Venturing into a new phase of your life starts with knowing where to begin. If you have made the decision to attend graduate school, you may be overwhelmed with the first step — selecting the ideal graduate school for that next phase of your professional life. Daunting as it may be, the rewards are clear — those with a master’s degree or higher earned about 18 percent more on average than those with a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But, with the sheer number of options out there for postgraduate education, many students can be forgiven for feeling a certain amount of anxiety when faced with the choice. Fortunately, you can put yourself on solid ground when taking that first step on your way to a new professional life through proper preparation. Here are some tips to help you start off on the right foot.

1. Know what you want.

Graduate school is a serious commitment, and hopefully by now you have put a serious amount of thought into your professional goals. Even if you are confident in your professional goals, it can be helpful to find a professional in your chosen career path to talk to about the types of specific skills and concentrations you may need. Having a clear picture of exactly what you need to learn will help you choose a graduate school that can provide you with that knowledge.

2. Do your research.

Knowing what you are looking for in a graduate school will help you ask the right questions when it comes time to research specific schools. Reviewing the graduate course catalog for each of your options is important, but also make sure to take a good look around the campus and determine whether or not each school has the resources to best serve your needs. Take the time to look into the types of grants, fellowships and/or assistantships each school offers. Do not neglect to look at what each school has to offer in the way of facilities, as well. A graduate school with an exemplary library system or state-of-the-art laboratories can do just as much to support your education as its faculty.

3. Make connections.

There is more to determining which graduate school is right for you than what is included in the course catalog. The Princeton Review stresses the importance of having quality face-to-face time with faculty members as well as graduate students when making your decision. Talking to faculty can help you decide whether or not you would feel comfortable working with them as well as help bolster your application once you’ve made your decision. More important, however, could be the insights you gain from interviewing current graduate students. Their experience could be yours, after all, and finding out whether or not they feel satisfied with their education can go a long way toward helping you make a decision.

4. Be selective.

Applying to multiple grad schools is a draining experience, emotionally and financially. Casting a wide net by applying to a large number of graduate schools is likely to do little more than dilute your attention and weaken your applications. It is in your best interest to narrow your focus to a handful of schools that fit best within your professional goals and personal preferences. As you probably did when choosing an undergraduate school, you will most likely want to divide your graduate school options into categories. Choose one or two schools you feel very confident about, two or three that are good fits for you but aren’t necessarily locks for acceptance, and one “dream school” that would be a long shot but meets all of your needs.