You’re about to take the first steps toward going to graduate school. Eventually you’ll narrow down your potions to two or three schools that you feel are a fit for you, and decide to apply to one or more of these schools. You’re choosing the place where you’ll spend the next period of your life, and the place that will give you what you need to launch your career. It will be the school from which you get your graduate degree, and the school you’ll place on your resume when applying for jobs. It’s an important decision – so how can you make sure that you’re comfortable with the decision you’re making? What research steps can you take to be as sure as possible that you find the graduate school that is right for you? Here are four key thoughts:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel: Think back to high school, and the process you went through to choose your undergraduate school. Write down the answers to the following questions. What steps did you take? What questions did you ask of your prospective school? What research did you do? If you’re satisfied with the school you eventually chose, then it would be a good idea to repeat those steps and ask those same questions of your new prospective schools. If you feel that you could have chosen better, or if you ended up switching schools, write down the things that you wish you had known about your school before applying. Is there any way that you could have learned some things?

2. Make contact with the schools you’re interested in as soon as you can: Often we do a lot of research online. We look at the school’s website. We read reviews of the school from other sites. Even if you feel that you’ve found enough information about the school to warrant a campus visit, take the time to contact the admissions office by phone and by email. Think of some questions that weren’t answered by the research you conducted and answer those questions. Find out how available faculty would be during a campus visit and what they offer to prospective students visiting the campus. If you’re potentially going to be spending years at this school, it’s helpful to know how responsive our staff is and how attentive they are to your questions.

3. Compare and Contrast: Create a spreadsheet or a list that includes everything you feel is important to you about the grad school you attend. Include items such as location, cost, financial aid, reputation of the program for which you would like to apply, extra-curricular activities, culture, and anything else that is important to you. As you research schools, keep note of how each school meets or does not meet your requirements for each item that is important to you.

4. Start early and take your time: Eventually you’ll narrow your list of prospective schools and hopefully be able schedule a campus visit for your top two or three. Give yourself enough time to research each school to your satisfaction. When you’ve the list narrowed to a few schools, it’s likely going to be the campus visit that will help you determine your top picks.