Things to consider when selecting a grad program
If you haven’t already, you should soon be receiving some acceptance letters to a PhD or Master’s program in the quantitative sciences and now you need to decide where to go. Here are a few things to consider:
- Does the department and/or university offer social support for me? It can be lonely to be far away from family, so a strong social network is important when choosing a graduate program. Take advantage of any visits that are offered and get to meet some of the graduate students. Ask them how they found their social support network. Try to get a feel for the students in your cohort and who are already in your program. Do you feel that you can be part of that community? Does the university provide other communities that you can be a part of?
- What does it cost to attend? A PhD in the quantitative sciences should be “free” in the sense that you should not pay for tuition. Most programs at least offer a TAship, meaning that you would have to lead discussion sections, grade papers, and maybe teach your own class. But these TAships should offer a tuition fee waiver, meaning that not only do you receive a salary but you also do not have to pay for tuition. In addition, many schools offer Fellowships (think scholarships) that cover tuition and provide a stipend so that you don’t have to teach during the first year, the last year, or a combination of both.
- What are the requirements for graduation and what type of support is offered? How many first-year “quals” (qualification exams) do you have to pass and what type of support is offered to pass them. When can you start doing research? Make sure to ask graduate students about the process of choosing an advisor.
- Find out if the environment of the program is competitive or collaborative or a little bit of both. Ensure that you are comfortable with that environment.
- Ask about housing and campus support services. Where do most students live and how did everyone move? Moving can be expensive so find out how people were able to move in an affordable manner.
- Find out more about the community that surrounds the campus and if it provides for your needs. For example, I needed to learn how to make salsa for my food since I could not find it at the local grocery stores. What are some things that are essential for you to thrive in graduate school?
- Ask graduate students about the types of jobs that graduates are getting after grad school. Are these the types of jobs that you will be looking for?
Remember, you’ll be living near this campus between four to six years so you must make sure that you ask lots of questions from everyone you meet so that you can make the best decision possible for yourself. And remember not to compare yourself to others - the program has to fit you so that you can be successful.