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May 2011 - Choosing the Right Graduate Program

Choosing the Right Graduate Program

As an undergraduate student, you more than likely chose your college or university based upon location, cost, and/or the reputation of the program.  Although these qualities are important in deciding upon any academic program, searching for the right graduate program will likely require you to spend significantly more time and effort in order to determine which program is best suited for your needs and interests.    Below are some of the qualities and characteristics of graduate programs that you may want to consider prior to applying and/or accepting an offer from a graduate program:

  1. University, Department and Program Goals

    Clearly understand the mission, goals and objectives for the university, department and program.  If your goals do not match that of the university, department, or program, you may want to consider something that better matches your intended goals.  Having a dissimilar vision and goals may result in unwanted stress and frustration.

  2. Curriculum

    Obtain and review the program’s curriculum including optional electives that are offered.  Most programs specialize in a particular area with regards to a degree.  For example, some Exercise Science programs may focus on strength and conditioning, while others focus on physical activity, human performance or chronic disease.  Be sure to find a program that specializes in your area of interest.

  3. Mentors
  4. Find a mentor who is actively conducting and presenting research in your area of interest.  You may want to observe him or her (or his/her research assistants) to better understand the type of research that is being conducted, the level of involvement you may have as a student researcher, and the expectations that the researcher has for his/her students.  You may also want to consider the relationship between the research mentor and their student research assistants with regards to their ability to communicate, counsel, mentor, and support the students.

  5. Lab facilities and equipment

    Determine whether the program has sufficient lab space and equipment for your needs as a researcher.  If the program does not have the appropriate space or equipment for your research project, consider collaborating with another department, research lab or hospital that may be able to share space or equipment.  If your needed equipment is not available, you may consider  writing a grant in order to obtain the necessary equipment.

  6. Funding
  7. Interdisciplinary opportunities

    Determine whether there are opportunities for collaborative learning or interdisciplinary research amongst other research laboratories or departments on your campus.   There are usually several professionals who can provide you with multiple perspectives and opportunities in order to enhance your education and research. 

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