If you are considering moving to the United States to pursue a graduate program, or if you are already in the US and want to enroll in a graduate degree you likely have many different options to choose from. What program you commit to will determine not just your academic or career trajectory, but have a significant impact on your life as a whole. How do you know what program is right for you?
Most people refer to online rankings, availability of funding, and look at the research profiles of faculty members to get a sense of their fit in a particular program. But if you dig deeper there are more indicators that can serve as reliable indicators of whether a program is the right choice for you.
The process of enrolling in a graduate program is highly individualized – what counts as a perfect fit for someone else might not be the right choice for you, even if the said person is in the same field of study as you.
Start by trying to evaluate your own priorities. People pursue a graduate degree for a multitude of reasons – research experience, improved job outcomes, geographical mobility, or any number of other things. Appraise any potential graduate program you are considering based on your priorities.
Here are some potential leads to pursue if you are not sure how to find more intel on a graduate program beyond what is advertised on their website:
Contact current graduate students in the program
Speaking with peers will help you understand some general expectations of being a part of the program or of working with certain professors. You can try to get a sense of the culture of the department as well. For example, you can enquire about whether graduate students in the department work collaboratively or if individual projects are encouraged; whether pursuing internship opportunities is encouraged in the department, and so on. Most departments have email information of current students on their website, and you will find that many of them are happy to engage with potential graduate students. The responses that you receive will help you assess whether the program is suitable to meet your needs.
Schedule conversations with professors in the department
This is particularly true in case you are interested in working with a certain professor. Request a time to connect with them and if you get a chance to have a conversation make sure to seek information beyond their research project. What is the average time to degree completion for their graduate students? What are the job outcomes of recent graduate students? These are just some of the questions that will help you determine how well the program aligns with your priorities.
Connect with the international student community at the potential university
Most universities have some international organizations and you can usually find their information online. Reach out to students that are part of any such organizations to understand what life is like as an international student in that community. Is there an easy availability of transportation or housing around the area? Be sure to enquire about any challenges that they might have faced.
These will all be useful in giving you a holistic picture of what being an international graduate student in your program of interest is going to be like. A graduate program is a significant commitment and it is important to try to ensure that you will have a positive experience. Happy exploring!