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Get to Know Faculty Before Applying to a Grad Program

Getting to know the faculty who will potentially teach you is a key step in searching for a graduate degree program.

I recently thought about why this is so important when a former professor from my master’s program emailed me about an upcoming seminar series related to my field. A few talks interested me, so I put them on my calendar. Even though I’ve been out of graduate school for several years, this professor continues to keep me informed about educational and job opportunities and helps me stay connected to others in my field.

My relationship with this professor began long before the first day of class. It began when I started researching graduate programs, before even applying to graduate school. I emailed him, along with several others, to set up meetings. (I met with them face-to-face, but it could have easily been done through Skype or other video chat platforms). I was able to talk about the degree programs with those who’d be teaching my classes, advising me on my master’s thesis and helping me grow my network.

Through conversations, not just online profiles or CVs, I learned about their research and how my own interests aligned — or didn’t align — with theirs. I got to know professors on a first-name basis, so it wasn’t just name-dropping when I talked about them in my statement of purpose. The professor who emailed me the other day helped me get into the program and ended up serving on my thesis committee.

Why should you get to know faculty when searching for the right graduate program for you? Consider the roles faculty will play in your education and career:

These professors and instructors will be the ones teaching your classes. The best ones will be able to supplement what you’re learning from textbooks, journals, and other resources with examples and anecdotes from their own careers. They will be able to show you how to apply academic knowledge in the workplace, or in other words, how to turn theory into practice.

If you’re pursuing a graduate degree, these professors may end up serving on your project, thesis, or dissertation committee. Find out if any professors in the program have research interests that align with your own. This will make it immensely easier to identify and complete a project, thesis or dissertation — and ultimately your degree. You will benefit from their knowledge of scholarly literature and research methods in your field, and you may be able to carve out a piece of their current research to pursue. They’ll also be more likely to want to co-author a journal article with you. Some schools even require a recommendation from a faculty member for this very reason.

When getting to know faculty members, find out where they’ve studied and worked. While in school, you’ll be part of a learning community with people in your field. Faculty help build these communities and your own network of contacts. They can let you know of key conferences to attend where you’ll present your research and meet other colleagues, introduce you to people they know in your field, and provide references when you apply to jobs. This can be extremely helpful in finding work and staying connected.

Learn From Faculty Who Know Your Field Best
I can’t stress enough how important it is to enter a program with faculty members who excite you, especially if you’re pursuing a graduate degree. You should learn from professors who are experts in your field. Ideally, they will be scholar-practitioners, helping to solve real-world problems through research while still doing the work. When you graduate, you want to be able to apply the knowledge you gain to the workplace. You know you’ve found a degree program that is a good fit for you when you’re just as sold on the faculty members as they are on you. You’ll both gain from the experience you have in school, and you’ll get the most out of your education.

Have a couple minutes? I encourage you to watch this video and get to know some of the faculty who teach online at CSU.


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