How to Choose a Graduate School

How to Choose a Graduate School

So, you’re interested in graduate school - now what?

The School of Graduate Studies put together this resource to assist undergraduate students who are considering attending graduate school. Feel free to reach out to us at or browse Rowan's graduate program offerings here.

Why do you want to go to graduate school?

  • How does it help you achieve your future goals?
  • Do you need to further your education to grow in your career?
  • Are you looking to make more money once you graduate?

What type of program should you choose?

  • Post-baccalaureate certificate program 
    • A Post-baccalaureate certificate program is typically a one- to two-year program that helps students transition between undergraduate and graduate school. It is a series of classes to prepare students with the background information needed to succeed in a graduate degree program. Many students who want to attend medical school will choose this type of program, which can offer many of the science class prerequisites needed to thrive. Certificates can also be valuable for workplace advancement. You typically do not need to take a college entrance exam like the GRE, LSAT, or MCAT to apply to a certificate program.

  • Master’s degree
    • A master's program will typically take one to three years to complete, and many universities require you to take entrance exams such as the GRE, LSAT, or MCAT to apply. A master's degree is aimed to further your education, knowledge, and skills in the career field of your choice. This type of degree is often used for those who are looking to advance in their career field or to continue on to doctoral study. To complete your master’s degree, many programs require you to write a thesis or complete a capstone project. Credits you complete in your master’s program may be transferable toward a doctoral degree, so it’s important to understand this option prior to selecting a graduate program if you are interested in doctoral studies.
    • A master’s degree can cost anywhere from $30,000-$120,000 to complete, depending on your university and program, so be sure to understand the financial aid available to you and the potential salary outcomes. provides a regional estimate of potential salaries for various job descriptions.
  • Doctoral Degree
    • A doctoral program typically takes four to eight years to complete. If you’re considering a doctoral degree, do you prefer to pursue a research doctorate (i.e. Ph.D.) or a professional doctorate (examples include Ed.D., J.D., and Psy.D.)? To graduate from a research-intensive doctoral program, you must complete various comprehensive exams that demonstrate your mastery of content knowledge before you embark on writing your dissertation. A dissertation is a compilation defending, explaining, and analyzing an original research study you have conducted. A professional doctorate may require a dissertation or completion of a capstone project, so be sure to check program requirements. Some doctoral degree programs also build master’s degrees into their curriculum, which allows students to decide whether to continue on to the doctoral degree or, if they are satisfied, to graduate with a master’s degree. It is important that you understand your options before choosing a graduate program.
    • A doctoral degree can cost anywhere from $50,000-$300,000 to complete (with the average cost in 2022 being $150,000), depending on your university and program. Many science-based Ph.D. programs cover tuition and a stipend in exchange for your work on research projects or teaching undergraduate courses.  Be sure to understand the financial aid available to you and the potential salary outcomes. provides a regional estimate of potential salaries for various job descriptions.
  • You can explore Rowan’s various graduate program offerings here.

Identify what you are looking for in a graduate school

  • Create a list of important criteria for the type of graduate school you are interested in. Below are some example criteria and questions you may ask to evaluate graduate schools against your criteria.
  1. Location of school
    • Do you prefer to live in an urban, rural, or suburban area? Or do you plan to enroll 100% online? Does the area have stores and services offering diverse salon and beauty needs, food markets, and places of worship?

What is the cost of living in that area, and how much money will you need from working or financial aid to live comfortably?

  1. Housing
    • What type of housing do you want while in graduate school? Are there affordable housing options? Does the university offer off-campus housing placement assistance? Are there graduate student dorms on campus?
  2. Wellness services
    • What wellness, wellbeing, and physical/mental health services are offered? Do these services require an additional fee? If you are not already covered by a health insurance plan, what is the cost of insurance offered by the university?
  3. Students and academics
    • Do you prefer a larger or smaller graduate school? What is the demographic composition of faculty and students? What is the faculty-student ratio? Is there a robust support system for English language learners? Is there evidence of adequate accessibility services? 
  4. Campus climate
    • How engaged do you plan to be in graduate school regarding social life or professional development? What is the campus climate like for graduate students, and what professional development opportunities or graduate student organizations are available? 

Collect information about each specific program that you are interested in

Admissions and Curriculum Considerations

  • What are the application requirements for that program?
    • If applying to a doctoral program, is there a requirement that you already hold a master’s degree?
    • If interviews are required as part of the admissions process, are these on-campus or virtual?
  • If you want to enroll at a part-time pace, does the program allow for this? 
  • If you plan to work part-time or full-time during your studies, does the program support this? Working while doing your graduate degree can be quite challenging and may preclude you from various on-campus employment opportunities that can help further your professional skillsets. Some doctoral programs discourage students from working while classes are in session.
  • What are the graduation requirements for the program?
    • If applying to a doctoral program, is there an opportunity for you to stop the program after finishing enough credits to earn your master’s degree?
    • Does the program require you to complete a field placement, clinical rotation, or teach courses? If so, how will you work this into your school and/or work schedule? Will you need to pass any certifications or licenses?
  • Is the program offered in-person, online, or hybrid?
    • If the program is offered 100% online, determine whether any residency requirements are required. Residency is a period of time in which the program requires you to be on-campus (for example, one week over the summer for orientation or one weekend to take qualifying exams).
  • Do the faculty members research interests line up with your own? Browse through the academic department you are interested in and read faculty profiles to understand their areas of expertise. In some fields like STEM, it is a common admissions requirement that your research interest aligns with faculty interest; some doctoral programs also expect you to reach out to a faculty member prior to applying to learn more about whether their lab has space available for new students in your research area.

Financial Considerations

  • What financial opportunities does the university/program offer? Look for opportunities beyond federal loans, such as university scholarships or awards, Graduate Assistantships, and Teaching Fellowships. What are the conditions for receiving and retaining such an award?
  • Are there other paid teaching or research opportunities?
  • Many programs of study have additional fees beyond tuition, such as lab fees, student life fees, graduation application fees, and thesis fees, so it is helpful to understand these additional fees upfront.

Keep Organized

  • Create an Excel sheet to keep track of everything on one page:
    • Track deadlines for application requirements
      • Are there any events or open houses you want to attend?
      • When is the application deadline?
        • When are letters of recommendation due? How many need to be submitted?
        • When are personal statements due?
        • When are transcripts due?
        • When are financial aid deadlines?
      • When would you have to pay your enrollment deposit?
    • Track costs
      • Application fee
      • Tuition and fees

Prepare a strong graduate school application

  • Start your application process early. If entrance exams are necessary, schedule these well in advance. Order transcripts early and take note what kind they need to be (official or unofficial?)
  • If you have questions about the admissions process, reach out to admissions advisors early. You may not be able to get a last-minute appointment.
  • Make sure to reach out to reference letter writers as far in advance as possible, and leave extra time before the deadline in case you need to find an alternate letter writer.
  • Understand the expectations of the personal statement/personal essay. Be concise, honest, and ensure someone proofreads your document.
  • Create a strong resume/curriculum vitae (CV). The Career Services department at your undergraduate institution can help with your application components.