I think you will all agree that deciding exactly which graduate programs to apply to is TOUGH! The grad school search is seriously strenuous, yet the very first question friends/family/faculty will ask you is where you will be applying.
It was the number one question I received whenever I mentioned grad school applications. I also found that it was the hardest question to answer.
The question always sounded so casual, “So where are you applying?” ...As if I'd had one specific place in mind forever! My first thought was always:
How do you choose a small handful of programs to apply to out of the hundreds that exist in the U.S. alone?! How do I find the right grad school for me?
The U.S. has such a vast variety of schools that offer incredible graduate programs. Determining the exact list of schools to send your application to takes time - and some pretty extensive research!
Choosing the schools you want to apply to is so much more than picking them out of a hat (even though it may certainly seem like that is what we are doing sometimes!). Discovering and further selecting your top schools to apply to is a complex process, but it can be made much easier by narrowing down your options.
The whole "narrowing down your options" deal can seem exhausting, too. But, not so much if you ask yourself what you are truly looking for. In this post, I have compiled a list of 5 simple questions to ask yourself to guide you in discovering your perfect grad school program.
At the end of the post, I include a couple of links to sites that will assist you in searching for schools. First, jot down your answers to these questions, then check out those helpful sites!
1. How far From Home are You Willing to Travel for Grad School?
This may be the single best question that will help you narrow down your search. Think about whether you can see yourself living far away from home for the next two years. If you can't, you can easily narrow your search to find schools within a drivable radius of your hometown.
While the U.S. does have hundreds of incredible programs, not all areas have large numbers of programs within a proximal driving distance. It is also important to keep in mind that there are thousands of people in your same shoes. Narrowing down options too much can decrease chances of acceptance for first-time applicants.
Driving Distance for Special Occasions
Say you just want to be able to get home easily for holidays and weekends. If this is your preference, narrow your search to within 2-4 hours of your home. 4 hours may sound like a long drive, but again, you don’t want to narrow your search too much.
Living at Home
If you are planning on actually living at home while you complete your program, you can narrow your search to schools within roughly an hour of where you live. However, there may not be many, if any, programs quite that close to your hometown. If there aren't any schools within driving distance, another option you have is to look into online programs.
There are certain online programs that allow you to complete clinical hours (as well as your courses) online. This type of program may be ideal for some applicants. Others, however, might question how to gain all clinical knowledge needed to enter our profession. This is because certain programs may not provide experience with any in-person interaction between SLP and client.
Some online programs may also allow students to inquire about setting up observations with local schools, hospitals, outpatient clinics, etc. Some programs may have contracts with various schools or hospitals to provide students with intervention hours as well.
That being said, how you will obtain necessary clinical hours in a hands-on setting is a great question to ask if you choose to contact online programs.
2. Are You Interested in Traveling Farther Away for Grad School?
Many of us are thrill-seekers and explorers, and may be interested in going somewhere farther away from the comfort of your hometown, home state, or even home country for grad school! If this description fits you, you will likely be looking for a school that both:
Matches your career interests and ideal environment, and
Is located somewhere off your parents’ ideal map of potential graduate schools (sorry mom!)
Even though you may be down to go just about anywhere, you likely have specific opinions on what exactly “going somewhere new” means to you.
Is it somewhere warm and sunny? How about a busy city? Maybe it’s somewhere near snowy mountains. Regardless, you likely have somewhat of an idea of a climate or setting in which you’d like to spend the next two years of your life.
However, if you’re not so sure, there are plenty of ways to seek out the programs in your ideal location. The resource I provide in the last question of this post may help you find some potential destinations!
3. What are Your Specific Interests?
This is a great question to ask yourself before you begin looking into programs. If you have specific interests within your field, find out whether a program offers related courses or clinical experiences. Finding this information out can help you easily narrow down your search.
Specific interests may be as broad as medical- vs. school-based Speech Pathology. Some people just know they want to work in a hospital. Others can’t picture themselves anywhere but an elementary school.
Interests can also be as narrow as research in a specific disorder. For example, I am interested in medical speech pathology, but specifically in TBI (traumatic brain injury) and dysphagia (swallowing disorder). During my grad school search, I kept my interests in mind as I scrolled through each program’s site.
By searching with my specific interests in mind, I was able quickly skim through any research projects a program completed. This allowed me to easily discover whether any of the school’s researchers had similar interests as me, simply by skimming through their “Research” page. Whenever I saw either of my interests listed as the same interests of a certain professor, I would click on their bio to learn more about their research.
This allowed me to form an opinion about the school fairly easily. I presumed the researchers would likely be the professors I would be learning from when I would attend the program. Because you’ll likely be learning from these professors, it's important to find a school that researches topics you’re interested in.
It may be hard to find schools that research your exact interests. If this is the case, you can take a look at the professor, assistant professor, and supervising faculty bios. These bios may be found in a separate tab on the school's site titled “Faculty”.
The bios typically contain any specific research or clinical interests the staff has. The page should provide the person’s email address. Having this information allows you to easily contact the person who shares your passions within the field of Speech-Language Pathology.
You can ask the person if they are willing to meet with you to discuss the program whenever you visit. Some schools even set up individual visits, and will ask if there is a specific professor you’d like to meet with. When such questions arise, they are very easy to answer if you have already done your research!
If you are not visiting the specific program, you could simply send the person of interest a short email displaying your similar interests. You can ask whether you will have the opportunity to learn more about the specific topics in courses or clinic if you were to attend their program.
You can also find out the chances that specific professors will have Research Assistant openings in their lab at the time you would be attending their program. This topic brings us to another important question…
4. What Kind of Financial Aid Are You Seeking in Grad School?
Financial aid is a necessity for many students. A big downfall of some programs is that they simply don’t offer it, and some only offer certain forms of financial aid. For example, some programs offer scholarships students must apply to. Other programs instead offer opportunities such as Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships.
If you are seeking scholarships, it is important to find out what scholarships your department offers. Not all departments offer scholarships to first-year graduate students who didn’t come from their undergraduate program. Schools will do this because even though your transcript says you have great academic abilities, your work ethic may be a different story. The program may wish to get to know you as a student before dishing out the cash.
Finding out what the general graduate school offers is also a great idea for those seeking financial aid. Many programs are apart of a “general graduate school”. This means a broader school that oversees various operations of the graduate programs within it. Often times the graduate school will have many more scholarship opportunities for students to apply for.
The most important thing to ask when finding out about scholarships you can apply to is when you can expect their application deadlines. Deadlines are important to keep track of, which is something I will be discussing in a future post.
Graduate Assistantship Positions
If you are seeking financial aid that will cover half or all of your tuition, you may want to look into Graduate Assistantships, Teaching Assistantships, and Research Assistantships. The hours for such positions are typically 10 or 20 hours per week. Some assistantships will provide a stipend on top of paying for your tuition.
The stipend will vary depending on position, department, and number of hours worked per week. Some departments offer monthly stipends, some offer bi-weekly, and some only offer a one-time, flat rate received at the end of the semester. These are also important points you will want to keep track of.
It will be very helpful if you can narrow down schools based on the types of financial aid they offer, and this information is typically easy to find on each school’s website. Look for a “Financial Aid” or “Funding” tab for more information.
5. Do You Just Want to Get the Best Possible Education from Your Grad School?
You might just want the absolute best education you could possibly get, without too much concern for location/aid/research projects. This is where discovering the top schools comes into play. If this describes you, the following sites just may become your best friends.
U.S. News Rankings
US News Rankings is where I based my search. Not only did I base my search here because I wanted to go to a school that would provide me with an amazing education, but also because their layout is SO easy to navigate.
US News provides each school’s ranking and location in list form. This makes it so convenient for users to browse through the ~250 top schools while quickly seeing where they’re located. This was a huge help to me because it allowed me to discover potential schools based on location and rank. Then I was able to dig deeper into the type of program they ran and research they completed.
You can also search the programs based on specific states. The site will take you to another page that displays the schools, their rankings, and the town they're located in. Simply select a state or two that you’d like to live in, and you can see all of their highly-ranked schools.
So, say when scrolling through the site, you finally find a school you are interested in. You can click on the school name, and the site will direct you to a more descriptive page. Here, US News displays the school’s exact website, and even shows you the school’s other top-ranked programs.
Another great resource is ASHA’s EdFind. On this site, you can search through programs based on degree type, area of study, and location. Once you narrow your search, you can click on the specific schools and find out more information.
EdFind displays information such as whether the school is accredited – which is an important factor to consider. EdFind also displays the school’s previous average class GPA, average GRE scores, and number of degrees given per semester.
I highly recommend checking out these two sites as you continue your grad school search! They were both a huge help to me, and I hope they will be for you, too.
Remember, before adding a school to your list, use the Grad School Organization Template spreadsheet to keep track of all of your potential schools' information. Then, make sure they pass the Checklist for Adding A School to Your List before you finalize your application list! Both of these items are found in our DIY Grad School Application Success Bundle!
It is completely okay to be unsure of exactly where you want to apply for grad school!
When I was applying, I had no idea where to even start in my search for a concise list of schools! I asked myself these questions to help me seriously narrow down my search. I first looked into rankings, location, and whether or not my interests were shared with the faculty. Finally, I looked into the financial aid offered at each school.
Asking myself these questions proved to be the most efficient way to compose my list of schools and ultimately find the right grad school for me! I hope this post has helped ease your grad school search. If you are looking for ways to organize your school information, check out 11 Best Organization Tips for Grad School Applicants.
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