Do you have a passion for research? Are you looking to further your graduate education and pursue a PhD? You’re thinking of a doctoral degree but unsure how to move forward? How to choose a PhD program and the right university can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be! With some thoughtful consideration, research, and a bit of discipline, you can find the perfect PhD program that will help you craft your dream doctoral education. Here are some steps to help guide you through the research process.
Take an inventory of your goals and interests for graduate school
Before you dive into your research and develop a plan, it’s important to start by taking an inventory of your personal, academic, and professional goals. Do you want to work in academia or work in industry? Within your field of interest, are there areas that you would like to specialize in? Are there any research topics that you have been passionate about for a long time? Make a list of these research interests so that you can reference them when making your decision. Additionally, consider if there are any research areas where you may need more support or development. Knowing what type of academic experience you hope to gain from your doctoral degree will help inform which PhD program is right for you.
In addition to your academic and professional goals, consider what kind of school environment you’d like to have as you pursue your doctoral studies. Do you prefer smaller classes and one-on-one attention from faculty members or a large lecture hall with more graduate students? Where will you feel most supported as you pursue your research interests?
Map out potential PhD programs to research
Now that you’ve outlined your research and professional goals as well as your learning environment, it’s time to jot down your ideas. Start by making a list of potential PhD programs that could be a good fit for you. Talk to people in your network who may have had experience with a doctoral program or conducted research in the same field, or reach out to doctoral students you may know. Talking to other graduate students to get better insight into what life is like, what they enjoy, and what they like less in their doctoral program is a great way to get a clearer idea of what it is like to be in a PhD program in general.
Narrow down your choices of worthy doctoral degrees
Once you’ve collected all of this information, it’s time to narrow down your choice of doctoral programs. Make sure that each Ph.D. degree you’re considering is in alignment with your professional goals and with the type of research experience you would like to have.
What is the reputation of the PhD program?
Taking the time to research the reputation of the doctoral program you are considering should be an intricate part of how to choose a PhD program. Look for reviews from current and former graduate students, as well as outside sources such as business publications or industry insiders. Ask yourself whether this program is respected in the field and what its track record looks like. Furthermore, consider if the program has any notable alumni in positions that match where you want to be. Check out the university or college’s academic ranking, notability, quality of education, and the quality of students who have graduated from the program.
What is the reputation of the faculty members working in the doctoral program?
Conducting research online can help you get a good sense of the faculty at the school. Are they leaders in their field? What does their teaching experience look like? Do they have a strong network in academia?? Do their publications regularly make it into top peer-reviewed journals? How many faculty members work on and teach your own research topic?
What does the curriculum for the doctoral degree look like?
Inevitably, one of the most important aspects to consider when selecting a Ph.D. program is the curriculum. Consider what courses are offered, which professors teach them, and if these courses suit your needs for research in your chosen field or specialty. You should also be aware of any additional requirements that may be necessary for the completion of your doctoral degree, such as independent projects or internships. Researching professors within the program is also important; what type of expertise do these professors offer and are there any mentors that you can establish a working relationship with? It is crucial to confirm that professors have the resources, experience, and credentials necessary to support your future dissertation topic.
What are the admissions requirements?
Figuring out how to choose a PhD program involves understanding what qualifications you need to meet to be accepted and what does the application process looks like. Do you need a minimum GPA? Is there an entrance exam? Do you need a master’s degree to get admitted? Is the program requesting a GRE or GMAT score? What type of documents are needed for the application, such as transcripts, statement of purpose, or letters of recommendation? Knowing what the admissions requirement are ahead of time can help make sure that you don’t waste your time applying to PhD programs that may not even accept graduate students with your profile.
Admission standards vary greatly among doctoral programs. Consider the acceptance rate of each doctoral program and what type of GPA, test scores, and other credentials you need to get into this specific university. Knowing these criteria will help you decide if the doctoral program is a good fit for your skillset.
Where is the university located?
Location is also an important factor to consider when you choose a PhD program. Are you willing to relocate? If so, how far? Are there any schools nearby that offer the same or similar doctoral programs? Knowing this information can help you narrow down your options and make an informed decision. Depending on your interests, the location of the university may be especially important for access to resources such as libraries or experts in your field. If you plan on conducting research, you should make sure that the university has adequate resources and facilities to meet your needs. Furthermore, you should think about life-related costs such as housing and transportation, which will vary depending on where the university is located. Lastly, you should ask yourself if living in that city or region fits your lifestyle.
Consider the financial burden of each PhD program and determine which doctoral degree is right for your budget. Make sure to factor in tuition, housing, living expenses, and any other fees associated with the phd degree. Cost should be a major factor in your decision-making process. Are there any tuition waivers or scholarships available for graduate students? Having the right financial support can help you save money. What type of financial support is offered by the graduate school? Considering these factors before enrolling can help ensure that you have the means to finance your doctoral degree and that you are not forced to spend money you don’t have. Funding for a PhD program can come from a variety of sources, including government grants, scholarships, and private organizations. Make sure to determine what the funding landscape looks like at the university you are considering. Are there sufficient resources to support your doctoral research goals? Will you be able to attend conferences or workshops while completing the doctoral degree that will allow you to explore your research topic?
Network & Resources
Research what resources are available to graduate students at a particular university or college. It might be a good idea to look into the student support services offered by the university to graduate students. Consider the networking opportunities and any resources that may be helpful to you during your PhD program. Also, look for graduate student organizations or clubs that offer support and advice to graduate students. Additionally, choose a PhD with a strong track record of graduate placements—find out where alumni have gone after graduating. Don’t hesitate to talk to current graduate students, reach out to alumni and find out what their experience was like while they studied in the department.
How long will it take to graduate from the doctoral program?
Finally, the amount of time you will be spending working towards your PhD is another factor few people think about when choosing a PhD program. The duration can vary widely, depending on the school and your individual academic background. Some PhD programs may require only two years of coursework and research, while others can take up to six or more years. It’s important to find out how long it will typically take for a doctoral student to complete their degree.
Finding the right doctoral program takes time, but it can be done!
Now that you know the main considerations to help you how to choose a PhD program, the process doesn’t seem so daunting, does it? By taking into consideration key elements in selecting a doctoral degree such as career goals, faculty reputation, cost, curriculum, location, and time to finish, you can make an informed decision about the right program for you. Moving forward, if you are still feeling overwhelmed or need help deciding which doctoral program is right for you, sign up for a free consultation. I will be more than happy to help you navigate this process and make sure you end up in the best possible situation!
With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr 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, Dr. Barr 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.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for weekly tutorials on navigating the PhD application process and live Q&A sessions!