Look Beyond Career Goals
If you're lucky enough to be faced with this challenging decision, you must consider your ultimate career goals and how well each program meets your needs. However, it's not uncommon for graduate programs to offer similar opportunities. If you find yourself considering programs that are quite similar, shift your attention to the personal details. Sounds simple - but imagine your life. What would it look like if you attended each program?
- Where will you live? Is there on-campus housing? Does the institution offer off-campus housing or subsidized housing?
- How expensive are apartments and houses? Will you need a roommate to afford rent?
- Is housing readily available?
- Is there housing near the school How expensive is housing Will you have to have a roommate
- What funding opportunities do you have? Have you been offered tuition remission?
- Are there teaching assistantships and research assistantships available?
- Is working off-campus permitted?
- Are there off-campus employment opportunities?
- What are the required courses? Are there opportunities to take electives or specialize?
- How many years must you take courses?
- Is there a comprehensive exam? In what format is it offered? When is it administered?
- Are you assigned a faculty mentor/advisor?
- If you are not assigned an advisor, what is the process for choosing one?
- Are there faculty whose work interests you?
- Are students permitted to work on multiple research projects with multiple faculty?
- Will you have an office? A lab?
- Do you know anyone nearby?
- How far will you be from home?
- Will you feel safe?
Consider Your Quality of Life
Your professors will advise you to go to be most academically rigorous program possible - the one that offers you the best training and the most promising career opportunities. I agree. However, when graduate programs are similar, I think you should consider your quality of life. Ask yourself if you can envision yourself happy in each location.
Make no mistake, you should attend graduate school in order to obtain an excellent education, but remember that graduate school will entail several years of your life. Try to choose a place where you will be happy for the next 5+ years. You may attend the most prestigious graduate program in the country, but it will be hard to succeed if your personal life is miserable. As you choose among graduate programs, try to anticipate your day-to-day experience to choose a program that best meets your needs.