The ABC’s of Choosing the Perfect Graduate School

Are you a prospective postgraduate student seeking to apply to universities abroad?

Are you a parent or benefactor of such a student?

Are you stuck in a minefield of incertitude over the single. perfect choice out of the more than 25,000 universities in the world?

If your answer to any two of the above three questions is YES then this article is for you. I will not inundate you with a drawn out philosophical dialectic or copious facts and figures on the subject. Rather, I will simply present a streamlined ABC approach to help you in making an informed decision.

I mean ABC in a very literal acronymical sense. A simple set of three criteria to consider when deciding on what graduate schools to apply. It will prove especially helpful if you already have several offers of acceptance and you need to decide on which to choose.

Academics

Budget

Career

Academics

It is quite fitting that this should be the first of all three criteria given that the choice in question is made within the context of an academic pursuit. When deciding on a graduate school you need to consider how the academic profile of the university is consistent with your academic objectives.

You must be intentional in acquiring all the relevant data and information to this effect by researching on the university, the graduate school and the specific graduate program under consideration.

Here are some vital things to look out for.

1. The National and International Ranking of the school. This is essential as the pedigree of your degree is invariably in congruence with the prestige of the institution conferring it. Ever heard of the term, “diploma mill” ? Trust me you would not want a degree from a school associated with such a disparaging sobriquet. Rankings are a safe and relatively reliable metric to evaluate the prestige of the university. Some of the more popular university ranking sites include: 4icu, webometrics as well as Times Higher Education. I know quite a few Nigerian universities that trip over themselves to announce on social media when they move as much as one step higher in these rankings.

Rankings offer insight into the academic reputation of your university of choice within a national and international frame of reference.

2. Profile of Alumni. This is often overlooked but it could come in handy if all the schools you are considering are at a stalemate based on other criteria. A university or program is only as good as the quality of its alumni. “Quality” in terms of their professional accomplishments in the real world. This helps you gauge how the academic knowledge obtained from the program or institution is beneficial in real world applications.

How can you evaluate the profile of the alumni? Easy stuff. There is this little social media platform that helps you do so. No silly, not Facebook. I am talking about LinkdeIn, the quintessential gateway into professional networking. Through LinkedIn you can check out the profiles of alumni of the university, the graduate school or the specific program to get an idea of the sort of positions they were able to secure after graduating. This is a major life hack you should not readily dismiss. I know quite a few who went a bit further by reaching out to alumni via LinkedIn to make inquiries relating to the school and program. This is not stalking. It is called networking.

3. Profile of Faculty. You need to have an idea of the faculty members who you are going to encounter throughout the duration of the program. It is important that you are privy to the subjects they teach, their research interests as well as student evaluations. Some universities offer comprehensive bios on faculty members on their websites including publicized details on evaluations from their students. If you are interested in a particular area of research you should consider reading about the publications of faculty members on Google Scholar to get a comprehensive idea of their interests. It goes without saying, you probably should never judge a book by its cover. Make of this whatever you will.

4. Coursework. The bread and butter without a doubt. This is what you are paying for, this is why you are getting on a plane to fly thousands of miles to a different timezone leaving behind your family, friends and favourite food. Don’t be that student who turns up to graduate school unaware of what courses you are going to encounter. Virtually all programs have that information detailed on their websites. You don’t need to mine for it. It is readily available. Find out the modules and ask yourself if they fit into your academic objectives. Look at the course descriptions. Know the course requirements. Know if 40 is a fail or if 99 is the minimum for an A. There can be no half measures. Your degree is a product you are spending on, carry out your due diligence.

Budget

This seems rather obvious. I mean you are not going to go to a school you cannot afford. But this goes beyond tuition. Budget is robust and factors in the entire Cost of Attendance of your graduate school. Housing, transportation, feeding, internet subscription, phone bills, etc.

It is very important you go all excel spreadsheet on this one like you are drafting the defense budget of a military superpower. You do not want to suffer the ignominy of ending up broke because you underestimated the cost of rent or even worse, the cost of feeding. So, before deciding on a school, consider the location of the school and all the associated living expenses in that area. If your visa entitles you to part time employment, factor in the projected earnings using the minimum wage of the country as a baseline and the legally permitted hours of work. Take note that it is not guaranteed that you will secure employment immediately so do not count your chickens just yet.

Check out NUMBEO to get an idea of the living costs in virtually any major city of the world. Enough said on this one. You get the point already.

Career

My guess is you are not JUST pursuing a Masters or PhD just to hang your fancy degree on a wall to stare at it all day and brag to your friends. Well ofcourse that is important, but only JUST. Chances are you want to improve your chances at getting a better job in a bigger company with a fatter paycheck.

Getting a post graduate degree is merely an objective on the path to a goal, a goal of career fulfillment. It is safe to say that your degree is simply a means to an end. Your degree is a process. Your career fulfillment is the product.

Do not get so focused on the process that you lose sight of the product. Know exactly what you want to get out of it all. Critically examine all the available options to ascertain which one is best consistent with your ultimate career goal. Leave no stone unturned especially the stones well within your reach. Do not make assumptions. Do not be passive. The internet is flooded with stories of people who regretted doing a certain program in a certain school in a certain country. You do not need to be one of them.

No step taken in the wrong direction will lead you to your destination. Be intentional in making an informed decision on what graduate school you will attend. Absolutely nothing to worry about. You will do great. It is as simple as ABC.

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