Researching Programs & Schools


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When should you begin researching programs?

Start early! You will need to apply 1-1 ½ years before you want to attend. You need to give yourself time to study and complete admissions tests to ensure test scores arrive before the application deadline. You will also need to give your references time to write their recommendation letters.

Application deadlines for assistantships, scholarships and other financial aid may be different from the deadlines for program application materials.

Timeline for researching and applying

Graduate School

Many students begin researching graduate programs in their junior year or earlier in order to complete applications during the fall of their senior year. Most graduate school application deadlines are between December and April for fall admission but some may be as early as November.

Professional School

Application deadlines for professional programs are typically earlier than graduate school application deadlines.  Many professional school applications require the use of a centralized application service, often referred to as a “CAS.” Check the CAS opening date and deadlines in your professional area interest.

CAS examples:

How do you research programs?

  • Attend preview or visit days at the schools you are considering. If there are no scheduled preview days, schedule your own visit. Set up appointments ahead of time to talk with faculty, current students and graduate or professional school coordinators to gather information and tour the campus and facilities.
  • Use graduate school search websites (e.g., PetersonsGraduate SchoolsUniversity Library at the University of Illinois or CAS systems to search for schools and programs.  
  • Evaluate your findings (Excel). Modify the spreadsheet based on your needs.
  • Attend graduate and professional school fairs and workshops.
  • Talk with your faculty adviser and other faculty or staff.
  • Seek out professionals currently working in your desired field.
  • Connect with current graduate students, and follow career or departmental offices, through social media. Join LinkedIn groups associated with the school and area of study.

Criteria for evaluating programs:

  • Strong academic program in your area of interest
  • Degree(s) offered
  • Faculty and their areas of expertise, reputation, and credentials
  • Accreditation
  • Cost and financial aid available including assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships
  • Location and surrounding community
  • Career planning and job search assistance
  • Culture of the program, school, community
  • Physical facilities, equipment, labs, libraries, and practicum/clinical opportunities
  • Any other criteria that is important or necessary for you to succeed

Next step: Applying to Graduate and Professional School