Whether you're about to graduate with your bachelor’s degree or have already completed your bachelor's program, you may want to start thinking about graduate school. Having a master’s degree allows you to hone your expertise in a given field of study while also helping you stand out from the competition when applying for jobs in your field. A master's degree can also boost your earnings potential, with the average earnings increase from a bachelor's and a master’s degree at 20%.

Before you apply for a graduate program, though, you'll need to find the right school. Not sure where to begin? This step-by-step guide will help you make a confident choice.

1.    Know What Career You Want

Choosing a graduate school begins with an understanding of what you're looking for in a career.

What Field/Industry?

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, consider whether your graduate program field of study will be the same or something different. You might consider, for example, broadening your scope in an area you've already studied - such as an MBA to go with your bachelor’s in business administration. Or you might want to get a graduate degree in something entirely different.

What Do You Want in a Day-to-Day?

Consider, too, what you're looking for in a day-to-day school experience. Do you prefer a school that offers accelerated programs so that you can complete your degree as quickly as possible? Or, perhaps, you're looking for something that's a little less rushed so that you can complete your degree in your own time.

2.    Know What Challenges You

Different schools offer different styles of teaching and education. Take some time to assess and understand what will challenge you and encourage you to become the best student you can be. Whether it's professors who offer hands-on experience or rigorous testing, you'll get the most out of your graduate program when you choose a school that will properly challenge you.

3.    Research Degree Offerings

Once you have a better idea of what you want to do with a graduate degree, you can narrow down a few schools and begin researching their respective degree offerings and rankings. Not all schools offer the same graduate degrees, so you'll want to find a school that offers exactly what you're looking for to open career doors. Some schools also offer graduate certificates in addition to degrees, so this may be something to consider as well.

4.    Understand Degree Requirements

GRE Requirements

In order to get accepted into a degree program, some schools may require you to submit your scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This is a standardized exam that is commonly used to screen applicants to graduate programs. Not all schools will require it, but if yours does, you'll want to ensure you're on top of this.

5.    Take Advantage of Campus Visits

Any reputable school will allow you to schedule a tour, which can be a great way for you to get a better feel for the campus and the school itself.

Talk to Student Ambassadors

While you're there, be sure to speak with student ambassadors; often, these will be the same people giving you the campus tour. Take the time to ask them questions about their experience so you can better decide whether the school is right for you.

6.    Talk to Advisors

Advisors can be another great resource when you're searching for a great graduate school.

Advisor Style

Not all advisors have the same consulting style, so try to secure an appointment with one who aligns with your own needs and goals. You can usually find a list (and possibly short bios) of a school's advisors by department on their website. From there, you can book an in-person or virtual advising appointment to see where you stand.

Words of Advice

Advisors have often worked with hundreds or even thousands of students over the years, so don't hesitate to ask them plenty of questions about the school and the program you're considering. Advisors possess a wealth of knowledge that you can use to make your decision.

7.    Talk to Alumni

Alumni are also an excellent resource for those considering a particular school.

Talk About Experiences

Take time to ask alumni about their experience at the school. Did they feel supported? Were there resources available to help them secure a job after graduation? Do they believe their degree prepared them for their career? These are all important questions to ask.

When They Attended and What Degree

You may also want to ask when they attended the school and what program they completed. Ideally, you'll want to speak to somebody who attended the school recently and completed the same degree program as the one you're considering.

8.    Online Vs. On-Campus Needs

Consider, too, whether you'll apply to a school with an online or in-person degree program.


An online program will require you to have more technology available, such as a computer and a reliable internet connection.

Degree Offerings of Each

Not all degree programs are offered online (whereas some may only be offered online), so you'll want to explore your options here and find a program that aligns with your preferences. Some online programs (such as a nursing program) will require you to obtain some in-person clinical experience.

Move Closer/Commute

If you decide to attend an in-person degree program, you'll need to decide between moving close to the school or commuting. Both can have their own pros and cons. With an online program, you can complete your degree from anywhere.

9.    Consider How to Pay for School

Graduate school can be costly, with the average master’s degree costing over $62,000. Fortunately, there are some practical ways to help pay for your tuition and other expenses.


Scholarships, grants, and fellowships are all ideal because you don't need to repay this money. Scholarships may be offered directly by your school or by third parties. Meanwhile, grants are often provided by the federal government and are needs-based. Fellowships may be offered by a school or third party, though these are usually merit-based.

Student Loans (Federal and Private)

Both federal and private student loans are available for those who need to borrow money to complete school. Filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the easiest way to be considered for both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, though you may be able to secure a more competitive interest rate with a private lender.


Many graduate students work through school and thus rely on money saved from working to pay for an education. Some schools even offer payment plans, which come with zero interest and allow you to make monthly payments on your balance.


Getting approved for a work-study program allows you to work (often in an on-campus setting) in exchange for federal funding. This can be a great way to help pay for graduate school while gaining valuable work experience.

10.    Application Process

Not all schools have the same application process or requirements, so be sure to keep this in mind as well.


Will you need to pay any fees as part of the application process? If you're having a hard time affording the fees, you may be able to apply for a fee waiver.


How long should you expect to wait before you receive a response regarding your admittance?


Ideally, you'll be able to submit your application and any other required materials online rather than mailing them in.

Exam Requirements

If your program requires you to submit GRE scores, be sure to do this as part of your application. Otherwise, your application may be denied.

Unique Things to Look For

Some graduate programs may require additional application materials, such as a written essay, in order for you to be considered.

Ready to Kickstart Your Career?

Choosing a graduate school isn't something to take lightly. Ultimately, the school you choose is where you'll spend the next one to two years of your formal education—and the quality of your chosen school will reflect the quality of your degree.

  • Looking for an established, accredited, and reputable school where you can pursue a wide range of graduate degree options? University of the Cumberlands has been around for over 125 years and offers graduate degree and certificate programs in business, criminal justice, education, health science, information technology, and more. Explore our program offerings today and begin your application.