Picking the right PhD program isn’t like choosing between pour-over or latte, paper or plastic, half-and-half or heavy cream. It’s a major investment, a significant period of time, and a major career direction.
How do you know you’re picking the right PhD program? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you narrow down your search.
Is it compatible with your professional goals?
Sometimes a Ph.D. program may look attractive because of the coursework, or faculty, or location, but in the end, you have to ask yourself if that Ph.D. will advance your career in the direction that you want to take. If it doesn’t, then it might be time to look elsewhere to make sure you choose the right Ph.D. to match your needs or maybe a different professional direction altogether.
What research options are available?
Research is a key part of a Ph.D. program, and the work you do as part of your Ph.D. program can help your career get off on a solid footing. Take your time and ask questions as you analyze the research opportunities that will be part of your Ph.D. program. Visit the campus, meet your professors, and dig deep to see if you’ll have all of the tools and resources you need at your disposal, including the freedom to research what you are truly passionate about.
What’s the reputation of the faculty?
You’ll be spending the lion’s share of your time being guided by the faculty, so do all you can to make sure they’re the kind of scholars and mentors you want to influence your work and your career. Sites like Rate My Professors tend to be skewed and focus on personality alone, so be sure to spend most of your research time looking at faculty CVs, publications, research records and areas of interest to ensure that your potential teachers match up with your research goals.
What funding is available?
Funding is a big factor that can influence your choice for the right Ph.D. program. Fellowship and assistantship offers can even make it your #1 factor. Turning to loans to fund your graduate studies is a big decision that will influence the rest of your life, so do your due diligence to find out how you can save money and obtain funding. Check out our guide to “scholarships” for grad school.
How long will it take?
Chances are you have career and family factors to consider, and you probably can’t put it all on “pause” to get your Ph.D. How long do you want to keep studying? How can you balance your current job situation with a Ph.D. program? Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help steer you towards choosing the right Ph.D. program.
Are students happy, graduating, and finding jobs?
Current grad students in the program and those who have recently graduated can also be an important asset to you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Ask about their grad school experiences, find out whether they’re happy with the program and faculty, research support and teaching opportunities, and prep for the job market. Find out too if they’re getting jobs, and where they’re ending up after graduation. They were once in your shoes and knowing about their experiences can help you choose the right Ph.D. program.
Find the Right PhD for You!
Learn more about PhD programs at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.