This is the final post in our series, Choosing the Best PhD Program.
I’ve discussed some important criteria for helping you to select a grad program: your goals/research interests, and evaluating whether you’ll be a competitive applicant. Those are big ones. But as a classic PhD Comic reminds us, you’re not just a “brain on a stick”—you have concerns and needs outside of your research. You also need to find a program where you’re going to fit and thrive as a human being for the next several years. A few things to consider are location, finances, and departmental culture.
• Location: is there a part of the country you want to live in? Are you constrained geographically by family needs, or by a career you’re pursuing already? Do you prefer an urban or rural setting? What kind of community do you want to live in?
• Funding: it’s a good idea to investigate funding opportunities when you research admission information. Will you need to submit additional applications? What type of funding is available to grad students in your target department? Is funding guaranteed for the duration of your program? Is funding available during the summer?
• Departmental culture: this is largely an issue of “fit”– but you can find out a fair amount about how a department treats its students by talking to people. When you visit, do people seem at ease? If you sit in on a seminar, do you sense a collegial environment? The grad program you select will be a major part of your life for the next several years, so you want a good fit on a personal level.
Remember, make sure the school where you are going to spend several years pursuing your PhD fits your needs, and not just the other way around.
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