How To Research Graduate Programs
What is the best graduate program for you?Tough question: one which deserves much thought and attention. When researching graduate programs, you may want to consider:
- Program Strengths
- Career Track
- Program Info & Rankings
The research interest and specializations of faculty are key when evaluating graduate programs. Read all you can about faculty to find graduate programs where your research interest "has a home." When reviewing your graduate school application, the committee will place high importance on whether or not a faculty member in the department will be able to work with you on your proposed research. Most departments include the faculty members' web pages or online CVs which outline their interests, courses, publications and projects. Once you have a better understanding of the faculty in the department, you should be able to better evaluate 1) whether this is a program which can support your interests and 2) whether your application will have a faculty advocate (and eventual mentor) on the selection committee.
Do not solely evaluate the strength of the university, instead evaluate the full package while placing most emphasis on the program. A university may have a small or less well-known government department but they may offer great resources and faculty in your specific interest area (i.e., political theory). And vice-versa, a large, well-known university may have a highly ranked government program that does not have the resources or faculty to support your study area. Evaluate the program strengths by researching the faculty: what do they teach, what have they published, what do they research, how well known are they in their community? In addition, you can view program rankings below.
Is the university located in the geographical area you prefer? How important is the location to you, and why? Is the location on campus? In a city? In a college town? What geographic area do you want to work in after graduating? Keep in mind that it is very difficult to teach at the same university from which you earn your Ph.D.
Graduate programs are competitive; however some are more so than others. If this is important to you for personal or career reasons, evaluate the admissions statistics, current research, amount of funding received annually, amount of and importance of published work and alumni career paths.
Is the size of the library adequate both in terms of holdings and space? Does the university have multiple libraries, archives and research centers accessible to graduate students?
Graduate programs differ in the degrees they offer. Some offer terminal master's degrees only, others offer both master's and doctorate degrees and still others only accept doctorate degree applicants.
Somewhere along the line, financing will play a role in the decision making process. Consider the total cost for two years of study for a master's program and at least six years of study for a doctorate program. This estimate should include tuition, room and board, personal expenses, insurance and travel. Familiarize yourself with the funding options offered by the department: graduate student funding may include assistantships, instructorships, fellowships and scholarships. Doctorate programs generally offer funding, whereas master's programs are less likely to do so.
Research typical career tracks of program alumni for a snapshot of your potential opportunities. Keep in mind that master's degrees generally prepare you for professional career tracks in a variety of industries and sectors whereas doctorate degrees prepare you for a career in academia.
U.S. News & World Report: America's Best Graduate Schools: This site offers an abbreviated graduate school program rankings guide. Check out the hardcopy at LACS (FAC 18) for a more comprehensive list of rankings organized by area of study.
If you prefer to use your own criteria to evaluate graduate program rankings, use the personalized ranking system at PhDs.org.
Peterson's Guide: This guide is a great resource to help you research graduate programs across the country. Explore information about admissions, funding, faculty, research, rankings and specializations.