Choosing a graduate school is a tough task that takes time and consideration. You should take time to weigh a number of factors when choosing a school. These might include the types of professors, the classes they teach, and their research interests, emphasis on theory vs practice, research opportunities, networking opportunities, reputation, the size of the program, geographic location, alumni/current students in the program, tuition, and the strengths and weaknesses of the program. Of course, some of these will be more important to you than others, but they can help you get started in deciding which school will be your best fit.
There is definitely not a specific formula to choosing a graduate program, but I’d like to share with you my thought process when I made the decision. First, I think that a lot of undergraduates who go directly to grad school after graduation spend too much time considering the location of the school or what kinds of things there are to do in the city that the school is located in, and they forget that they’re moving to that city to get a graduate degree and get the most out of the school, not its surroundings. Definitely get a feel for internship or networking opportunities within the city, but don’t pick a school based on the weekend activities that are available.
With that said, another factor that I would consider with a grain of salt is the reputation of the school. At the graduate level, I would take into account much more the reputation of your specific program, and even that I would consider less than how the program fits your specific goals. In my opinion, graduate school is what you make of it, and you will get out of it as much as you put in, so the reputation doesn’t matter as much as what you accomplish while you’re there and the connections that you make through the program.
When it came down to NYU and another university, I did consider NYU’s amazing location in New York City and the opportunities for networking, internships, research, and community involvement that are available here, but I really looked at the variety of professors and what their focuses were. The professors at CLACS appealed to me because their research interests aligned with mine and I looked forward to taking the classes that they taught. Their research seemed innovative and creative, and I wanted the chance to work with them and be taught by them.
Another factor that brought me to CLACS was its balance of theory vs practice. While many of the classes focus on theory, I was drawn to the required MA project and the field research that takes place during the summer before the final semester of the MA program. I appreciated that field research is a crucial component of the program and that the program is very supportive in terms of putting together the grant proposal and securing the funding needed to carry out the research. Other programs that I considered did not have this research abroad component, and furthermore, they did not offer as much support for writing the grant proposal and helping students actually perform the research.
While looking at CLACS, I also took into account the current students in the program and what its alumni are doing. It seemed like many of these students were interested in the same fields that I am interested in and that they have thrived in the professional world after graduating from CLACS. I also appreciated the fact that CLACS placed emphasis on networking and professional development, through current student/alumni meet-ups and seminars from alumni working in the field. It seemed to me that CLACS placed emphasis on keeping in touch with alumni, keeping alumni in touch with each other, and keeping current students in contact with alumni, which was important to me as well. Graduate school is also a time to build one’s network within their chosen field, and I wanted a program that placed emphasis on that.
When deciding on NYU, I asked to be put in contact with a current student so that I could their perspective of the program and get a better feel for the student experience at CLACS. Of course, every student’s experience is different, but this will at least give you an idea of student life and how the classes are. While time and financial constraints may keep you from visiting every campus, it might be a good idea to visit, speak with professors who you’re interested in working with, and maybe have lunch with current students. This will give you a first-hand feel for what it would be like to attend the program.
Of course, NYU’s overall reputation and the fact that CLACS is a well-established center for research and learning urged me to choose CLACS. I also liked that CLACS is well-connected with resources throughout New York City and Latin America that would be helpful to my academic and professional development. Furthermore, CLACS’ work with K-12 Outreach in New York City schools appealed to me as well, because it showed that CLACS has a greater scope of goals and reach outside of academics.
Last but not least, don’t hesitate to keep in touch with your program contacts and ask them questions! They want to help you. You were accepted to the program and they want you there, so ask away and get the answers you need that will you help you make a decision. It’s a big decision, and graduate school is a lot of time and money, so be conscious of how you make your decision and make it an informed one.
Elizabeth Con is an MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU