As summer begins, and the search for graduate schools ramps up, many of you may be asking “What graduate programs should I apply to? How do I know which ones are the best? We’ll be answering all that and more today!
- Undergrad prestige doesn’t necessarily translate into graduate program prestige: As wee high schoolers, we’ve all dreamed Ivy League dreams, and while the Ivy League and Company are the top undergraduate institutions, this may not be true for graduate programs. If you take a look at our recent post on The Most Funded Schools, you’ll note that many aren’t even Ivy League schools! The University of Michigan and the University of California, San Francisco dominate NIH funding, and the NSF supports the University of Illionois and the University of California, Berkeley. Gunning for an Ivy League may sound good, but when looking for professorships, an Ivy League program may not hold more weight than another school!
- It’s the department that matters: Though a school as a whole may be prestigious, the individual departments may have differing levels of excellence. As the law of averages dictates, every school will have above-average departments/programs, and every school will have below-average departments/programs. In general, a school that is prestigious as a whole will have solid departments all around, but there are exceptions to this, so don’t be caught unawares!
- Talk to your advisors and professors: Only those in a field truly know which programs are well-regarded and which ones are not. Ask around and see what programs your advisor holds in high esteem, and go from there! Academia is all about reputation, and there’s no better compliment than a recommendation from an unaffiliated source. In the end, it’s not national rankings or blogs that can tell you the best programs in the nation — it’s your professors. Listen to their recommendations and go from there!
- Look at grant funding and publications: If all else fails, take a look at overall grant funding allocations and the frequency of publications in a certain field. Check out which schools are frequently represented in Nature or Science, and check the authors! If an author is highly published in numerous high-impact journals, that’s a good sign for the department and program as a whole!