GradApps: Choosing the Schools

Here is the 3rd post of our graduate applications series. If you have missed the earlier posts you should check out them here:  on GRE, on TOEFL .

When is the Time to Decide ?

 The application deadlines for most good schools are in mid-December. Hence, ideally you should be done deciding by November. Keep in mind that you won't be able to finalise the list of schools until and unless you get your GRE and TOEFL score since you have to check them with the cut-off of the respective schools. That's why you need to get these exams done by October at the latest as discussed in the previous posts.

Non-Academic Points to Keep in Mind...

 Let's start with the points not directly related to academics first.

1. Funding

This is probably the most important point unless you have the capability and will to invest thousands of dollars into your graduate education. You have to check whether your program of interest funds graduate students and to what extent. You can get this information by visiting the program website. If it is unclear you must contact the admission office and clarify. As a rule of thumb keep in mind almost all good masters programs in the US are unfunded or only partially funded. Ingermany, most good universities have 0 tution cost, but other than that chances of scholarship is low, top universities in Canada like UBC, UWaterloo, UofT have funded masters. PhD programs in good schools are in general funded but there are exceptions and therefore you should be sure to check.

2. Weather

Although this point may seem obvious, You should consider the weather very seriously. ALthough it may seem fun or adventurous to go to a place with vastly different weather from your home, it may come with many unwanted consequences. Your mind and body is optimized to operte in a certain kind of weather and going to a place with drastically different weather may effect your academic efficiency along with mental and physical health adversely.

3.  Future Prospect

For those who hope to join industries or research on foreign soil should keep in mind the future prospect while selecting grad schools. This primarily means reputation along with networking opportunity. Simmply stating a reputed grad school near Silicon Valley is more likely to land you a job there than schools afar from it.

Academic Considerations

This is the most important part of the whole story. Let's look at it pointwise.

  • Judge Your Strength: The main problem with school selection is that you may end up aiming too high or too low. Hence, the first thing is deviding your schools of interest into 3 categories. First, Safe, schools that you are almost sure to get in given your academic experience. Second, Ambitious, schools that you may be able to get into but shall require an excellent application and good interview performance. Finally, Dream, schools you may only get in if you are extremely lucky given your credentials but nevertheless you want to take a shot at it.                                                                              
  • Judge Your Interest: It is important that you have specific interests and apply to programs that conform to those interests. This will hugely help you in writing your SOP. Don't just apply to places with big name programs. For example: Computer Science PhD at CMU is very well known, but suppose your specific research interest in CS is topic A while CMU is not well known for research in topic A or no research group is actively wworking on topic A. In this kind of cases you should reconsider whether you want to apply to CMU CS at all. Because if you apply to this program your background and SOP may not align with any research group's interest and there's a high chnce of you getting rejected. Hence, look for research groups with which you have a very strong match of both interest and background.                     
  • Contact the Profs: Contact the professors or admission office to get to know more about the programs. It is always helpful during the application period. You may get to know information that are not present or clearly stated on the program website. Also, you will be able to judge whether your interest really matches the program you are applying to.                                 
  • Program Duration and Structure: Programs vary on there duration and structure , program duration has effect on your visa and other related details which can effect you in future while you are looking for job. And program structure will help you judge whether you are interested in all the courses you have to do, whether there is enough flexibility to personalize the program. 
Lastly, if you are unsure about your chances in some program you should vosot the results section of TheGradCafe . It is a crowdsourced result log of previous years. The profiles given next to accepted and rejected results will help you judge your own position to some extent. You can also browse theGradCafe forums for more valuable informations. For PhD applicants here's a crowdsourced database of stipends of various PhD programs which may come  handy :
We wish you all the luck. The next post on our Grad Applications series shall deal with components of  a graduate school application and after that we shall dive deep into each of those.

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