I go to school thousands of kilometers away from home (in Vermont, to be precise) and I am often asked: why UVic? Why did I pack my bags and fly all the way across the country to British Columbia, a place where I had never been or knew anyone? Normally I just play off the question with “West Coast, Best Coast,” I get a little chuckle, and the conversation changes direction.
The truth is, it’s just too complicated for the quick answer people want from small talk. They don’t want the details of the Google searches, the comparisons, and the conversations with family and friends, so I make a joke, people laugh, and we move on.
This answer, however, doesn’t help those who want to figure out how to pick a grad school or graduate program. So for those undergrads that are considering going into grad school there are a few important points to consider.
First things first: choosing a program that is right for you. Do you want to continue in your undergraduate major? Or is there another program that interests you? For example, I debated continuing in History or entering a Public Administration graduate program. In the end I chose History.
Once you’ve decided on a program (and it doesn’t just have to be one—apply to as many different programs you want so you have even more options later on), now it’s time to look at the individual schools.
It is important to find a department in your field that will benefit you. Look for a professor you want to work with—someone who you think could aid you in your thesis work. It is crucial to reach out to that professor as well as the professor in charge of the graduate program and find out as many details as you can to see if it would be a good fit.
Now, you may be thinking, ‘There are so many schools in the world; do I have to search through all of them?’ My answer is, if you want, but that seems to be quite a lot of work! It’s best to think of places you would like to live. There could be a school in Saskatchewan that fits your needs, but if the thought of living in such a flat and open place drives you to despair—as it does for me at least—it’s best to focus your search energies elsewhere.
I completed my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University. This was a smart move for me as I had family in Halifax and I was relatively close to my family back in Vermont. Combined with the scholarships I was offered (another integral factor to consider) it was the right choice then. But for a grad program, I knew Dal would not meet my expectations. It did not have a professor who was knowledgeable in the area I wanted to study further, so I went looking elsewhere.
After I had explored schools in six different provinces, I zeroed in on Victoria as it reminded me of Halifax and my hometown of Burlington, Vt. It had water, it had mountains, and it looked like a comfortable place to live (the climate here really is fantastic!). It is big enough to be exciting, but not too big as to make me nervous. UBC, for example, was a school I seriously considered, but I couldn’t handle the idea of living in a city of that size. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl!
Finances, of course, will always play a major role in the final decision. Which school is affordable? Does the funding offered make the tuition prices worth it? Can I afford to move across country, or to a different country altogether? I am lucky as I have both Canadian and American citizenship, so I could have chosen schools from either side of the border, but financially, Canadian schools made more sense. Why pay $15 000 a semester when I can go to a Canadian school for far, far less—even with travel fees included?
In the end, it is about finding a school that not only serves your academic requirements, but also your personal requirements. Find a school that does both and you will be set for your graduate career.