5 Things to Judge a Graduate Program By, Besides Academics

Here are some criteria you can use to rank the graduate programs you've applied to

Here are some criteria you can use to rank the graduate programs you’ve applied to

We’re following up last week’s post on What Graduate Programs Should I Apply to? with some more qualitative things to look at. We’ve already covered the “hard” stuff like academics and publications, so here’s some other things you should consider when looking at potential graduate sites!

  • Location: This is of course a self-evident criteria for choosing schools, but think long and hard about the area each school is located in. Do you want to live in a small college town in the southwest, or do you want to live in a more urban area on the East Coast? Are you okay with commuting with a million other people every morning, or do you want to get stuck on in an endless concrete spaghetti bowl? You’re going to be living in this location for 5+ years, so make sure you love the place!
  • Availability of collaborations: Is the school  you’re applying to a large one? Does it have many researchers in a diverse ranges of specializations? These may be questions you want to consider when narrowing down schools to apply to. Though a doctoral program will essentially have you doing your own work, it’s important to have the ability to bring in other researchers from other departments to help if necessary. Diversity is the spice of life and research as well!
  • Proximity to desired institutions: In general, if you want to work at an East Coast university post-graduation, you’ll want to attend school in that region. Just as last week’s post touched on the importance of word-of-mouth recognition, so too do we suggest that word-of-mouth is highly location-centric. A lower-ranked local graduate program is likely more respected than a marginally higher-ranked graduate program located halfway across the country. The closer you are to the institution you want to work at, the better your chances at having a leg up!
  • Local life: What kind of activities do you like doing in your free time? It’s important to promote some semblance of work-life balance, so make sure the local area fits your personality! If you like running or mountain biking, look for a school located near natural formations, and if you like being disappointed by local sports teams, make sure you choose Houston or Cleveland. Just make sure you have an ability to let off steam and find a life outside of your research. You’ll need it.
  • Cost of living: While most schools provide a stipend to live on, the distance your stipend will go depends highly on location. Rent is more expensive in San Francisco than Madison, Wisconsin, and a week’s worth of groceries in NYC might cost the same as a month’s in Charlotte, NC. You’re going to be bemoaning your lack of money in grad school anyway, but location may be the difference between crying into 1-ply tissues or 2-ply.
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