Graduate programs may seem similar in terms of degrees – M.A., M.S. MBA or Ph.Ds – but in fact they can be very different in terms of the training they offer, the type of approach to academic work and in terms of the kind of specialist you will become. For example, a particular school may offer a specialized training in only a specific range of subdisciplines. One university program in Economics may offer a fantastic training in econometrics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic development and planning, etc. Another university by be strong in the areas of labor economics, environmental and natural resources economics, public economics, and industrial organization. A doctoral student in either program would specialize in just one area.
It is extremely important that you as a candidate have found the right match between your INTERESTS, CREDENTIALS AND CAREER GOALS and that of the program you are applying to. Admissions officers will reject an applicant who fails to show that the match is right, no matter how strong your academic credentials are.
When you are looking for an undergraduate college, your strong considerations may be location, public vs. private university, or general reputation of the university. When selection graduate schools, these considerations should be less important. Some excellent graduate programs are in less-known or less reputable universities, and specialists in the field know this. For example, the University of Maryland and University of Minnesota have excellent math departments. University of Kansas has an excellent architecture school.
There are two key factors in deciding your graduate school:
- Your specific goals
- The strengths of the particular program
- The match between your goals, your program and the expertise of its faculty members.
Many candidates choose graduate schools because of the networking opportunities it will provide them. This may be particularly true for MBA programs. However, a strong foundation and interested faculty can overtrump a program network. Many smaller programs have stronger networks than some of the more reputable programs.
The Classic Way:
Most students begin the search by:
- identifying a university followed by,
- identifying a department and thirdly,
- scanning websites and materials until they find a match between faculty/program and their interests.
This can work.
The Innovative Way:
A better way may be to:
- find who is doing what in your area of interest by scanning publications, articles, THEN
- finding where they teach and thirdly,
- going to the relevant university site and find out more about them and the program