Prospective students are bombarded with information about why each graduate program is the best one out there. The campus is beautiful! The flexibility in the curriculum is unmatched! The alumni connections are sure to lead to employment! While some of this information was useful, it was important for me to view all of these selling points through a filter; what would be the best program for me?
Here was the criteria I used when deciding between schools:
Size mattered in my cost-benefit analysis of each school. To me, more people means more resources means more opportunities. I had been in a small undergraduate major in college, and I saw the limitations of small. Size also meant there was all-but-guaranteed…
Diversity in graduate school is not just a buzzword. It the unparalleled experience of having opposing viewpoints in a classroom and engaging with people who have fundamentally different worldviews. I wanted to be in a classroom with people who valued academics and good debate, but whose backgrounds differed from my own.
The old saying goes that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. So too, goes for the three most important things in my graduate school hunt. As an older twenty-something, I wanted to avoid the rural campus I loved as an undergraduate, and look for a cultural center that would keep me entertained seven days a week. Access to a thriving arts scene, a vibrant nightlife, and plenty of restaurants was important to me.
Sure, I was excited about the academic opportunities at these various schools, but what would really differentiate them for me was how internships complemented their curriculum. In my field (journalism) internships are absolutely paramount to finding employment. I needed a school that had access to a plethora of local companies that were willing to hire graduate students. Ideally, I also wanted a school that valued the intern experience, and gave students credit for this work.
At most institutions, a public policy graduate program is only two years. But strong alumni connections endure, and provide a critical connection to the program for years to come. They also are invaluable resources with whom one can network and learn more about various career paths. If I planned to invest in my graduate school education, it was pivotal for the school to have a strong alumni base.
post contributed by Danielle Schlanger, MPA Class of 2014