Whether you’re applying for a Master’s or a PhD, entering April with multiple offers in hand is a terrific position to be in. Now you need to evaluate which program is the very best one for your needs. Here are some important things to think about as you make your choice:
Can you see yourself living in the city/region where the university is located—either for 1-2 years for a master’s, or up to 6 (or more) for a PhD? Do you have family or friends in the area where the school is located? Do you have a spouse who will need to find work in the area? Consider the practical and emotional aspects of choosing a place to live.
Is one of the departments a better match in terms of its reputation in your field of interest? (Note: this doesn’t necessarily correspond with rankings!)
Go back to the notes you made when you were selecting schools to apply to. (If you didn’t make careful notes then, now’s the time.) Which program has the best opportunities for you, in terms of curriculum, research opportunities, etc? Which program most closely matches your interests?
This applies mainly to PhD students. Who will be your research supervisor? Have you had the chance to meet or correspond with potential supervisors at the programs you’re choosing from (or their current students)? Your undergraduate adviser is also a helpful resource, if s/he knows the field well. You want to do your best to choose a program where you will have great mentoring and research supervision.
This is of more significance for PhD students, since PhD programs are often fully funded, while fewer MA/MS programs offer funding. Which program offered you the best/most attractive funding package? How do the packages compare in terms of their composition (fellowships vs assistantships)? How many years is funding guaranteed for, and is summer funding available?
6. Cost of living
Related to both funding and location is the cost of living. In some parts of the country, a graduate stipend might be plenty to live on, while in very expensive markets, you may need to consider loans (or additional employment) to cover living expenses.
Evaluating multiple attractive offers is an enviable position to be in! We wish you the best as you make your choice.
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, assists our clients applying to MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She is happy to assist you with your grad school applications.