One of my closest friends from graduate school is a firm believer that, in the student-graduate school relationship, the student is the customer and the school should be interested in keeping the customer happy. I can already hear the arguments about grade inflation and under-performing, legacy students. I don’t deny those are issues, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is for prospective students interested in exploring graduate schools and why it’s not a bad idea to think like a discerning customer when considering different graduate programs. So how would a discerning customer explore graduate programs?

  1. Make a list of your choices.
  2. Write down the pros and cons of each school that you are considering.
  3. Consider what you want out of graduate school. If you were buying a washer and dryer, you would likely consider your functional requirements. Do you live in a small apartment and need a washer and dryer to stack on top of each other? When thinking about what you want out of a graduate program, look for a program that offers a specialization for what you’re interested in. Is there somewhere you know you would love living or couldn’t stand?
  4. Don’t rely on feedback from only one source. If you were trying to find a good restaurant for your picky Aunt that had just announced she will be visiting this weekend, you might ask friends and read online reviews. When considering a graduate program, call the school and ask to talk to graduates that are employed in areas you’re interested in and talk to them about their experience with the school.
  5. If you were considering which cell phone provider to go with you might consider their customer service. In addition to talking with graduates of the program you are considering, try to arrange an appointment with someone in admissions or career services.
  6. If you were buying a car you would take it for a test drive. Visit the schools you are thinking about attending.  Ask the admissions office if you can sit in on a class or two.
  7. Don’t get taken in by brand names. There’s no denying that brand names can open doors. But, above all else, honor what’s important to you.