Thinking About Graduate School
Master of Arts (MA)
MA/PhD Combined Degree
As you begin thinking about graduate study you need to carefully consider your reasons for wanting to attend graduate school. Graduate school is a significant academic challenge as well as a major financial commitment. Selecting a graduate school isn't going to be like applying to undergraduate colleges. You must have a clear idea of the course of study you want to pursue. At the graduate level you are looking for a particular department, or even a program within a department. In many cases, students select a graduate program because of one or two professors at the institution who conduct research in a specialized field. There are close to 2,000 institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees -- your task, through careful research, is to find the programs that match your academic background, interests, professional goals and personal preferences.
Start with the faculty members you know here at Binghamton. They're the experts in the field and are an invaluable source of information. Also, if there are graduate students you know in your intended field of study, ask their advice. Just a few years ago they were looking for graduate schools themselves. Consult the general guides, such as Peterson's, and rankings, like US News, (see the following list for some good places to start). An excellent website is maintained by the Council of Graduate Schools.
Start to check out the websites of departments that interest you. As you begin to narrow down your list, contact the Graduate Director or Chairperson of the department if you have specific questions. If at all possible, visit the department. Talk to faculty and graduate students there, sit in on a class (if possible). If you can't visit, ask if there are graduate students you can speak with by phone or email. You need to find a department that offers a degree program that matches your academic interests and will help you to achieve your goals. But you also need to consider other factors. You will be spending the next few years of your life there, so try to determine if this is a place where you would be comfortable. There are many questions to ask about the department, the university, the surrounding community; some will be of importance to you -- others will not. For example:
- Is the program large or small?
- Is there a highly competitive spirit among the graduate students or a more cooperative one?
- Are faculty mentors accessible?
- What are the research opportunities and facilities like?
- What's the setting of the university, city/suburb/more rural? How far is it from home?
- What's the gender, racial, ethnic, religious mix?
- What's the cost of living?
- Is there affordable housing?
A number of factors, academic as well as quality of life issues, should guide your selection.