Pursuing a PhD program can be a life-changing moment for students who are interested in shaping the future of their respective disciplines. However, the journey to earn a PhD is rigorous and demands a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources. It’s also important to have questions to ask PhD programs in your back pocket.

Before you make a decision about which PhD program to pursue, it’s essential to explore your options and gather information about the programs you are interested in. That’s why doing your due diligence and asking the right questions can help you make an informed decision. In this blog post, we’ll go over some of the essential questions to ask PhD programs before you apply.

What are the unique features of this PhD program?

During a PhD interview, it’s not just important that you impress your interviewers. They should also strive to leave a positive impression on you. This is the perfect opportunity for them to present their program and persuade you to select it over any other options you may be considering. Use this open-ended question as a chance to hear their arguments for why their program is the best fit for you.

What is the program curriculum like?

When considering a PhD program, it is crucial to evaluate the curriculum and ensure that the program aligns with your academic goals. PhD programs offer in-depth exposure to a specific field, so it’s important to know the curriculum. Among the questions to ask PhD programs, you should inquire about course requirements, credits, electives, and duration. Apart from the coursework, you should also check if the university has provisions for seminars, workshops, or conferences. Talk to the program director or faculty to get an idea of what your coursework and research will look like.

How is the thesis writing process structured?

The process of writing a thesis for a PhD program can vary from program to program. Are there distinct stages for data collection, analysis, and writing, or is the process more flexible? Additionally, how is thesis supervision structured? It’s beneficial to have answers to these questions beforehand.

To what extent can PhD students design their own programs?

It’s important to know that unexpected circumstances like care leave, illness, or failed experiments can delay completing a PhD program. So, if you have unique interests or specific requirements, it’s wise to ask about the program’s flexibility beforehand.

On average, how much time does it take for PhD students to complete their degree?

Universities often state the expected length of their PhD programs, but the actual length of time it takes to complete may differ. While a PhD program may be advertised as a 4-year commitment, it’s common for students to need 6 years to finish. Knowing this beforehand can be advantageous when deciding on a particular program.

Who will be the faculty advisors?

The research experience plays a significant role in a PhD program, and an excellent faculty advisor can have a positive impact on your academic achievements. It is essential to ask about who will be your faculty advisor and their areas of expertise. Ask about how accessible the faculty members are and how they may support you during your research and coursework.

prospective PhD student asking questions to PhD professors

What is the student to faculty ratio?

Classroom size and the faculty to student ratio can play a vital role in a student’s learning experience, especially when conducting research. You should inquire about the average class size and the ratio of faculty to students in the program you are considering. When the student to faculty ratio is smaller, students are more likely to receive more individual attention.

What is the program’s approach to teaching and research?

When evaluating a Ph.D. program, it’s essential to consider the approach to teaching and research. Some programs emphasize independent research while others offer more structured coursework. Determine which approach will work best for you based on your learning style and career goals.

What Research Opportunities are Available?

PhD programs include a significant amount of research, so understanding the research opportunities available is critical. Ask the program coordinator about ongoing research projects and available funding opportunities. Additionally, great questions to ask PhD programs should revolve around research placement after completing the program. A university with strong research facilities and reputation will give you better placement opportunities. It’s crucial to pursue research in your chosen field so that you can demonstrate expertise to potential employers.

Question marks for PhD programs

What kind of facilities and equipment do PhD students have access to in this program?

Can you provide more information on the facilities and equipment offered in the PhD program? Specifically, you should focus on learning about the office space, lab equipment, and laptops that are available. You want to determine if the program would provide the necessary resources for your PhD research needs.

What financial aid options are available?

Pursuing a PhD program is expensive, and it is essential to inquire about the cost of tuition, as well as financial aid opportunities, grants, fellowships, and scholarships available to support your education. Asking about financial opportunities will help you plan for your financial future while you pursue your academic goals.

Ask about the funding policy and available funding opportunities such as fellowships, grants, and assistantships. Additionally, find out the average cost of the program and the expected expenses such as fees, healthcare, and housing. It’s common for students to receive partial or full funding, but the policy varies between universities. Be sure to inquire about any strings attached to the funding such as teaching assistantships or research work.

female prospective PhD student listenting to answers to her questions about a PhD program

What are the career prospects after graduation?

While a PhD primarily focuses on research and academia, a considerable number of graduates pursue non-academic careers. Ask the program coordinators about potential job prospects after completing the program. Additionally, find out how the university assists in job placement and ongoing career support for its graduates. The world is constantly changing, so it’s best to find a program that offers diverse career support and opportunities.

PhD programs in some universities don’t provide any job market preparation for students, neither in academia nor in non-academic fields, while others offer special job training sessions, application support and similar activities. It is important to consider this factor when researching PhD programs, even if you are still exploring your options

Is the focus of the PhD program on preparing students for careers in academia?

Although many PhD students initially aspire to become professors, the truth is that only a minority of them actually succeed in pursuing academic careers. This is partly due to the limited job opportunities in academia and the highly competitive job market. To assess whether a PhD program is in touch with this reality and adapts its training accordingly, it can be helpful to investigate the program’s awareness of non-academic job options.

Establishing connections with industry, community or other external partners is essential for exploring job opportunities beyond academia and conducting practical research. These relationships are highly valued by grant and promotion committees. Find out of if the PhD program encourage developing relationships with industries, collaborating with external partners, and engaging in public outreach activities

While a PhD program may not be solely responsible for your career after graduation, it can be beneficial if it organizes events or fairs to help students network and build relationships with external parties.

What is the program’s graduation rate and job placement record?

Researching the program’s graduation rate and job placement record can give you a better idea of the program’s success rate. A high graduation rate and job placement record suggest that the program provides students with the education and resources needed to succeed in their field post-graduation.

What Support is Offered to PhD Students?

PhD programs can be rigorous and challenging, so it’s vital to come up with questions to ask PhD programs that focus on resources and support. Ask about offered resources such as writing centers, peer support, networking opportunities, and mentorship. You may also inquire about job placement support, as landing a job after your PhD is crucial. Some programs also offer training for non-academic careers such as research, consulting, or writing.

A supportive and well-resourced university will significantly improve your chances of success.

Ask about available resources, such as mentorship opportunities, health services, and counseling, to ensure that you will have the support needed to reach your goals.


Pursuing a PhD is an exciting endeavor, but also an expensive one. The questions to ask PhD programs should help you make an informed decision about the program you choose. The questions highlighted in this post should serve as a guide for essential information about any PhD program. Your time, resources, and energy are precious, and selecting the right PhD program will make all the difference in achieving your career goals. Be sure to take adequate time to consider and research before making your final decision. If you need any help selecting programs or coming up with an application that truly makes you shine, feel free to check out our PhD application services. Got questions about the application process or would like to get a quick profile assessement to see if you are PhD material? Sign up for a consultation, it’s FREE!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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