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Factors that go into deciding a grad school


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Hi All!


I want to know what all factors one should consider before making a decision and giving an acceptance to a University for attending grad school.


I have some listed, please help me out in making the list more accurate as well as comprehensive:


a) Ranking (could someone give a trustworthy source to find the appropriate raking of a University, as different ranking systems rank Universities differently)


B) Research Interests/POI/Department Ranking (Again if someone can help out with the ranking it will be great)


c) Tuition Fee/ Pay/ Living Expenses/ Offers from other Universities (Funding Offer etc...) 


d) Crime Rate (How do I know the crime rate at an area near a particular University)




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Well it's different for everyone, but here are the factors that have helped me (listed in terms of importance):

1) Fit and faculty... Yes, it's cliche, but so important. Visit the department and see how you fit in there. Can you see yourself being happy? Do you like the faculty? Are the currently students happy?... The school I'm likely going to decide on isn't the highest ranked, but when I visited everything clicked. I loved the feel of the university as a whole, not just the department. The students there loved it, all faculty members I met with were extmeley nice, helpful and very open to training grad students to the best of their ability. I think that ones advisor/mentor(s) is more important than school rank. The faculty in my specific subfield of interest at the current leading school on my list publish regularly and do work that I find fascinating. Their students have great placement snd success after graduation.

2) this stems from "fit" but is worthy of its own category... Research interests. Again, this is huge. It would make no sense to attend a top 5 school over a low ranked school if there was very little to no research being done in the subfield your interested in... For me, the top contending schools have a lot of work being done in clinical trials (biostatistics here). The school I'll likely end up at has about 40-50% of their department working in clinical trials that focus on other things I find interesting (cancer, infectious disease, neurological).

3) Funding.... Without funding, I won't consider a school. It's simple, I'm not going into debt. It would be really stupid (IMHO) to go into serious debt to attend one school when another is paying for you. I was admitted to a top 5 program (a fast track ms/phd, rather than phd), but without funding. I'm not sure if I would have chosen it over the lower ranked school in the end anyways (because I'm told the research interests there aren't exactly in line with what I want), but regardless, without funding I'm not even going for a visit to give it a chance because Im not taking out $100k in student loans.... Again, I'm still waiting on a few schools that I'd seriously consider over what is now the leading contender, but with as much as I liked and "fit" with the current leader on my list, they would have to match my current funding offer given cost of living (which would be hard, because my offer now is a pretty good $25k stipend in a place with low cost of living, which would be equivalent to $33k+ in New England areas), as well as offer an equally great or better fit.

4 and 5) Rank and Climate/Environment.... I have to lump these together because they can cancel eachother out depending on the extremes. Both of these factors come into play when all other things are equal. If the fit, research, and funding is equal between two schools, I then move to rank and environment. To start, I will consider more favorably the higher ranked school... But again, I don't think rank means nearly as much as one's mentor/advisor, so I'd go back go factor number 1 and look at the likelihood of me getting to work with someone I'm interested in. If they are equal, like I said, I start giving favor to the higher ranked and then look at environment/climate. If school A is ranked #2 and school B is ranked #50, then for me to choose B over A, B would have to be in paradise and A would have to be at the North Pole... But if say A was ranked #8 and B was #15, but B was in a beautiful town by the beach and A was in Iowa (no offend to people in Iowa), but I'd take school B. Afterall, I'm going to be living the for at least 5 years, so I want to like it....

Thats pretty much how Im deciding. It's led me to a lower ranked school, but with terrific funding, a great location, a perfect feeling fit, and faculty who's research match my interests.

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For me, funding was the defining factor.  I absolutely would not attend a PhD program that did not offer me a full funding package.  But comparing packages wasn't a big deal for me.  As long as I could live comfortably on the offer, I wasn't concerned with whether I would make slightly more somewhere else.  The only exception is if you were offered a 3-year package somewhere and a 5-year package somewhere else.  That might make the difference.


Once that was out of the way, research fit was the next most important thing.  I needed to be able to do the work I really wanted to do with professors.  Mentor fit is also important; you should be able to work congenially with the person who will be your mentor.  My mentor is excellent; I couldn't ask for a better one.


Reputation was also important to me, because that's important in getting jobs.


The crime rate…eh.  You can find out the number of incidents through the university's Clery Report, which is required by law to be provided upon request.  Most universities have them on their website, although you may have to dig.  I didn't check that out ahead of time, because I was relatively familiar with the kinds of areas my target schools were in, although I had heard sketchy things about Baltimore.

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