Depending on when you submitted your grad school applications, you’ve probably started to hear back from schools about whether or not you were admitted. There is truly nothing more amazing than getting that first acceptance letter—I hope you take some time to celebrate!

Of course, reality will eventually set in as you start to think about which school you’re actually going to matriculate in next fall. Choosing a program is really exciting, but it can also be stressful; grad school is a big investment, and you definitely want to pick the right program for you.

I know I went through a difficult decision-making process when it came down to picking my MBA program. I thought I was hitting a wall when a friend suggested a brilliant way to help clarify my thoughts: Create a grad school scoring rubric.

I know it sounds a little intense, but bear with me. First, you start off by choosing a few categories about the grad school experience that are important to you. Here are some potential categories to consider:

  1. Career Opportunities: How well does this school set you up for future career opportunities? Does it specialize in a particular industry you’re interested in?
  2. Cost: What is the final price tag? Is there any financial aid or scholarship money available for the program?
  3. People: What will your fellow students be like? Is it a diverse class? Do students seem like people you’d want to be friends with?
  4. Location: Is the school located somewhere you could see yourself living for two (or more) years?
  5. Academics: What does the curriculum look like? Is there a balance between classroom learning and hands-on projects?
  6. School Culture: What is the overall “vibe” of the school? Do people seem laid-back or competitive? Are there a lot of clubs on campus you would be interested in?
  7. Intangibles: Is there anything that you can’t put your finger on that makes this school feel extra special? Did you visit and absolutely love it?

Once you’ve picked the categories you want to consider, assign a weight to each category by dividing up a total of 100 possible points into the different categories. This will help you get a sense of which factors you are prioritizing when you pick your school. I actually found this to be the hardest part of the process—it’s tricky to decide how much academics are “worth” to you as opposed to amazing career opportunities.

When you finish setting things up your rubric should look something like this (though your weighting is up to you):

Next, you “grade” each school in each category so you can come up with a final objective score. For example, if you think the location of a certain school is perfect, then you can give it all of the points possible for a category. However, if there was something that bothered you about a school’s culture, you may only give it a couple of points instead of the full amount.

The important thing here is to consider each school independently, as opposed to giving out relative scores. To do this, you might want to make sure you’re only able to see the scores for one school at a time, so you don’t have to worry about comparing them.

Now that you’ve done your grading, you can come up with a total score out of 100 points for each school. This should let you compare how different schools stack up against one another and potentially will point you to the program that most satisfies what you’re looking for.

Of course, life is rarely this cut-and-dry. But there are two likely outcomes to this exercise: Either you’ll confirm that you really do want to go to a particular school, or you’ll get upset because your scores will push you toward a school that wasn’t your top choice. I actually think both outcomes are equally helpful. If the rubric confirms what you were already thinking, then you’re good to go. If, however, you are surprised by the final total scores and go back to tweak the weights so that a different school “wins,” you’ve learned something equally valuable—that you had a gut feeling about a particular program regardless of what the data says.

I hope this helps you make your grad school decisions. Good luck!


Photo of man thinking courtesy of Shutterstock.