Researching schools may seem like a mundane task, but overlooking the importance of this process can lead to less-than-ideal admissions outcomes. The goal of researching schools is to find a set of schools that fits your interests, long-term career needs, and admissions timeline.
If you don’t put in the work now, you’ll find yourself rushed and maybe even completely adrift later in the admissions process; especially if you earn a lower test score than expected, lose a recommender, or simply come to realize that you’re not as qualified an applicant as you thought. Thorough, thoughtful research can dampen the negative impacts of all sorts of admissions roadblocks. With that in mind, let’s get started…
The most important thing to know about researching schools is that finding schools is the easy part; the hard part is defining the types of schools you want to apply to and why. The details of determining exactly what type of schools you should apply to is the topic for another article, but there are some things you need to make sure you’ve identified before you started researching:
- Long-term goals: What you’re looking to get out of your graduate school program (e.g., network, functional expertise, career catalyst)?
- Achievability: One of the areas that applicants really struggle with is figuring out what’s achievable. In most cases, a candidate aspires to attend a target school for which his profile is simply not strong enough. You need to be realistic with yourself about which schools you can get into based on your GPA, test scores, and work experience. It’s OK to have an aggressive school search list if that’s what’s important to you, but understand that a more ambitious list of target schools does not guarantee better admissions results.
- Boundaries: Set your timeline for when you would like to go to school (e.g., definitely now, hopefully now, later, etc.) and what schools you’re willing to apply to. You also need to think about what types of programs you’re willing to consider and in what locations. If you don’t set these boundaries you may end up chasing a number of schools that don’t really fit your needs; set your boundaries and stick with them. You’ll thank us later.
- Priorities: What are my priorities with respect to my schools’ features (e.g., location, brand, price, program, etc.)?
Once you’ve determined the direction you’re going, it’s time to set off on your research journey. Ground yourself with your favorite organizational tool; it could be a simple document or spreadsheet, an organizational app, or even a good old-fashioned notebook.
- Use an online organizational tool, so you can access it from anywhere. The application process is very intense and it’s always helpful to spend your downtime knocking out simple tasks like researching schools. You can better utilize your time throughout the day if you can easily access your admissions spreadsheet during your lunch break or on your commute home, for example (just not while you’re driving!). With this strategy, you’ll finish your research quickly using short, effortless bursts.
- Keep your Admit.me profile updated with your schools of interest. You can visit the Admit.me main school page at any time to see all of the schools in your target list. In addition, the main school page has general statistics on each school, application and acceptance deadlines, and links directly to each school’s individual page. Visit an individual school page to get background information, add the school to your list, and interact with the school’s feed.
- Keep a well-organized list of helpful websites in your browser bookmarks. This ensures that you have easy access to online resources like Admit.me, University admissions pages, and other helpful links (e.g., financial aid, rankings). Keep in mind that the more organized this list is, the more likely you’ll be to actually use it. So keep it neat.
Cast a Wide Net
Once you’ve established the archetype for your ideal school and decided how you’re going to organize your search, you can begin brainstorming schools! Most applicants have a few schools already in mind, so start with that. Don’t restrict yourself based on likelihood of success just yet.
If you want to go there, write it down using your organizational tool of choice; you can always edit the list later. Think about the factors that are most important to you and leverage multiple sources of information to find schools that fit those criteria. Consider searching for the following if you need help creating your initial list:
Best schools for your target industry
- Best schools for your function
- Schools within a particular location or region
Use Multiple Sources
- Online Rankings: U.S. News, Businessweek, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and QS are some of the most popular ranking sites, and Admit.me has its own rankings as well.
- Alumni: Leverage alumni from different schools to find out more about their experiences. While they tend to be very complimentary of their alma mater, alumni also tend to be honest about the things they didn’t like. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
- Local School Meetups: Many schools conduct national or even international tours, stopping at major cities around the world. Find out which schools will be visiting your area and get on the mailing lists of those you’re interested in, that way, you can arrange to be free when your target schools come to a city near you.
- School Tours: There are several companies, like QS, who make it their business to bring schools to you. Companies like these aggregate popular graduate schools and conduct fairs around the world. Take advantage of these opportunities to meet with several schools at one time and learn from the various school presentations.
- Search Engines: Whichever one you use (we’re not taking sides here), it can be a convenient way to fill out your list.