Selecting a Graduate Program

When preparing to pursue graduate studies it is critical to select a program and institution which are a good fit for you. Finding such a fit requires careful preparation. You should research and compare several programs based on your own list of criteria, and you should begin the application process with plenty of time to spare before the deadline. Once you are accepted you should continue your research by visiting the campus, interviewing potential mentors and current students, and comparing financial aid offers, if applicable.

You may have particular preferences that will limit the institutions which you are prepared to consider (e.g. only schools in the Northeast), but there are many other considerations that should be factored into your decision.

Program Considerations

What are the admission requirements?

  • What standardized tests are required and what are the typical scores of incoming students?
  • What academic prerequisites are there?
  • What practical/clinical/research experience is required/desirable for admission?
  • Is a writing sample required?
  • How many letters of recommendation are requested?
  • When are applications reviewed?
  • When are candidates notified about their status?
  • Does the school allow deferment and under what conditions?

What are the academic requirements for completing the degree?

  • How much coursework is required?
  • Are there qualifying exams? When are they generally taken?
  • Is there a thesis or dissertation, and does it have a formal defense?
  • Is there a foreign language competency requirement?
  • To what extent does a student plan her own program?
  • Are there electives?
  • Is there a teaching or other practical requirement to complete the degree?
  • If not, are there opportunities to acquire practical experience?
  • Are there opportunities to publish/present your work?
  • If a PhD program, what is the typical length of completion?

Are fellowships or financial aid available?

  • Are they based on need or on merit?
  • Are they for incoming students? Enrolled students?
  • Is there funding for conference travel or special projects?
  • What is the likelihood of you being a recipient?
  • Are there teaching or research assistantships? Rotations? Clerkships?


How and when do students acquire advisors?

  • Are they assigned or selected?
  • What is the faculty/student ratio?
  • Do faculty members in the department represent a variety of points of view toward the discipline?
  • Are the research interests of the faculty similar to your own?
  • Is there a particular faculty member whose work you know and with whom you would like to collaborate? Is he/she in a position to take you on as an advisee?


Does the institution have the resources you will need for your studies and/or professional training?

  • How extensive and available are the labs and other training facilities?
  • Are there specialized research facilities available?
  • Do the library resources fit your needs and/or is there a good inter-library loan system?
  • Are there cooperative programs with other educational, cultural and research institutions?


Who will your fellow students be?

  • What is the attrition rate? (How frequently do students in the department fail to complete their degree requirements or pass licensure exams?) 
  • What is the general morale among students?
  • Are there opportunities for collaboration with other students?
  • What career services exist for graduate students? 
  • How many of the recent graduates are employed and where?


Can you make this place your home?

  • On a lifestyle level, is the department, university, town a good fit for you?
  • Are there issues of race, sexuality, religion, age, family that may determine how happy you will be in your potential new home?