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Choosing a Grad School

This guide includes some resources that can assist you with making decisions about applying to grad school programs.

Finding Grad School Programs

Because no two graduate programs are alike, you'll want to choose a program that best meets your interests and needs. When applying for programs, you'll want to gain as much knowledge about the field, the institution, and the specific program. These resources will lead you through the process of thinking about what graduate programs are best for you and how to go about finding programs in your chosen field.

  • Download this Compare Grad Schools excel worksheet to help you more effectively compare colleges as you conduct research on various graduate school programs.

Evaluating Programs

Once you've identified programs that interest you, the next step is to research those programs and the schools in which they are housed. This can generally be done by diving into the program and university website.

When researching, consider the following points:

  • The Program
  • The People
  • The Opportunities
  • The University

Program

The best way to begin researching a specific program is to examine its website. To find a program website:

  • Use a search engine and search for the institution by name
  • Access the University's main site 
  • Find the Academics menu
  • Next Step - there are different possibilities
    • Departments 
    • Majors and Minors
    • Schools - unless you are looking for a professional program (not a PhD) then you usually want the School of Arts and Sciences, not one of the special schools
  • Navigate to the specific program 
    • Undergrad vs Graduate program - Often these are not separate.  So start with the program / Department & then look at the links for what they say about Grad vs undergrad
    • Separate Schools

Once you've found the program's website, really delve in and search for the following information:

  • Mission of the Program - does program mission appear to fit with your career goals?
  • Application & Admission Requirements - Find the requirements on the program's page, and call if you have any questions!
  • Degree Offerings - Look carefully at the degrees offered and the requirements for completing the degree.
  • Course Offerings - How much coursework is required, and what courses are offered? Make sure that the courses you're interested in are offered regularly
  • Internship/Practicum opportunities - If you are entering a professional program, internships and practica will be essential in obtaining the experience and connections you will need to get a job after graduation. Look at program requirements, support, recent examples of internships, etc.

People

The people in a program are an extremely important consideration when looking at graduate schools. You'll want to look into both faculty and current students. Not everything will be available on the program website. Use the program web page or a search engine find faculty and students so you can contact them and try to schedule meetings during campus visits. 

  • Faculty
    • Who are the faculty?
    • What are their research areas? Do they coincide with your research interests?
    • What have they published, and have they published recently?
    • What do they teach? (Verify this in the course listings)
    • Are they currently serving as graduate advisors?
      • Look at the Graduate Student Profiles and see if the faculty you are interested in are listed. 
      • Look for their names in the school search engine to see how much they participate in events.
      • Look for recent dissertation listings and see if they are named.
    • How long have they been at the school?
      • Be wary of faculty labeled "Emeritus." This generally means they are retired and may no longer teach and likely do not accept new graduate advisees.
  • Current Graduate Students (this is especially important for Ph.D. programs)
    • Who are they? - look for links from the program site that mention graduate students
    • Are students working in your area of interest and writing interesting dissertations?
      • If there are not lists of graduate students, look at the professors and see if info on student dissertations is listed under them.
      • Search WorldCat for recent dissertations from that university on topics you are interested in - See detail box to the right for specific instructions
    • Do they publish and/or present their work? Look for links about Grad student events
    • Do they have events, like workshops, brown bags, and student conferences?  Try to get a sense of how collaborative or independent the culture is - follow any links you can that seem to be FOR graduate students, rather than for prospective Students

University

While the specific program you're interested in is important, so is the larger university environment. Explore the website of the larger institution for things like:

  • Mission
  • Program Offerings - Are there other programs or courses that you're interested in? Would you be able to take advantage of these offerings?
  • Resources - What are the resources that support your program? How expansive are the library collections? Are there research centers in your field?
  • Events & Workshops - Does the campus have interesting events and guest speakers? Are there workshops or conferences you could participate in?

Funding & Stipends

Your funding package will depend on the degree program you're pursuing. It is generally accepted that you should not pay anything for a Ph.D. program, but that doesn't necessarily apply to other programs like professional programs, master's degrees, and other certificates. Funding amounts also vary based on the field you're entering.

Once you are accepted into a Ph.D. or graduate program and receive a funding package, it is important to consider many factors, including:

  • How much is the stipend? Are there hidden costs involved (such as health insurance that comes out of your stipend)?
  • How many years of funding are guaranteed?
  • What is the cost of living? Can I afford to live on this stipend with minimal or no loans?
  • In the sciences, is there space for you to work on a funded research project that interests you? Many dissertations come out of work on a faculty member's study 
  • In social sciences and humanities, are there options for additional research funding and language training? It can be hard to complete your program quickly if there are not summer research and language opportunities available.
  • How much teaching or TAing will I have to do? You definitely need teaching experience, sample syllabi, and teaching evaluations, but you also need to make sure you finish your dissertation