Choosing the right school is a big and often complex decision. While the transfer option exists for a reason, most of the time it’s best to get it right the first time and avoid all the hassle and paperwork (and moving!). If you (or your son or daughter) are entering your senior year in high school or you’re ready to take the plunge into grad school but don’t know where to start, then now is the best time to begin making a list of what you want from a prospective school and scheduling visits to the top contenders.
There are (literally) tons of factors to consider – here are some of the most important and possibly overlooked, broken down between undergraduate and graduate studies. No matter what your intent is, be it veterinary sciences or L.LM tax certifications, there are several deciding variables which are universal that all students should take into account.
Undergrad classes at major universities (think big names like Penn State) can be huge. Like, 300 students – or more – in a single lecture hall huge. If you would rather a more personal classroom experience, then consider smaller schools right off the bat.
Graduate students usually don’t run into this problem so much, since the programs tend to be far more exclusive at the master’s and PhD. levels to begin with. But if the thought of fighting for a parking space every day or having to dodge through a throng of 19-year-olds on their way to the cafeteria doesn’t sound so appealing, then school size might still be something to consider.
At the undergraduate level, one of the most important factors related to faculty is how accessible they are. If you’re in one of the aforementioned 300-person gen psych lectures and you’re totally lost on the role of neurotransmitters, being able to reach your professor or even – gasp! – going to their office hours and knowing that they’ll be there is paramount. When you visit schools you’re serious about, ask the students or guide leaders about how accessible they find professors to be in general.
Some students choose their graduate school based on the faculty alone – a certain professor whose work they admire, for instance. Especially in writing and art programs, students look for faculty whose aesthetic parallels their own. If you’re on the fence about a program, try looking into the faculty’s body of work and seeing if anything they’ve done sparks your interest.
Cost of Living
After your freshman year you might want to break free of visitor restrictions and expensive on-campus parking and have your own space. If you chose NYU for college, you will have a merry time finding an apartment under $1,200 per month. If, however, you opted for a smaller, cheaper school in a college town, you’ll also find more cost-friendly apartments – and you won’t have to share a tiny space with five other people.
Cost of living can be a major factor for graduate students, who much more than undergrads are paying for their rent out-of-pocket – and might be looking for more in the way of a grown-up environment. You can check to see if your school offers any housing assistance – most do, and will point you in the direction of tried-and-true off-campus housing.
Student Health Centers
Both undergrads and graduate students will see a health and wellness fee on their bills each semester – and some people get more than others for the price. A good health and wellness center is an incredible asset to students, providing them with medical care when Mom and Dad are too far away to bring chicken soup. For example, the University of Pittsburgh offers exemplary health assistance to its students through a professionally-staffed clinic and pharmacy that covers women’s health, physical therapy and even basic radiology.
You might have heard that undergrads change their majors… a lot. While it’s not true of everyone, it helps to have some academic variety in the event. So if you’re not totally sure whether you’re into anthropology or communications, best to pick a medium-sized school with strong programs all around. Take the tricky world of law-related programs, for example. Programs with specializations in tax laws can be hard to come by; other majors (just as specialized) follow suit as well.
As a graduate student, you’ve already narrowed down what you want to study – and you’d think you can’t get any more specific. Yet law students might find that along with their traditional studies, they can pursue alternative degrees, giving them an edge in the job market. Do your research beforehand and see if any of the schools you’re interested in offer small niche certifications; there aren’t a lot of LL.M. tax programs, for example, though the demand in that field is actually pretty high.
This article was written by Jason Evans. Jason attends tax LLM courses in school and hopes to obtain his master of laws degree next year.