You need to do your research carefully in choosing the school that will best suit your needs and talents. There are over 1,800 institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees; the variety is enormous. Use these resources to help you narrow down which programs you might be interested in applying to:
Another way to do research on graduate programs is to talk to faculty members at your own school about where they did their graduate work and what they know about graduate programs in their fields. It is also likely that they can recommend faculty at other institutions with whom you could speak with as well as recommend programs that might suit you. Getting to know your faculty on a personal level also allows the faculty members to get to know you better and help when you are looking for letters of recommendation.
Another piece of criteria to think about is the selectivity of the programs to which you want to apply. You want to look at how many people are applying to the program compared with the number of “seats” they have open in the entering class. It is often the case that the more selective the program, the more likely it is that only applications of the most highly qualified will be selected.
It is recommended that you visit the campuses at which you are interested in studying. You can usually call the appropriate program in advance to see if you can make appointments to visit with faculty members whose work you know or to whom you have been recommended. It’s also good to ask questions to students who are already in the program.
Applying to a graduate program does not guarantee admission, so applying to several can increase the likelihood of receiving at least one offer of admission. There are many sources of information to learn about the available programs in your field.
When choosing schools to which you'll apply, divide programs into three categories, the dream schools, the competitive schools, and the safety schools. The number of programs you apply to will be based on how competitive the graduate or professional programs to which an applicant is applying. Information from graduate school guides, faculty, and students can be helpful toward determining your likelihood of being admitted to various programs. Ask about the profile of a typical admitted student. Consider applying to 2 or 3 programs from each category:
Dream Schools: Programs that have admissions criteria which you meet or exceed. You think you could possibly be admitted.
Competitive Schools: Programs that are highly competitive and have admissions criteria which you meet. You would like these programs, but they are quite competitive.
Safety Schools: Programs that are not particularly competitive and have admissions criteria which you meet or exceed. You are fairly certain you could be admitted.
When you've narrowed down your list of programs you want to apply to, identify faculty at each of the schools who share some of your interest areas. Write to them and request further information or clarification about their program. Introduce yourself. Reference their work and how it corresponds with your interests and identify faculty you've worked with or assisted.