Researching Your Options

When applying to professional programs, it is important to do your homework. The more information you have about a particular program or school, the better quality decision you can make. Consider the following factors when choosing the right school for you.

Reputation of the Faculty

Although there may be many universities that offer the same professional program, each will have its own unique focus. The search for the best program becomes easier once you know what it is you are looking for. For example, one university’s social work program may have a very good reputation, but if its excellence is in the area of geriatrics and you are interested in juveniles, it will not be the best program for you.

To determine the program’s focus, obtain a copy of the research directory from the program’s Admissions Chairperson. It will list the faculty and their areas of research. Remember, the faculty can only teach what they know.

Also, investigate the course selection in the calendar, remembering that due to sabbaticals and faculty course loads not all the courses are offered every year. You can also ask the admissions officer of the program to describe the program’s strengths to you.

Two reliable indicators of how a program is received by the professional community are the program’s placement records and a survey of what employers think of the program.

A word about rankings - use them cautiously. There is the possibility that top rankings reflect past glories rather than present realities. Also, the best program in a given field depends on how you define best. Make sure you understand what criteria was used to rank and determine if those factors are important to you.

Size, Facilities, Cost, Financial Aid

When considering the size of a program, one critical factor is the “ratio of students to faculty.” For professional programs that train you in specific skills (e.g., dentistry, physical therapy, etc.), low student-teacher ratios are necessary for effectively learning techniques.

Also, investigate the libraries, laboratories and research facilities available. Similarly, the breadth and depth of the library collection in your field of interest will be crucial to your success. The capabilities of the existing scientific equipment and computing facilities may also be critical factors in some graduate programs.

Further education is an expensive undertaking. To determine the full cost of study, take into consideration the cost of living in that particular city. Increasing tuition fees can be balanced by different sources of financial aid. Scholarships and bursaries are awarded by private corporations, institutions, and associations and are not always based on academic merit. Please note that aid for professional programs is usually more limited than financial assistance for academic graduate programs in history, for example.

When Should I Begin?

Begin early. Researching schools takes time. Some programs will require you to complete the appropriate admissions test (e.g., GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) which has to be planned for well in advance of the application deadline. Applying early can also increase your chances for financial aid, since deadline dates for scholarships are earlier than application deadlines. Financial aid is limited and if you apply late, you may obtain acceptance but not financial support.

Admission Requirements

The number one reason why people are refused admission is because they do not meet the minimum requirements (i.e. the necessary prerequisites and minimum average). Use the Guide to Professional Programs in Canada to plan your course selection to include all necessary prerequisites. Write the programs directly to request the current calendars and application forms and ensure yourself that you have the most up-to-date information.

Most students apply to about six schools. To maximize your chances of admission, it is advisable to apply to your first choice of schools (where your chances of being admitted may be tenuous) but also those you feel confident you are well qualified for. This strategy provides you with a safety net in case your first choice doesn’t materialize. Do not waste your money applying to programs or schools you would not reasonably consider if you were accepted.

Where Can I Get Help?

Contact your guidance office or career centre. You can also call the admissions office of the program you are interested in and arrange a visit. Tours, as well as appointments, can be arranged with appropriate faculty.

Further education can be a stimulating and rewarding choice. Students are cautioned, however, not to make this choice because they fear they have no other options - fully investigate all of your career opportunities.

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