Choosing a Graduate Program

Choosing a Graduate Program

As an undergraduate student, choosing a graduate program could be difficult. A major problem is that most undergraduate majors, no matter how specific you think they are, are still very broad. On the other hand, to apply for a graduate school, you’d have to know what you want to study: the specific field, the subtopic of that field, and the subtopic of that subtopic for your research in graduate school. Speaking from experience, this first step was very hectic and confusing for me. I believe that there must be other students out there who are also about to experience the same thing. Here, I’m going to share the useful tips and steps that I found very helpful. Hope it will help you all too!

#1.  Know yourself

I know this sounds cliche. But, this is the first thing that you have to figure out.
Ask yourself: What’s your major now? Do you want to continue studying the field?


Then ask yourself again: Is there a thing or two that interest you in the field? The answer to this question will vary between people, but generally, these are what you get:

  1. 1-3 interests namely (a), (b) and (c).
    If this is your answer, then, it’s great! You’re ready to go to the next step :)
  2. I have… 1,2…, 6 interests in the same field.
    This is tricky, but the good thing is, they are all in the same field!
    So, what you need to do is compare and rank your interests. Try to see which one of those options appeals you the most, and try to imagine yourself doing it for the next ten to fifteen years. If you can’t imagine yourself doing that, then the field isn’t for you. I’m not saying that what you choose for graduate school will decide your entire future, but it will constrain your future opportunities and choices to some extent. Take your time to rank your interests and priorities, and when you’re done, you can go to step #2.
  3. I have a few interests in different fields….
    That’s absolutely fine as well! There are some programs in the US that are interdisciplinary, and there are some schools whose departments allow for collaborations between different departments. My current neuroscience program at UC San Diego, for example,  allows researchers from the cognitive science, neuroscience, linguistic, psychology, music, and computer science departments to take classes together and collaborate in research together. There are other programs like this in other universities too! You just have to find it.

No, I want to switch field.


That’s fine. Once you know what that other field is, you can use the step 1-3 above to help you identify your topics of interest. But, I’d recommend you to gain experiences in that future fields of yours before applying for graduate school. First, it will help you know the field more in depth, second, it’s always better to know something before you jump into it, right? Because you’ll spend the next 2-6 years in that field, which can be either amazing or miserable.

#2. Know where your interest fall into

Now that you’ve identified no #1, you’d have to find out where that interests fall into the category of your major. Some people might say it’s easy, but it’s actually not. When you’re in the process of applying for graduate school, you’ll realized how many more options of majors there actually are. Do a lot of research and read some articles in websites like Indonesia Mengglobal. More importantly, ask other people!

#3. Ask Questions!

I especially turn this into another step because this part is very important. Doing research on your own will only be enough to some extent. Let’s take a basketball fanatic as an example. You might be able to know all the different rules that the game has and understand what the players do on the field. But you’ll never know how it feels to dunk yourself because you’re not a player. Asking people who are already in the field will give you some insider’s trick that you won’t know as an outsider.

  1. Ask your professor/researchers/post-doctorate fellow!
    This should be the first person you have to find. Because not only did they go through the same process, they are also already much ahead from you in their career. This means that they’d give you an opinion that’s very useful in the long term. Further, they’ll know more in depth about the field that you want to study because they are the part of that field. One last thing, ask those who are in the field that you want to apply to. People from other field might have gone through the same graduate application process, BUT, they won’t know the details that are only relevant for your field. Asking them is like asking a football player how to play badminton. Both might be athletes, but they are different.
  2. Ask a graduate student of that field!
    There’s nothing more to describe here, but asking a graduate student is the way to go as well.

#3.  Ask…more…
After you chose your intended field of study, now it’s time to know what kinds of training do you want to get. Do you want a practical, research based, theoretical, or other specific kinds of training? There’s no other way than to ask questions to them.

Now, you know exactly what you want to do! It might sound very simple. But, it isn’t as easy as it seems. All the research, contacting people, doing more research, and making a final choice always takes a lot longer than expected. For some it might take a few months, for others it might take a year or two. But having a guidelines of what to do in a stressful application process, will help give you directions.

Now, you know specifically what you want. What’s next?
It’s time to choose the schools – which is the topic for my next writing! 

Ratnaganadi Paramita is an senior undergraduate student majoring in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She is a recipient of a 4-year-long full undergraduate scholarship from the Eka Tjipta Foundation. Ms. Paramit is a Student Researcher at the UCSD Center for Human Development under the supervision of Terry Jernigan, Ph.D. and Erik Newman, Ph.D. She's currently developing the REaCh Task, a newly Learning Disabilities Research Hub study funded by the US National Institute of Health (NIH). Her works involve code and software development of the task, experimental design and stimulus development. She is also currently involved in the data processing of five studies under the Pediatric Longitudinal Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics Study (PLING) project. As part of PLING, she also started being involved in the administration of experimental and standardized test on children. In addition, she is also currently involved in the software development of an EEG study on math anxiety. Besides her academic and scientific interests, she is also a professional theatre performer and classical singer. 15 years of singing and 10 years of theater experience have made art an inseparable part of her. At the age of 12 and 14, she received gold medals in the Asia-Pacific Festival of Children's Theatre, Japan (2004), and the 9th World Festival of Children's Performing Arts (2006). These brought her the Satyalancana Wirakarya Award from the President of Indonesia. In 2008, her theater performance in Monaco for the 14th World Festival of Amateur Theatre also yield Certificate of Appreciation from the Prince of Monaco Now, she's currently a Music Minor (Vocal Performance) at UCSD where she receives professional lessons from Philip Larson and the late violin maestro Janos Negyesky. While productively performing for UCSD concerts each quarter, she also maintains her theatre activities. In 2012 and 2013, she was chosen to be the Director of Music for "Cindelaras" - an original production by Satu Kata Performing Arts Group. This production was performed in the International Festival of Children's Performing Arts, Japan, and the 1st China-ASEAN Theatre Festival, China, respectively.
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