How to Make the Final Grad School Enrollment Decision

US News

This week we address the third in a series of questions that admitted graduate school students often ask with advice about making the final graduate school enrollment decision.

As a dean of admissions, I spent many spring seasons speaking with admitted students who were facing several enrollment deposit deadlines, and who were having difficulty making the decision about which admission offer to accept.

In some cases, the institution they really wanted to attend was not the institution they felt inside or outside pressure to choose. For some prospective students, that institution was less prestigious and did not have as high a placement percentage.

For others, employers, parents or significant others were putting pressure on the prospective student for the option they thought was best. Still other students had received a better financial aid offer from their second or third choice.

[Learn how to get more financial aid for grad school.]

As you contemplate your decision - even if you have been admitted to just one graduate program - remember that you are the one going to graduate school, not someone else. Input is always helpful and you may decide to ask those whose advice you respect for their thoughts. However, in the end it is your call. The following are some questions to ask yourself as you make your final enrollment decision.

1. What is most important to me when making this decision? Is it finances? Program quality? Quality of faculty? The level of faculty interaction with students? Student life? Location? Reputation?

There are no right or wrong answers here, but it is important for you to know why you have chosen to attend a school. Remember that no institution is perfect, but hopefully, as you have gone through the admissions process, you have gotten a realistic impression about each of your options.

Remember too that when it is all said and done, your success in life is dependent on you - not a name, not a ranking, not another person, not a placement percentage. Your decision about where you will enroll should be, first and foremost, about where you believe you will benefit the most as an individual, as a student, as an alumnus and as a professional.

[Understand loan options for graduate students.]

2. What is the culture of the institution? Ask yourself if you would enjoy it there and fit in. You are about to spend considerable time, energy and resources to earn a graduate degree.

Make sure you feel reasonably comfortable about the general atmosphere you believe characterizes the institution or institutions you are considering. It is not worth being unhappy for one, two or more years. Your program of study and all that goes with it will be plenty to handle in and of itself.

3. How have I been treated? The way a school responds to prospective students, applicants, and admits is very telling about the way institutions treat their students and their alumni. If you have not been treated very well, do not assume anything is going to improve after you enroll.

In fact, once you are there, what incentive is there to treat you differently than before you arrived? Your enrollment decision is not just about the academic program. It is about where you believe you can be part of a community where members care about and want to help each other.

[Evaluate grad schools with a spreadsheet.]

4. Should I submit an enrollment deposit to more than one institution? This is a good but tough question. If you are absolutely deadlocked between two institutions after giving every consideration to your options and enrollment deposit deadlines are approaching, you might do this - but do it for a very short amount of time.

Do not send a deposit to more than two institutions. Many admissions officers compare their deposit lists, and if admissions staff discover that you are on more than one list, you will most likely be contacted and pressed for a decision. This doesn't look good for you.

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