Even the savviest, most passionate grad school seeker may get a crush on one or two famous grad schools, and have a hard time generating a “long list.”
But most admissions professionals will tell you it’s a good idea to apply to several schools (including—eek, I hate to say it—”safety” schools) to be sure you get in somewhere. I am not sure that I agree—you may want to work for a few more years in your field and apply again to your top choice schools when you are more established.
However, in case it’s useful, here are the main ways of fleshing out your list of prospective schools:
1. Attend the Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fair for the Public Good or another graduate admissions fair in a city near you. No, this isn’t a commercial, it really is a good way to find schools. If you go to a fair, I challenge you to approach at least three schools that you haven’t heard of, or you wouldn’t think of applying to. Let the admissions professional know your plans for the future, and see if they surprise you.
2. Informational interviewing. Talk with professors and professionals in your field, and find out how they got where they are now, if they even went to grad school, and where they would suggest you go.
3. School associations! Many different types of schools, from international affairs to business, are affiliated with an association of similar schools. You can learn about many different programs and the degree itself through the association. We don’t have a list of school associations online that I can link to (I will work on that) but do take a look at our grad fair cosponsors, which include many types. Other school groupings include schools that offer to match the AmeriCorps Ed Award, and schools that partner with Teach For America or Peace Corps to extend benefits to participants.
4. Conversations with graduate admissions personnel, who are well-versed in the characteristics of peer schools. Some schools’s admissions staff even travel and attend recruiting events together regularly. Whenever you have a chance to speak with admissions officers, share with them what you are looking for in your ideal school or degree. They should be able to let you know what other schools to look into, and whether or not their school is a good fit for you. If their school is a good fit, be sure to ask for guidance in navigating the application and admissions process.
5. Research online through sites like Peterson’s, Gradschools.com, and Idealist.org (we hope to launch a directory of public interest grad schools in 2009, but for now, search for “organizations” using key words like “graduate school,” “social work,” “MPA,” etc.)
Best of luck, and read more about grad school on our Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center!