Graduate School Representatives are uniquely qualified to give an overview of a given school of interest. Prospective students can speak to representatives from graduate schools at education fairs, school presentations, and other social events. They are also usually available via email, private phone conversations, or face-to-face meetings on campus.

Students who are narrowing down the graduate school options may find it much easier to fill out their preparatory spreadsheets by gleaning as much information as possible from a graduate school representative before doing more in-depth research.

Below are some helpful questions that will assist potential graduate school students to acquire information in order to make the best decision they can regarding which graduate school to attend.

What are faculty’s background and qualifications?

Knowing the background and qualifications of the faculty in a graduate school of interest is one of the most important things a prospective student can evaluate. Doing some background research on faculty that one may study under is always worthwhile since it could be one of the most influential factors in one’s educational process. Since it takes quite a bit of time to research faculty interests, specializations, and publications of the faculty for every graduate program one may be interested in, asking a representative from a school for some faculty highlights can save time and give a head start to later research once schools of interest have been narrowed down.

Faculty interests will need to dovetail with a student’s graduate school interests in order for students to get the most out of their higher education. Students and faculty often work together on research projects and faculty sometimes sponsor students for independent research projects. Also, a student will be more likely to be accepted into a graduate school if his or her application presents areas of interest that grab the attention of the faculty in the school. Faculty in a graduate school will be writing future recommendations, recommending students for scholarships and internships, and possibly will have a tremendous impact on a student’s future, so learning as much as possible about future professors beforehand can really pay off.

How many graduate students do you usually have?

The size of a school is an important aspect of graduate school decision-making. A larger school often means a bigger name and better resources and facilities. Bigger schools usually offer a larger selection of course offerings and a diverse and numerous faculty. However, smaller schools may offer unique benefits as well.

Because there is less competition in a small school there are often more opportunities for graduate assistantships and scholarships which can make smaller schools more attractive. One-on-one mentoring and academic assistance can also be more easily acquired at a school with fewer numbers.

The size of a graduate school will likely affect the outcome of one’s graduate experience. However, for some, that may mean that choosing a small school is better and for others, a larger school will answer their purposes and goals more effectively. For example, students in the sciences or arts may find it a necessity to have facilities that will best aid their research or study. On the other hand, receiving one year of a graduate assistantship at a large school may not be as helpful as an assistantship that will last for several years at a smaller one. Lastly, remember when choosing the size of a graduate school that the faculty one studies under may be as important as a big name.

What percentage of graduate students are admitted?

The acceptance rate at graduate schools varies widely. Graduate school representatives should be able to tell prospective students what the acceptance rates are at the school they represent. The rate of acceptance at a graduate school is different than undergraduate schools in that they are usually calculated differently for each specific program of study. Therefore, a school with a high acceptance rate in music may have a history department that is much more selective due to its reputation.

The more prestigious a school is, the more competitive it will be since more prospective students will likely apply. Master’s programs will also usually be less competitive than doctoral programs. A well-funded program means more scholarships and therefore receives more applications. All of these factors affect the rate of acceptance at a graduate school. Applying to schools with varying acceptance rates will give prospective graduate students a higher likelihood of being admitted to a school that suits them.

How many students receive assistantships?

Graduate school is expensive. But thankfully, most graduate schools offer financial aid including assistantships. Assistantships pay students a stipend or offer tuition remission in return for work in the department. Work required for an assistantship may include teaching undergraduates or assisting in research. Depending on the type of assistantship one receives, the level of time commitment can vary but is usually between 5 and 20 hours. However, because a student’s work will be related to their area of study, assistantships can be very helpful in building one’s resume and work experience.

Knowing ahead of time how likely it is to receive an assistantship can strongly influence students in choosing a graduate school. Building work experience as well as graduating with less debt are important incentives for pursuing a graduate assistantship.

What is the student to faculty ratio in my program?

The student-to-faculty ratio in a graduate program will definitely affect a student’s graduate school experience and is an important fact to find out before applying to schools.

Low student-to-faculty ratios are usually correlated to stronger student development and more opportunities for students to interact with their professors. This often translates to a lower stress academic environment, higher levels of interest in students, and better results academically.

In graduate school, the student-to-faculty ratio is especially important since choosing a dissertation or research advisor usually follows the development of a good working relationship in the classroom. Because graduate work is highly specialized, a low student-to-faculty ratio gives professors the ability to assist each student in the challenging areas of a specific discipline. This helps students with a large disparity of learning styles to be more likely to flourish.

Although a low student-to-faculty ratio is not the only factor to consider when applying for graduate school, it is certainly an important question to add to one’s list of factors to consider before applying.

Is there a limit to how many years students receive assistantships?

Assistantships are often awarded on an academic-year basis. This means that most assistantships will not cover summer tuition and will likely need to be renewed each year. Graduate school programs vary in the number of semesters or years they may be applied so it is important to find out how long an assistantship will last before accepting it.

Most graduate schools will renew an assistantship for the expected number of semesters or academic years it will take students to graduate. However, assistantships are usually contingent on academic performance. Some schools will extend an assistantship on a case-by-case basis, so performing well as a student with an assistantship is very important.

Where do students usually live?

One of the challenging decisions surrounding choosing a graduate school is the environment that the school will afford. Because students will be spending years of their adult life in the graduate school they choose, determining ahead of time what that environment will look like is an important decision-making factor.

The living expenses of graduate school can also affect one’s budget pretty seriously so asking a representative where students live while they attend a specific graduate school is a good idea for financial considerations as well. If you are a solitary creature who needs space and can’t afford to live alone, then considering a graduate school in a geographical location that provides cheaper living may be a better option.

Married graduate students will want to consider living arrangements pretty carefully as well. Some may prefer to commute in order to be near a spouse’s work or to live in a family-friendly neighborhood. There will usually be a current or former student from a graduate school department that a representative can put students in touch with in order to find out what other students who have similar life situations are doing.

Is travel to meetings and conferences covered by the school?

For graduate students, whose budget is often being stretched pretty tight, attending important conferences and meetings may present financial obstacles. Some graduate schools will offer travel stipends in order to assist their students in attending academic conferences.

Because students who participate in certain conferences will raise the profile of a university, a department may offer a stipend to assist them to attend. The size of these awards can vary but often will modestly cover most if not all of the expenses involved in attending conferences such as travel and registration.

Attending conferences, submitting papers, and engaging in a wider academic community are all important aspects of succeeding academically in graduate school and beyond. Therefore, it is a good idea to find out beforehand how much financial assistance and importance a graduate school affords to these endeavors.

What can I do to increase my chances of being admitted?

The internet abounds with articles written to assist students in being admitted to graduate school. From acquiring strong recommendations to developing a one in a million CV or resume, the list of items to check off in order to make a good impression on a graduate school faculty is pretty extensive but widely represented.

However, don’t underestimate the unique aspects of each program in order to tailor an application for each school. Representatives from a graduate school may have inside information on these aspects that will give applicants an edge during their application process. New faculty members who are excited to move their department in a certain direction, or areas of specialization that are under-represented are just a couple of examples of unique departmental situations that can affect the choosing of future students.

What are the specializations of your faculty?

Another factor that greatly influences the choosing of students is the specialization of faculty members. Faculty are looking to promote the areas of interest that they have worked hard to pursue and also their own specific areas of knowledge. They will generally tend to accept students who are looking to pursue similar specializations since those students will glean the most from their tutorship.

Understanding a faculty’s strengths should also strongly influence an applicant’s choice of school. Students in graduate school are looking to refine their areas of interest which means achieving higher levels of specialization, expertise, and knowledge. Working with faculty who have honed specific abilities and interests means tapping into that expertise and efficiently furthering one’s own specializations and interests.

What is the focus of the curriculum in my area of study?

The curriculum focus of a given area of study can vary pretty considerably from one graduate school to the next. Dependent on faculty proficiencies as well as educational theory and program concentrations, what may seem a standard subject of study can become quite diverse when one is trying to narrow down options. Diversity in curricula and approaches can actually create a broader and more extensive expansion of a discipline but it is still important for each student to evaluate where they best fit in.

For example, a master’s degree in English Education may seem as though it offers a pretty standard method of instruction. However, just five options for concentrations among others are: English; Rhetoric; English Pedagogy; English Writing; English Literature; and English Film and Media Study. Each concentration within a discipline will have graduate school support and specialization unique to the development and abilities concentrated in each graduate school department. And among each concentration can be found unique presentations and pedagogical approaches which will be more or less suited to each prospective student.

What type of networking opportunities are available?

Networking in graduate school sets the groundwork for sound research, accountability, peer review, and future academic relationships. According to the American Psychological Association, “networking is defined as ‘behaviors that are aimed at building, maintaining and using informal relationships that possess the (potential) benefit of facilitating work-related activities of individuals by voluntarily granting access to resources and maximizing common advantages’ (Wolff & Moser, 2009, pp. 196-197).”

Networking is defined as “behaviors that are aimed at building, maintaining and using informal relationships that possess the (potential) benefit of facilitating work-related activities of individuals by voluntarily granting access to resources and maximizing common advantages” (Wolff & Moser, 2009, pp. 196-197).”

When considering the importance of one’s future career and work, networking could be one of the most vital aspects of one’s graduate school experience. Networking in graduate school begins through frequent contact with one’s professors which means that a low student-to-faculty ratio means high “networking” opportunities with some of the most learned persons one will ever have the opportunity of working with. Beyond this, networking extends to peer interaction during class as well as attending conferences. A graduate school that provides extensive networking opportunities will be an asset to students for the rest of their careers.

What job placement and career services do you provide?

There are some unique individuals who attend graduate school in order to continue learning in perpetuity with no thought to their future careers. However, the vast majority of graduate students are ultimately looking to find fulfilling work with a stable future income.

Graduate schools which provide healthy and extensive job placement and career services will be very helpful to students as they plan the next steps of their lives. According to an article in Wiley InterScience, “Career services tailored to the needs of graduate and professional students constitute an important strategy for fostering student success. Career services can help graduate and professional students explore careers outside academe, prepare for academic and non-academic job searches, and make the transition from graduate school to professional positions.”

Career services range from career centers that will assist in crafting resumes and even developing a personal website to specialized career management and placement offices for each department. These tailored services are unique and oriented around the need of students to develop skills and relationships which will place them in stellar positions for future employment. It is the departmental career and job placement services that should be inquired about of graduate school representatives as those will be most apropos to a graduate student’s specific situation.

What are some of your graduates doing now?

Anecdotes are representative as well as inspirational. Hearing the success stories of students who graduated from a school as well as how readily available and prevalent such stories are will reflect the success of a given graduate school.

Some stories are isolated success narratives that reflect the ambition and ability of an individual student while others are an obvious link to the input of the graduate school itself. When a list of strong and successful graduates can easily be acquired, this is a sure sign that the school is doing its job to create exceptional graduates and future world-changers. These are environments where students will be continually challenged and inspired as they hone their abilities, knowledge, and research skills. They are environments that any prospective student would seek to be a part of.

Without getting carried away by the “sales pitch” of a graduate representative, listen carefully to what they have to say about past students of the school and where those students are working currently.

Although success stories inspire future students and heighten the reputation of a school, statistics are also an important factor to inquire about and to consider. This leads us to our last important question for graduate school representatives which is the hardcore numbers of job placement rates.

What is your graduate job placement rate?

As the number of graduate students increases along with the number of professionals who have acquired a master’s or doctoral degree, the job placement rate becomes an increasingly important factor in choosing a graduate school. Schools with degree programs that show a higher rate of success academically will usually have a much easier time placing their graduates in successful work situations.

Related closely to the success stories of a school, the sheer number of employed graduates will speak volumes for the success rate of a school. Graduate students often find themselves in related areas of work that they didn’t at first envision. Therefore a graduate school must give students the holistic and thinking tools that they need to diversify their specializations.

All of the factors which prospective students must consider when evaluating a graduate school will likely combine and translate into high graduate job placement rates. In order to find gainful and fulfilling employment, be sure to evaluate all factors carefully when choosing a graduate school, and be sure to create a column on your spreadsheet for each school’s graduate job placement rate.