As you bring your interests into focus, start to create a list of target programs. Many factors will influence your decision-making process– here are some things to think about.
- Do you have geographical considerations? (Do you need to be near family, or in a certain city where a spouse works?)
- What are the strengths of the programs that interest you? If you’re looking to work in industry, does the program offer networking/internships/career placement? If you’re looking at a PhD, is the program strong in your subfield?
- If you’re planning to apply for a PhD program, is there a faculty member in the department who is doing work in your area of interest, or who could serve as your mentor/research supervisor?
- How many students does the program accept each year? (Some doctoral programs enroll as few as 3-4 students annually– so know that even if your credentials are stellar, you should have more than one plan!)
- Is there funding available?
- For PhD programs: does the university publish the average time to degree of students in the program? (This is sometimes rather different from the stated program length you’ll find in the catalog.)
- Are there opportunities to work as a teaching or research assistant? If grad students in the department are expected to teach, is there a mentoring program in place? How many semesters do students TA?
- If you’re hoping to work as an academic, inform yourself about the structure/expectations of your discipline. Do the programs you’re looking at have a strong record of placing their PhDs in postdocs and tenure track positions? (Do the professors you’re thinking about working with have such a record?)
- If you have a good relationship with a current or past faculty mentor, ask for advice about programs and potential grad advisers to consider.
Next time, I’ll address how to develop a concrete description of your research interests.
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School, Rebecca is available to help you write clear essays and personal statements that communicate and persuade.