Pursuing a graduate degree is a significant milestone for many students, often signaling a commitment to furthering one’s education and career prospects. With the myriad of programs available, each boasting unique benefits, it’s crucial for you to do your due diligence and vet graduate programs thoroughly.

Attending graduate school is not merely about gaining advanced knowledge; it’s an investment in your future that involves substantial time, financial, and personal commitments. To ensure that you make an informed decision, here are essential questions to ask graduate programs during the admissions process.

Unlocking opportunities: the power of admissions events

Attending admissions events, whether online or in-person, presents an invaluable opportunity to go beyond the initial impressions provided by a program’s website and promotional materials. These events, ranging from open houses to information sessions, offer prospective students a live platform to engage with faculty, admission representatives, and sometimes current students, giving a more nuanced understanding of the program’s ethos, expectations, and community.

They serve as an interactive forum where attendees can pose specific questions, gain insights into the application process, and even understand the culture and values that underpin the program. This direct interaction not only aids in assessing the program’s alignment with your personal and professional goals but also allows you to gauge the networking opportunities and support systems in place for students. The depth of insight gained from these experiences can be pivotal in making a well-informed decision, underscoring the importance of utilizing every available resource to assess whether a program truly resonates with you.

What are the core objectives and values of the program?

Understanding the core objectives and values of a graduate program is essential in determining if it aligns with your academic and professional goals. By inquiring about the program’s mission and how it aims to support students’ growth, you gain insights into the curriculum and the learning environment. It’s important to assess whether these objectives and values resonate with what you hope to achieve through your graduate education.

Probe deeper by asking about the academic priorities of the faculty and the program’s commitment to staying relevant and innovative. If personal and ethical development are integral to the values of the program, it can indicate a more holistic educational approach that may complement your career aspirations.

How does the program support career development?

One of the key motivations for pursuing a graduate degree is to enhance career prospects. It’s crucial to understand how the program supports students in achieving their professional objectives.

Find out about the career services offered, such as job placement assistance, resume building, and interview preparation. Learn how the program connects students with alumni and industry professionals through networking events and mentoring programs. If the program offers specialized career development tracks or resources tailored to your field of interest, it can significantly impact your preparedness for the job market.

Check out: Crafting a Winning Statement of Purpose for Master’s Degrees

What funding and financial aid options are available?

Graduate education comes with a significant financial component. It’s important to understand the total cost of the program, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. Inquire about the available funding options, such as scholarships, assistantships, grants, and loans.

Ask the program representatives about the process and criteria for obtaining financial aid, including any deadlines that you need to be aware of. If possible, seek clarification on the funding opportunities that are specifically dedicated to graduate students within the program. Understanding your financial options upfront will help you make a more informed decision and plan for your education without unnecessary stress.

Are there opportunities for academic support and engagement?

Graduate school can be academically rigorous, so it’s important to know what academic support services are available. Learn about the tutoring, writing centers, and workshops that the program offers to help students excel in their coursework. If the program provides specialized support for research, statistical analysis, or language learning, it’s an added advantage.

Furthermore, investigate the academic engagement opportunities beyond the coursework. Does the program encourage participation in conferences, research publications, or collaborative projects? Such opportunities can enrich your educational experience and provide valuable networking and professional development opportunities.

Can you connect me with current students and alumni?

Speaking with current students and alumni can provide invaluable perspectives on the program’s strengths and challenges. These individuals can offer candid insights into the quality of the education, faculty engagement, and the impact of the program on their careers.

Ask the program to facilitate these connections and prepare a list of thoughtful questions to uncover the day-to-day experiences and long-term outcomes associated with the program. Alumni, in particular, can share how the program prepared them for the workforce and whether it opened doors to specific career opportunities.

What is the community and culture like within the program?

The social and cultural aspects of a graduate program can influence the overall experience. A strong academic community with a supportive culture can enhance collaboration, personal development, and professional networking.

Inquire about the diversity of the student body, faculty, and curriculum perspectives. Ask about the campus resources and extracurricular activities available to graduate students. If applicable, seek information about any traditions, events, or affiliations that distinguish the program’s community and how they align with your values and interests.

How does the program measure success and satisfaction?

A reflection of the program’s effectiveness is how it measures success and satisfaction among its students. Ask about the indicators used to evaluate program quality, such as retention rates, graduation rates, and post-graduate employment outcomes.

Look for any available data or reports on these metrics to understand the program’s track record. High success and satisfaction rates can be a positive signal that the program delivers on its promises and provides a fulfilling educational experience. On the other hand, low rates may suggest areas for improvement or red flags regarding the program’s reputation and efficacy.


In conclusion, approaching the graduate school search with a comprehensive set of questions will empower you to make an informed and strategic decision. Remember that this process is not about finding the “perfect” program, but about finding the one that best aligns with your goals and values. Be thorough in your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions that will validate your choice and ensure your investment in graduate education is well placed. Happy hunting!

With a Master's from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master's and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.