This time last year, I was fully entrenched in the hunt for my perfect postgraduate course. After months of scouring the web, touring campuses, and spam-emailing my (eventual) course director, I emerged with a final commitment to The University of Manchester.
I’m not going to lie – the search was agonizing. Grad school is a huge investment – personally, financially, and academically – which makes your decision excruciatingly difficult.
For those who have recently been embarking on the grad school quest, or those who may consider it further down the road, here are a few questions that may help guide your decision.
1. What do you want to study?
Sorry to state the obvious, but you don’t waste your time pursuing the wrong course. If you’re already considering postgrad courses, you likely have some sense of what you like (and don’t like) to study. Do some serious soul searching and research what each course will offer you academically.
2. What do you want to get out of it?
You can think of postgrad courses like expensive and incredibly stressful career prep: it grants you time and resources to develop the skills you’ll need for your first postgrad job.
When I started looking for MSc courses, I began by identifying my ultimate career goal (no matter how lofty). Once you have an end goal, you’ll be able to filter out programmes that will or won’t give you the appropriate training.
3. Where do you want to live?
As someone who’s sensitive to my environment, location was extremely important to me when finding my postgrad course. If you’re like me, you want to study somewhere that fits your personality, encourages your development, and offers new experiences.
Think of places, climates, and people you’d like to explore. If these ideas matter to you during your degree, consider finding programmes located in certain areas.
4. Where do you want to end up?
Perhaps you want to complete your degree abroad, but immediately settle down back home. Or maybe you envision yourself moving to a specific city upon graduation. Regardless of your goals, you’ll want to consider where you physically want to be once you finish your degree.
During your postgrad year (or years, for you strong-willed PhD students), you make valuable connections. If networking is big in your field, your whereabouts may influence who you meet. And those people may just be looking for new employees.
5. What can you afford?
The question everyone dreads most! School isn’t cheap. We’re all aware of this. This is why you must be realistic when searching for your perfect graduate programme.
If you find a programme that really speaks to you, look up alternative funding. Do you qualify for any scholarships? Does the university offer financial aid? What about loans? And if you’re searching for PhD courses, try to find fully-funded options.
6. Who is the faculty?
Read up on who will be teaching your courses. Get a sense of their interests and see if they align with your own. These folks will eventually oversee your own research, so it’s important to know that your passions will be well received.
7. What do past students have to say?
So, you’ve found a cool programme and everything looks great on paper. But before you take the plunge, I strongly, strongly, STRONGLY encourage you to talk to past and current students.
During my interview for my UoM postgrad course, I asked my programme director if he could put me in touch with a current student. Through a series of emails, I was able to ask dozens of questions that the course website, faculty, and reviews could never provide. I learned everything from student dynamics to volunteer opportunities to study tips, all of which greatly equipped me for my year here.
8. Does it just feel right?
Like any other big decision, don’t neglect your gut. Listen to your intuition when hunting for postgrad courses. If anything about it doesn’t seem right – the location, reviews, career prospects, or even the style of the campus or lectures – don’t prioritise that programme.
There’s no right answer when choosing a grad programme, and everything is different depending on your own story, ambitions, and values. So do diligent research, reach out, and listen to your gut, and hopefully you’ll have your dream postgrad course lined up in no time!