How to shortlist universities for graduate studies?

Selecting a university for your graduate program is not an easy process, owing mainly to the number of factors involved in the decision making. You would ideally want the best university for your field of study at a location of your liking that does not cost you a fortune. If only shortlisting a university was so simple as picking up a cupcake from your neighbourhood bakery. You just go ahead and get the chocolate flavoured one….. or do you? Oooh, that blueberry cupcake looks enticing…. what about that rainbow coloured one… oh that’s so cute! Should you rather take a slice of cake instead? Wait a minute, is this store really the best one around? That new store around the block has some specials going on, you should check that out too. Afterall if you’re going to spend some money to satisfy your sweet tooth, it better be worth it! Your mind silently performs these calculations everytime you go to buy a cupcake. While picking a ‘wrong’ cupcake won’t do much harm to you, picking the wrong university will surely do. Read ahead to get some tips on how to shortlist the universities for your graduate program.

Choose your program wisely

Engineering programs in India have a very clearly defined syllabus and course boundaries. In the US, however, that’s not the case. The primary difference is the ability to select what courses you want to study. Because of this flexibility, a person enrolled in the Electrical Engineering program is free to take courses from Computer Sciences too, for example. You can read our article on the American Education system to know more about its structure. However, with so many cross-disciplinary programs available, finding out which one would be right for you is a difficult job.

ms vs phd

The first thing to look for is the prospects after graduation. If you’re in it for the money game, make sure the payoffs are high and look at the placement records. If you know any seniors in that program, they can give you an insider’s look into the placement scene. Companies in some sectors, particularly in core engineering domains, only tend to recruit American citizens due to certain regulations surrounding them. Make sure you know about these restrictions in your field before committing to a program. On the other hand, if you are into research and ultimately want to go for a Ph.D., look for the current projects that are coming out of the university. Read more about the professors in your field and their research groups. The above regulations might also apply to research labs, so make yourself aware of them.

If you find yourself stuck at the crossroads of two similar programs, go for the one that is closer to your current field of study. Many courses have very aligned course paths. This is especially true for computer science and related fields. Generally speaking, the prospects would be more or less the same for all those courses. However, the entry criteria for them is usually what differs. In that case, you should try to apply for the course that is more relevant to your background and experience. Because let’s be frank, no one really knows what they want to do when we have to choose (or rather are given) our branch in undergrad. So if you want to switch your field for the masters’ degree, apply to your own branch. You can then easily take the other branch’s courses when you’re in. Unless, of course, if you already have enough skills in the new field already, say from working in that area after you graduated.

University rankings

This is a no-brainer, you would want to get into the best-ranked university in your area. You can get a trusted rank of the best graduate US universities for engineering at US news. This list, however, might not truly reflect the best options for your needs as this is not customized. Some universities, for example, may be the leaders in your area of interest but could rank lower on this list. The University of Wisconsin Madison, for example, has a leading research group for Computer Architecture but ranks modestly on the overall rankings. So make sure you know which universities are the best for your particular area of specialization.

Finding what universities are good in your area is one thing, getting into them is another. To improve your possibility of landing a good university, you should divide the universities into three lists depending on your chances to get into them: safe, medium and dream. This would hedge your efforts to give you the maximum output while still having a fallback option to rely on. You can read more about this process of dividing universities in our post on the grad school application process. It also gives you an overview of the application process and can be a good starting point for your applications.

Funding

Funding can be an important factor when selecting a university

Na Biwi Na Bachha Na Baap Bada Na Maiyan The Whole Thing Is That Ke Bhaiya Sabse Bada Rupaiya

There’s no denying that money takes the foreground for every major event in our lives. You need to know whether you can afford something and whether it is a good investment. Your graduate studies, unfortunately, also come under the same radar. And most of the students, like us, come from the middle-class family. Well, because no other class of family forces their children to go out and make a name for themselves. Both poor and the rich are mostly contented in their own ways :D. So in a typical middle-class family, the ambitions to pursue a higher degree from a world-renowned university are often thwarted by the affordability of such a program. If this seems like a familiar problem in your household, I have some good news and bad news.

The good news is that you don’t have to be totally rich in order to get into a good program at the world’s leading universities. Most of them offer some kind of funding to their incoming students. The bad news is that most of the private universities don’t offer such respite from their exorbitant price tags. You would then have to rely on the loans from banks/ other family members to get into them. If you manage to get into a highly ranked public university that offers to fund to its students, you’ve landed yourself a jackpot. Don’t think twice and start packing your bags. The tough choice, however, lies between a funded program at a medium ranked public university and a non-funded at a high ranked private one. While the exact answer to such a choice varies from case to case, I believe the choice should be tilted towards the funded program unless that university is really really low ranked. For e.g, if you are trying to decide between two top-20 universities, blindly pick the funded program. The thing is, barring the top 3-4 universities, all other universities that are on the top 20 list are mostly equal. And even if someone argues that the rank 7 university is definitely better than the 20th, paying a hefty sum towards the tuition would in no way justify the better rankings. Simply put, you can definitely compromise the rank of your university (to an extent obviously) for a fully funded program.

Location

Finally, you might want to consider the location of the universities in your process of selecting them. Afterall it is going to be your home for another 1-2 years (sorry PhD folks!). If you can’t tolerate freezing cold, maybe don’t pick universities in that climate. You may also want to pick the universities closer to your home so that you can go back whenever you feel lonely. Trust me, with all the assignments and projects, you will feel lonely. Nothing cheers you up more than going back to your home and cosying up in your old room while feasting on that comforting food made by your mom! (Sigh, I’m already longing for going home now 🙁 )

You can also think of the location of the university in terms of how convenient it would be for you to stay there after you complete your studies. Frankly, with all the drama that Trump has brought around the immigration policy, US might rank the lowest in this regard. Their friendly neighbour Canada, however, is a very welcoming state for all kinds of people. You might also want to weigh-in the cost of living in the university’s location in your decision. Stanford University, for e.g, is located in the most expensive areas in the world. Even if you manage to get your tuition funded somehow, you won’t be able to sustain the skyrocketing real estate prices in that area.

These are some of the things that we thought you can consider while choosing a university for your graduate studies. All the above factors, however, might nit have equal weight for everyone out there. So you can try and pick whatever is important to you as criteria for selecting universities. Finally, as always let us know in the comments if we missed something or any other opinion that you might have.

Best of luck!

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