppose you are passionate about continuing your education in your field. In that case, you want to ensure that the program you select has access to high-quality facilities (if your field requires specific equipment or tools) and offers courses taught by well-known or very experienced members of your field.

It is also a good idea to find information on how much access students have to campus facilities as well as how large class sizes are. This can give you a good idea of how much you will be able to receive meaningful feedback and mentorship from the faculty.

Teaching and Testing Methods

Not all graduate schools use the same methods and modules for students to learn. Some focus more on teaching, whereas others focus more on independent learning. The right grad school for you will depend on your preferences for learning and whether or not you are more interested in learning on your own or in a mix of a classroom setting and independent learning.

Take the time to consider how you learn best, and narrow your grad school options to only those that offer teaching and testing methods that best suit your learning preferences.


The bottom line is that grad school rankings can be a starting point in your graduate program search, but they should not be the determining factor in which program you select. There are so many better considerations for that.Now that you know what factors to consider when selecting your graduate program, you are ready to begin your search. To find the best grad school for you, start comparing schools at Abound!

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