How to choose the right graduate program

Choosing the right graduate program can be tough.

How to choose the right graduate program

If you know that you want to attend graduate school, but you’re not sure which program to choose, you’re not alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that even in favorable economic times, grad school could be worth it. People with graduate degrees tend to have lower rates of unemployment, while also having higher weekly salaries. In other words, graduate school makes sense for a lot of people. But, only you can decide if it’s the right move for you.

If more education is in your future, you’re going to want to choose a program. How do you even do that?

4 Tips for choosing the right graduate program

#1 Choose based on outcome

Leah Herr is Concordia University Wisconsin’s Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions. She advises people to think about outcome first. “It’s important to really think through your goals and evaluate where you want to end up,” she suggests. Additionally, you should try to be as clear as possible with your end goal. That way, you can brainstorm the path or paths toward reaching this goal. In doing your research, you might find that you don’t actually need a graduate degree. It’s better to figure that out before you invest time and money into school. On the other hand, your research might confirm that grad school is the right choice for you, and that there are actually multiple programs that will help you achieve your desired outcome.

Herr offers suggestions for people who don’t have a clear outcome in mind yet. “Talk to admissions counselors and program directors,” she says. “Attend webinars and open houses if you can. This will help you get a real feel for the programs you’re looking at and allow your heart to help guide you.”

Furthermore, you can ask to talk to recent graduates and/or current students about what their experience has been like. In doing this, you’ll get to see how the particular program you’re looking at helped someone else meet their goals. Obviously, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily fit for all people. But, actually talking to someone who experienced the program could help you picture yourself in it.


#2 Choose based on return on investment

For some professions, a graduate degree is a sure way to increase your earning potential. Before choosing a program, be sure to research salaries in the location you want to work to get a realistic picture of what could be available to you after you finish your program. Then, when you look at the cost of graduate school, you’ll be able to calculate if your return on investment is worthwhile. Herr reminds people: “Master’s degrees aren’t always going to gain you a new job or bump you up in pay, but they can make you better at the job you’re currently doing.”

When you’re considering your return on investment, don’t forget to include factors beyond finances. Alumni networks and clubs are great ways to stay connected after graduation and to foster professional development. Does your program offer lend itself well to these things?

Concordia University Ann Arbor‘s Director of Enrollment, Kyle Thoms, weighs in on this: “Graduate school is a great way to expand your educational and professional journey. Building your network and collaborating with the professors, students, and other professionals is a benefit of graduate school no matter what program you choose.”

Don’t overlook these crucial factors when determining which program is right for you.


#3 Choose based on program delivery

With so many options available for graduate school, chances are that you can “do school” the way you want to. If program flexibility is one of your top priorities, choosing a program that you can complete online might be ideal. Some programs will allow you to complete your coursework at your own pace, without needing to attend class at the same time throughout the duration of the course.

Other programs might have courses with specific virtual meeting times where attendance is taken. If online learning is new to you, you’re not alone.  There is still the option to go to graduate school in-person, if that’s a high priority for you. However, online learning platforms have come a long way. You can talk with your admissions counselor as well as your program director about what support is available to you as an online student.

In addition to considering your learning medium, think about whether you’d prefer to attend grad school part-time or full-time.


#4 Choose based on university focus

When you’re looking for the right-fit graduate program, start by researching the university’s specialties. While a university might be considered a “good school”, it might not have what you’re looking for in your particular area of study. This is why Herr’s point about talking to admissions counselors and program directors is so important. Some of the best scholars in your chosen program might be serving at universities that you weren’t even considering. Researching the faculty is always a good idea when choosing the right graduate school program.


Gathering information and going for it

Ultimately, only you can decide which graduate school program is right for you. While no program is perfect, taking time to research these four aspects will help you make a choice that meets your needs. If you want more information about graduate school programs, or if you want to talk to someone about what your options are, you can request more information here. They’re equipped to help answer your questions and connect you to the information you need.

This blog was originally published on 09/29/2021. It has been updated to reflect current information.

— Vanessa Lane is the Content Marketing Lead at Concordia University and can be reached at When she's not at work, she can be found playing with her kids or watching NBA basketball with her husband.

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