Choosing your grad school

Disclaimer: I will work on updating this post and including more things from time to time 🙂

I decided that I wanted to work toward obtaining my Master’s degree early on in my undergraduate career. In fact, around the third year (out of five) of my Electronics engineering major, I decided that Telecommunications was the topic in which I wanted to specialize. Even if I was sure this is the path I wanted to follow, actually getting to Grad School was not a simple process. This is why I would like to share some advice based on the things I came across while embarking in my grad school journey.

Deciding what to study

My first piece of advice would be to decide what it is that you want to specialize on. Grad school is not quite like your undergraduate studies. The way I see it, is that you are choosing what particular “piece” of your entire formation you want to learn more about, and master it.  This will be your entry door to what you will be doing in the future, to the jobs you will be applying to and to the professional you want to become. My main advice here (and which will prevail throughout this post) is that you should choose what you are passionate about and what you are really eager to learn. This will help you enjoy the grad school phase.

Where to study?

One of the most daunting tasks is to find that perfect place where we want to study, and which is willing to accept us, of course. Most of the time we guide ourselves by prestigious names which point us to those universities with the highest ranking and reputation. Nevertheless, before setting a closed list with Ivy-league only options, what is really worth checking is the ranking of the university in your particular field of study. For instance, there are universities whose ranking is based on specific careers, which may be different from what you are actually looking for. So, this is something really important to keep in mind: choose the university that best fits your academic needs and which you think that will take you where you want to be.

This means that you have to do your research on the specific degree you will obtain and the area of expertise you are interested in. One tool that can be very useful is the us news website, which actually contains detailed information on universities ranking based on specific areas. This can also help when you are trying to find a university that offers a Masters in your specific topic of interest instead of a broader, similar area. In my case, I wanted to pursue a Masters in Telecommunications and I did not find as many choices as those available for Computer Science, Information Science, etc.

Funding

The cost of graduate school can be really steep. Depending on the country and university it can easily reach ginormous amounts. Before analyzing all the loan options and organizing a garage sale with all your belongings, you can check the scholarship options available in your own country or from international organizations.  This can really broaden-up your choices of school, place and timing for obtaining your degree.

In my particular case, I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in 2010. I was granted this scholarship to start my studies in the U.S. in the Fall of 2011. With this prestigious scholarship I was able to obtain financial aid in the university I chose and I further obtained a stipend (for living expenses) throughout the duration of my Masters studies. This significantly reduced the amount of money I had to provide from personal funds and made the choice for going to grad school straightforward. (There are many more advantages of being a “Fulbrighter“, which have made my experience in the U.S. unique; however, I will write about that in a future post 🙂 )

There are also scholarships offered by governments around the world, to encourage students to go the extra mile. However, something to keep in mind while choosing your scholarship is not only the amount that they offer you, but also what are the requirements you need to fulfill. These requirements range from a minimum GPA (minimum allowed grades) and also home-return requirements. These are factors that you should consider based on what your post-study plans are.

When to study? 

Well, I don’t think there is a simple or correct answer to this question. There are many trade-offs to put in the table. Should I work to save money  for school or should I find a scholarship or loan and start right after finishing undergraduate school? It is a very personal question. The only thing I can say is that the more you wait, the harder it is to go back to the student status. You loose momentum, your priorities in life change, your objectives in life change… you change! Anyways, my only advice here is that if you really want something that is for your personal and professional growth, work hard for it! It is easy to wait for someone to come knocking at your door, offering for your dream graduate school opportunity, but the chances of that happening are really slim. The harder, but more rewarding path is to create your own opportunities. You will never know where you are capable of going until you open the door and start walking.

As mentioned in the disclaimer I will keep updating this post. In the meantime, I would love to read your own experiences on choosing your grad school!

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