Choosing the Perfect Grad Program

By: Katie

This past year, I have been going through the daunting process of choosing a graduate program. It’s a process I began during the spring semester of my junior year, and one I’m still not quite done with a year later. From choosing programs to apply to, to actually applying, to interviewing, and to committing to attend a program, getting into graduate school is no easy feat. There are several items to consider during this process. Here are the ones that have been most important to me.

Choosing Grad Program

Program Emphasis or Focus

The first part of choosing a grad program includes looking beyond the basic area of study to what exactly you want to specialize in or focus on in your program. For me, this meant finding a counseling program that would provide me with a broad education, but also allow me to take elective courses in certain specific areas. Making sure your program’s focus or potential specialty areas are right for you is essential.

Location

This could be as broad as a country you want to be in or as specific as a certain area in a specific city. I knew I wanted to move out of Minnesota and the midwest for grad school, so I selected a few states I would like to live in to focus my search. When you decide where you want to go, you are committing to living in that place for the duration of your program (and possibly beyond). Finding a location you’re happy with is important!

Accreditation

Once I knew what type of program I wanted and where I wanted it to be, I then focused on schools with CACREP accreditation. Based on conversations with those in the counseling field, I was recommended to focus on programs with this top-notch accreditation. For this factor, it’s definitely helpful to ask those in your field what you should be looking for in a quality program.

Program Fit

After making a list of potential programs based on the above factors, I looked more specifically at which programs could be a good fit. “Fit” is an important aspect of this process for you in choosing programs and for the programs in choosing you. Being in a program that’s a good fit is essential for your success and satisfaction in the program. For me, this process involved finding programs less focused on research and more focused on the client-counselor relationship, personal growth, cultural competency, and a variety of other factors.

Practicums and Internships

This factor includes any experiential, hands-on, out-of-classroom opportunities in your program. I looked at when I would complete practicums and internships, what they would be like, and where students in the program are placed. That last piece is important, because you don’t want to end up in a program where you won’t be able to get the field experience in the specific area you’re interested in.

Cost of Living

The program’s cost and available financial assistance are important, but it’s also important to look at how much it will cost to simply be alive in the city you’ll be in. This was something I didn’t really think about when choosing programs to apply to, but now that I’m almost at the point of committing to a program, it has become a concern. The two programs I’m currently deciding between vary greatly in this area (on rent cost in particular), so this is something I’ll be considering.

Gut Instinct

After looking at all the above factors, I know I’ll be making my final decision based on which program just “feels right.” Based on tours of the campuses and cities and my impression of the program from my interviews and conversations with staff and faculty, I’ll determine which one is the best grad program for me.

The factors I’ve listed here are only a handful of items to consider when choosing a grad program. For help in this stressful process, I definitely recommend scheduling an appointment with one of our Career Counselors to gain some clarity!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Katie’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Lia Leslie

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