Choosing where to attend a graduate school is a wonderful “problem”! PhD programs will frequently invite their admitted students to “admitted students days” and some will pay some or all of the travel expenses. We recommend visiting the graduates schools that you’re considering if at all possible. If you can’t visit in person, it’s wise to at least chat with some professors with whom you’re interested in working and with some current graduate students in your desired area.
Here are some of the things to look for and consider in making your decision:
- Does the department have a strong research community in your area of interest? Ideally, there will be several professors and a good sized group of graduate students working in your general area of interest. This will afford you options on the kinds of problems you can work on and will provide an intellectual community of people to work and talk with.
- How is the morale of the graduate students? Do they get ample mentoring from their advisors and does the department generally take good care of them?
- Are most students finishing their degrees in a reasonable amount of time (e.g., around 5-6 years for a PhD)? Unlike college, the timeframe for a PhD varies by department, research area, advisor, and to a large extent the engagement and motivation of the graduate student her/himself. But, if a department or your intended research group has a track record of keeping graduate students for a very long time, that should be taking under consideration.
- What kinds of support are you likely to get? Most PhD students are supported by either a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or fellowship. Many schools require that their PhD students spend some time on a teaching assistantship in order to get valuable teaching experience, doing this for the duration of your graduate studies will take time away from research. So, it’s good to get a sense of what type of funding you’re likely to have over the course of your graduate studies.