So since I am at the point in my application where I have a long list of schools that I am looking at for very general reasons, and soon will be trying to see if I can narrow that down to fewer (don't know if that will actually happen yet, we'll see), I wanted to write for others what I have been looking at, and will be looking at, with picking out schools. I would like to remind people that I am applying for a program in the sciences, and therefore, this is most likely to apply to people in that area, for I am going to be trying to keep this general.
As a point, you do not need to start as early as I am for looking at grad schools, many places I have looked at for information about this, you don't need to really start doing this until about 1.5 years before the time you want to start at the program you are looking at. I am doing this mainly so that I can give myself more time to look at schools, and I have had plenty of time to think about going to grad school.
From everything I have read, in books, via other peoples post here, adviser's at my school, as well as looking at the websites for schools themselves, one of the most important things to look at for when going to graduate school. What they are doing for research is important, you will want something similar to what you are interested in. They will have the knowledge to help advise you for what you want to learn. They will be the ones most likely to have connections to other people at other schools, when it comes time to recommend you for a job when you graduate (it is never too soon to think about this).
When looking at adviser's, see if they have tenure, try to figure out if they are likely to get tenure if they don't, or see if you can fine out if they are planning to retire soon. If you still want to work with a person who does not have tenure, for what ever reason, at least have a plan B.
Speaking of plan B, see how many people at a school you think you would like to have as an adviser.
The School Itself
Look for these things at the school/department:
- what the department focuses on: it may or may not be what you are interested in researching
- the attrition rate/policy of the school: are they going to accept you only to weed you out the first year or two
- how long does the average student take to graduate from this school
- placement: how likely are you find a job after you graduate, and where (industry, academia, etc.)
- how the department feels: how relaxed the department is
- language requirement
There are a few things that I did not list in the last section, mainly because I think that money concerns deserve a category all of it's own. There are several things in this category that you should specifically look at with schools, especially if money is a serious concern for you. As a reminder, I am looking at the sciences, I do not know if this applies to other fields.
- the resources of the school/department: this is where the money is coming from for your TA/RA positions,tuition waviers and the like come from
- how much of the year your finical aid offer covers: some programs might only cover some months out of the year while you are in classes, and you might be expected to fill in for the summer months
- how much that they offer you in the first place per year, and what year(s) they offer it to you for
- if there is any time they they do not offer you financial aid from internal sources, do they help you get money from external sources.
Other smaller, issues to think of when looking at schools (these will come in handy when you start applying for schools but in some cases will be good to know well before you apply as you will see)
Keep track of these things while applying to schools:
- what they want in the application (GRE, if they want a subject test, in my case they want to see that I have field experience)
- application fees
- if they think that there are any specific classes that they think that you should be taking (I know that UChicago lists classes they would like to see you have for specific sub-fields for geosciences), if they have cases like this, you will want to know before you apply
- dates for the financial aid applications and deadlines for acceptance. Financial aid deadlines are normally well before the final deadline to apply for acceptance of the school.
- also see if they cutoffs for things like your GPA, GRE
Let me know if you think I have missed anything!