Things to Consider When Choosing an Environmental Graduate Program
Written by Sam Faries, MEM’19
I had begun to receive admissions decisions around this time last year. It was an exciting and nerve-racking time when I began to think about which graduate program I would attend with an actual list of programs to choose from rather than a list of pending applications. It is an important and difficult decision to make so I hope to help by offering up some things to consider when choosing an environmental graduate program.
How well a program fits with your expectation of what your graduate education should be is one of the most important factors to consider. The handful of environmental professional programs that many applicants apply to have different degree requirements, curriculum formats, and student body composition. Some important questions to ask:
Is the program flexible or structured in a way to meet my goals? What are the required courses? Do the required courses align with my interests? What is the school community like? Do students socialize outside of class? Does the school facilitate socializing among students or is it the students’ prerogative? What is the average level of experience students have when they start these programs? Can I learn from my classmates?
If you have the ability to visit a graduate program before deciding whether or not to attend, do it. You can learn a lot about a program by visiting the campus and interacting with the staff, faculty, and student body. Some programs offer reimbursements or stipends for travel during their admitted students’ weekend.
Attending a professional program is a large investment of capital and time. It is important to weigh this cost with the benefits of obtaining a graduate education and decide if it is worth it to you both personally and professionally. Please note that the entire cost of the program cannot be understood simply by tuition and financial aid. Other factors such as location and funding for opportunities once you attend can impact the full financial burden. Some important questions to ask:
What is the cost of living in the area? What opportunities are there for funding conferences, educational trips, or internships once I am a student? If there is in-state tuition, what is the process to apply for residency for my second year? What services are included in tuition and fees? What salary do alumni earn in their first job out of graduate school?
Graduate school is a time to specialize and you will find that programs might have a particularly strong set of classes or professors for a given specialization and seem lacking in another. Calibrating your career goals with what the school has to offer for your specialization is important to maximize your experience in graduate school. Some important questions to ask:
Does the school offer enough courses that align with my career goals? Are there professors or centers at the school that are working within my specialization? What courses are available at the university outside of my program and what is the process for registering for them? Does the school have alumni in career tracts that align with my specialization? How many fellow students typically fall within my specialization?
The alumni of a school are the primary determinant of a how a program is judged by the outside world and they can be a valuable resource to current students. Alumni can give advice on getting started in an environmental career, facilitate connections with other professionals in their field, and some students are even able to secure an internship through an alumni connection. Some important questions to ask:
Does the school have track record of placing alumni in desirable jobs and organizations? Are alumni still engaged with the school? Is the alumni network widespread or concentrated within a region or a few cities? Will you be able to utilize the entire university’s network or just your program’s? What resources does your programs career development office provide?
In conclusion, there are many ways to judge a program and this list is by no means exhaustive. Each applicant will place different weights on different factors to make the best choice for themselves. Hopefully some of the questions raised here will help inform your eventual decision on which graduate program to attend. If you are a prospective or admitted student and want to learn more about Yale F&ES or how I made my decision feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to connect!