When thinking about grad school, you’ll be faced with several important decisions that will determine the course of your academic career.
From picking the right program to deciding your thesis, it’s important to research all of your options carefully to ensure a successful and enjoyable grad school experience. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with a checklist on how to approach each crucial decision.
1. Picking a program
It’s not only your solid GPA that will get you into grad school! Along with grades, most admission committees consider applications that have the strongest match between what the applicant is looking for and what the program offers. This is why it’s important to choose a program that fits well with your current experience and aligns with your future career goals.
- What kind of career do you want to have?
- Does your ideal job require this specific program or grad school in general?
- How will this program give you a solid foundation of expertise needed for your career?
- Are you broadening your scope of knowledge on your field of study, or specializing in a certain topic?
- Does the program offer Co-op or MBA Abroad opportunities?
2. Picking the right school
There’s a good chance your grad program is offered at several universities, all with different advantages, coursework and electives, and funding options. Depending on what you’re looking for, here are some good questions to research:
- What kind of funding package does this school provide grad students?
- Does the school provide better options for funding such as scholarships, bursaries, and grants than others?
- Does the program at this school have a good reputation?
- Is a specialized program only offered at this school?
- If part of your program, does the school have a variety of electives that interest you?
- Does this school have a supervisor that matches closely with your interests and potential research?
3. Financing options
It’s no surprise that grad school comes with a hefty price tag, but don’t let this discourage you from applying! There are plenty of financing options for grad students who take advantage of their school’s funding packages and scholarships. Lessen the blow of student debt by exploring these important queries:
- Does the program offer work opportunities such as Teaching or Research Assistantships?
- What kinds of endowed and/or entrance scholarships does the school offer?
- What government-funded grants, bursaries, and scholarships are you eligible for?
- Is the program structured in a way that allows you to work part-time if need be? For example: is a one-year program possible to do in two years? Are there classes offered at a time that is convenient for your work schedule?
4. Choosing a supervisor
Your supervisor can make or break your grad school experience. The supervisor-student relationship is one of the most important factors of a grad student’s success, so choose wisely:
- Find a suitable supervisor by visiting departmental websites of a particular university, and looking through their publications and journal articles. This should give you a good idea of their research interests and whether they align with your own.
- Choose a person that you feel comfortable around, and can talk honestly and open with. You will be working with this person for a year or more, so it’s in your interest to pick someone you enjoy spending time with.
- Try to go with a supervisor that doesn’t have too many students already – they will have more time and resources to work with you and your research.
- If you’ve never met or had a class with your potential supervisor, get in touch with their former grad students to learn more about their personality and work style.
5. Choosing electives
For most grad programs, you’ll be able to pick a handful of electives to complete your required credits to graduate. This step is important as it will allow you to fill any gaps in your program with relevant courses that will further your post-graduation career opportunities.
Try to avoid taking courses unrelated to your program – your electives should support your research and give you tangible, ‘marketable’ skills. For example:
- Consider taking electives that will help you egg-cel in your career later on, such as leadership and management courses. For instance, if your focus is International Studies, you could take a foreign language class to boost your skills.
- Choose electives that will build ‘soft skills’, like professional writing or a group project-based course. These strengths – particularly communication, problem-solving, and teamwork – are routinely listed by employers as the most sought-after qualities in the workplace.
6. Deciding on your thesis
With the abundance of topics you can explore, choosing a thesis can be difficult. The key to a good thesis is finding a specific research topic that egg-cites you, has gaps for you to explore, and fits your career trajectory. Then, once you’ve narrowed down your topic ideas, consider the time and funding needed for each research area to see which one is the most practical.
Here are more important factors to think about when choosing a thesis topic:
- Is it interesting to you and your supervisor? Are you enthusiastic about the topic, and likely to remain interested in it?
- Be practical – what is realistic for you to take on?
- Will you need research ethics board approval? If you will be working with people or animals for your thesis, you might need this and you won’t be able to start your research until it’s completed.
- It’s common that your supervisor will work with you to find a topic and give you guidance in weekly meetings. Write down topic ideas, address them throughout the semester with your supervisor, and ask for feedback on turning the idea into a thesis.
- What do your future employers require? Are they looking for peer reviewed journals articles? If so, pick a topic that can be effectively turned into an article.
Pursuing graduate studies is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Take your time and think hard about what you want to study. Doing some self-reflection now will save you from major headaches later on!