a (super basic) primer to choosing your ideal grad school

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1. Make the decision – decide to apply and commit to your decision. Realize the amount of work that goes into just applying.
I’ve been immersed in academia for the past 5-6 years and have seen many friends, colleagues, and instructors go through the process. Ask someone who’s been there for advice (I guess that’s why you’re reading this! let me be one of those ‘someone’s).

I made the decision just before I finished my undergrad. [full disclosure: I had a Dip. LIT & 4ish years of library experience before I even started my undergraduate degree]. I knew I wanted to continue to postgraduate study eventually, but I reflected on my personal and professional goals and knew that continuing into an MLIS program was the next step for me. It felt right.

2. Make a list of your goals – start broad and you can make this more specific later on.

Ask yourself questions: what do you want your experience to be like? Are there specific things you want to learn? Would you prefer to take the program online and/or part time?

My list looked something like: learning new and marketable skills, be geographically close to family/friends, exciting and innovative curriculum and faculty. I loved my undergrad field (cultural studies) and wanted to blend that with LIS so I looked for schools whose course offerings could build on what I had been doing. I also wanted to be close to my family so Ontario was the farthest west I was prepared to go.

3. Make a list of schools.

For LIS seekers check out the ALA directory here. I like using the Google Maps view, allowing me to view geographic options (and daydream about going to school in Honolulu). My list was fairly small because I’m Canadian; Canada has a total of eight schools that offer a graduate program in Library Science. Since my list was small to begin with, I moved on from here, but you may prefer to choose a handful of schools in your area or in regions you may be interested in.

4. Research these schools.

Look at their course offerings, faculty and student research, student testimonials, and campus culture. Are there combined programs? In Canada, UBC offers a dual MAS/MLIS, and Dalhousie offers several combined programs in law, environmental management, and public admin.

Don’t forget to do research on regional culture too. You’ll want info on living costs and local culture. Are you able to continue your interests and hobbies? Will you be a minority, and will that negatively affect you in this area?

Vancouver (UBC) is a very green bikeable city, but is infamously expensive. Montreal (McGill; U de Montreal) is culturally rich but finding work is usually dependent on having French skills. Halifax (Dalhousie) is a charming small coastal city but is saturated in library folks, making securing work or internships a bit complicated. London, where I’ll be attending UWO, has a bit of a reputation, and I’d rather know that going in.

What I focused on for programs: a supportive and diverse campus community, opportunities for independent research, faculty research interests that excited me

What I focused on for cities: reasonable living costs, a commuter culture (supportive of walking/biking/hiking), culturally rich and diverse.

5. Remove the duds (or not).

You should have a list of 2-5 schools. Decide if you want to narrow it down further or apply to all of them. Are you favouring one or two over the others? Are you drawn to all of them? I narrowed down my choices to three schools, then eliminated one (for geographic reasons, too far away). I then eliminated another for various academic reasons (the city appealed to me. the campus culture, not so much). I ended up applying to just one school where I was accepted but ymmv.
Consider what you bring to a program (grades, strengths, interests, etc.) and act accordingly.

6. Apply! I’ll be writing a future post on my entire application process.
Are you thinking about grad school? Been there, done that?
What advice would you share for those thinking of continuing their education, in LIS or otherwise?

Photo from Pexels.

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