Most people decide on a graduate school by finding the ratings of the top programs in their field. This is not detrimental in and of itself, unless, it is all you do. If you pick only the top rated schools as your targets, you have let someone else decide what is best for you. Judging the quality of an academic department is not easy. Ranking lists tend to use criteria such as: attainments of faculty, quality of instruction, work and success of students, and administrative policy toward teaching and research. Judgments based on criteria such as these can be subjective. Reputations last longer than are sometimes deserved. It is necessary for you to determine what is important to you and then attempt to gather your own information on the quality of the program.
CRITERIA TO CONSIDER WHEN EVALUATING GRADUATE PROGRAMS:
Program of Study. What does the program emphasize? Do they require a thesis? How many students are typically enrolled each year?
Faculty. Are they conducting research that is interesting to you? Are they well known in their field? Are they published? Are there enough senior members to allow you contact with them? If there are "big names," can you get to them, or, are they always traveling or doing research? If the top faculty members left, would the program still be worthwhile? How diverse is the faculty? Is their approach to their discipline single minded?
Publications and/or Research. What are the departments recent publications? Do these topics match with your interests?
Degrees Awarded. How many Ph.D. or masters are awarded each year? How long does it take to complete a degree?
Student/Faculty Ratio. Are there enough faculty members to give you the amount of supervision and stimulation necessary for quality performance?
Finances. Are there internships, assistantships, fellowships, loan programs, etc., available in sufficient number to allow for the financing of your education?
Facilities. Is housing available if I need it? How extensive and available are facilities such as labs and the library?
Size. Is the size of the institution compatible with your needs and desires?
Admission Preferences. Where do their graduate students come from? Have they had work experience? What are the undergraduate backgrounds?
Women/Minority/International Students. Is there a healthy mix of students from all backgrounds? Are all students afforded equal opportunity for teaching and research assistant ships?
Opportunities. Will this program contribute to the expansion of career possibilities for you? What are recent graduates of the program doing now? Does the school provide career counseling assistance?
Work Experience. Are internships, assistantships, or part-time jobs available which will enable you to gain experience in your chosen field while pursuing your degree?
Flexibility. If you change your mind about your career goal, does this program contain material/skills which can be transferred to other areas of interest?