If you are one of those who were set on pursuing a masters program after graduation, you probably would have applied to as many programs as you can. Now that you have received a few offers, deciding which program to choose is perhaps the next biggest thing on your mind.

So what factors should you look into when deciding which program to choose?

Fit – One of the most important things about choosing a graduate school is the right fit. You do not want to be spending a huge sum of money studying in an environment you dislike or even something you have no passion for because somebody else told you to do so. That is why I would suggest you to do your research thoroughly before applying. Take a look at the school’s website. Talk to people who have graduated from these programmes. Talk to the programme director. Look at the course content.  Then ask yourself – Is this degree is going to add value, intellectually and professionally?

Brand – As shallow as it may sound, the brand of the school is fairly important – particularly for those who did not attend a top tier university. If you are thinking of a career in investment banking or consulting, then this should be a critical factor in your decision making process. As harsh as it may sound, your resume is probably going to get binned even if you graduated with a first and distinction from the University of Timbaktoo.  Investment banks and consulting firms ONLY hire students from top-tier universities. Occasionally, you may have heard of your neighbour’s son from a third tier university working at Goldman Sachs, but the chances of him working in front office are slim to none. Most likely back office material.

Location, Location, Location – This is pretty self explanatory. Where would you like to work after graduation? If you are planning to stay in London, then choosing a school such as LSE or LBS would be an added advantage as it will give you access to thousands of employers within the city. Oxford and Cambridge are also particularly good choices for those who intend to head back home to their own countries, such as India, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, where local employers are generally more impressed with the overall prestige of the university rather than what you have actually studied.

Fees – If you are one of the lucky few who was born with a silver spoon or perhaps inherited a fortune from a rich uncle who recently passed away, then you can skip this section. Let’s face it, graduate school is expensive. One of the most expensive masters programmes I’ve seen is Oxford’s Master of Financial Economics. Tuition alone amounts to approximately 33,000GBP (51,000USD). Total costs including living expenses can set you back for a grand total of at least 45,000GBP (70,000USD). Hey don’t forget you still have your undergraduate loans to pay off as well. Good luck on entering the real world with that!

Exit Opportunities – If you want your degree to pay for itself, you should always check with past students and look at the careers section of the programme that you have chosen. First, I’d suggest you contact the programme administrator and ask him or her to put you in contact with alumni of the course. Unfortunately, due to privacy issues, programme administrators are not allowed to pass you alumni contact details. So it is likely that you would have to wait for alumni to contact you. If you cannot find anybody to talk to, what I can suggest is to use the stalking method. And if you’d like to know whether if your degree is valued, there is no better way than to ask the beast itself. Cold call HR  at companies you have been targeting and ask them if a masters degree is an added advantage in their firm. But if you have a graduate degree in basket weaving, then I’d suggest you save yourself the embarrassment.

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