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Hello All,

Now that we have started to gather acceptances (and also to the rest of you who surely have acceptances on the way!), I wanted to gather some advice on what sorts of questions you ask of programs in order to help you in the decision-making process.

I have looked through the "Decisions" thread (about the first 7 pages) and did gather some good "general" information on this topic, but am wondering if there is any Humanities or English/Literature specific information I should consider.

Things I've gathered so far are:

Funding vs. cost of living

Availability of summer funding and dissertation grants (if not included included in basic funding package)

Job placements for recent graduates

Completion rate of students and average time to complete degree

Ability to design and teach own courses

Professional development opportunities (co-authoring, workshops, etc.)

Size of incoming class

Number of professors working in my subfield and how closely we are matched

Location/weather, could I be happy living there for 5+ years?

If anyone could add to, expand, or comment on what I've got here I'd appreciate it!

I have a phone call scheduled with a DGS for early next week to "discuss the program, answer any questions I may have and hook me up with faculty and students" and I want to make sure I ask the appropriate questions.

Also, do you think it's appropriate to ask about a visit if it isn't mentioned by the DGS? How do you word such queries? I'm perfectly content with paying for it myself if that's what it requires but you know...

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I have ventured all the way from the Classics board to say that your post is absurdly helpful, greekdaph. I, for one, appreciate your exhaustive and exhausting list. When it comes down to actually being on campus, it's so easy to get overwhelmed, nervous, or any other emotion and forget to ask some things you really wanted to know. With some subject-related changes, I'm definitely printing this out. Kleos to you! :)

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Glad I could be of help! Enjoy those visits!

I have ventured all the way from the Classics board to say that your post is absurdly helpful, greekdaph. I, for one, appreciate your exhaustive and exhausting list. When it comes down to actually being on campus, it's so easy to get overwhelmed, nervous, or any other emotion and forget to ask some things you really wanted to know. With some subject-related changes, I'm definitely printing this out. Kleos to you! :)

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Oh my gosh greekdaph...thank you!

I love that this list encompasses lots of those unquantifiable aspects of being in a program.

I have heard more than once that visiting is a must. People all seem to say the same thing: that they knew "right away" whether or not the program is what they were looking for.

Okay, I'm going to go chew over this awesome list!

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I wrote up an exhaustive--and exhausting--list of questions before my visit last year and am pasting it below. Keep in mind that encoded within these questions are assumptions and preferences that are likely specific to me and what I was looking for. Also, though I asked many of these questions during my visits, I also found that, in the scheme of things, most of these questions--or, I should say, most of the answers--didn't really matter in my decision-making process. In much the same way that stats tell you something, but not necessarily something useful, about what programs are looking for and what your fellow applicants are like, these questions often tell you structural things about a department but not what it actually feels like to be there. Everyone's mileage will vary, of course, but I found myself not caring if, say, prelims were written or oral (though I had a preference) if everything else about the program was appealing. In the end, if it's a program you love, you'll jump through whatever hoops it presents. I highly recommend visiting schools, as there were programs at which my instinctive reaction told me everything I needed to know after about 5 minutes of being there. Additionally, visiting schools lets you make contact with people who will be important to your work regardless if you end up working with them directly. Good luck! It's an exciting, if unnerving time, and as difficult as it was last year to weigh the options, I found myself missing the sense of possibility after I had made a decision that I was (and am) very happy with.

-PLACES TO STUDY AND WORK

-Where do most people do their writing and reading?

-What study spaces are available? Do students get a carrel? Do those who teach get or share an office?

-LIBRARY

-What is the library system like? Are the stacks open or closed?

-What are the library hours?

-Are there specialized archives/primary sources that would be useful to my research?

-Are there specialist librarians who can help me with my research?

-FACULTY

-Are the faculty members I want to work with accepting new students? Are any of those faculty members due for a sabbatical any time soon?

-Are professors willing to engage you on a personal level rather than just talking about your work?

-Are there any new professors the department is hiring in areas that align with my interests?

-Students’ relationships with their professors – are they primarily professional, or are they social as well?

-FUNDING

-Is funding competitive? If so, do students feel a distinction between those who have received more generous funding and those who haven’t?

-How does funding break down among the cohort? i.e., how many people receive fellowships?

-How, if you don’t have much savings, do you make enough money to live comfortably?

-Are there external fellowships one can apply to? If so, what is available? Does the program help you apply for these fellowships? How does receiving an external fellowship affect internal funding?

-If people need more than five/six years to finish, what funding resources are available? (For instance, Columbia can give you an additional 2-year teaching appointment.)

-Do you provide funding for conferences or research trips?

-How often is funding disbursed? (i.e., do you get paid monthly or do you have to stretch a sum over a longer period of time?)

-COHORT

-Do students get along with each other? Is the feeling of the program more collaborative than competitive?

-Do students in different years of the program collaborate with each other, or are individual cohorts cliquey?

-How many offers are given out, and what is the target number of members for an entering class?

-Ages/marital status of people in the cohort – do most people tend to be married with families? Are there younger people? Single people? What sense do you have of how the graduate students interact with each other socially?

-Do people seem happy? If they’re stressed, is it because they’re busy or is it because they’re anxious/depressed/cynical/disillusioned?

-Is the grad secretary/program administrator nice?

-What is the typical time to completion? What are the factors that slow down or speed up that time?

-I’ve read that there are two kinds of attrition: “good” attrition, in which people realize that the program, or graduate study, isn’t right for them and leave early on, and “bad” attrition, in which people don’t finish the dissertation. What can you tell me about the rates of each, and of the reasons why people have chosen to leave the program?

-JOB MARKET/PROFESSIONALIZATION

-What is the placement rate? How many of those jobs are tenure-track?

-What are examples of institutions in which people in my field have been placed?

-How does the department prepare you for the job search? Are there mock interviews and mock job talks?

-Are the people helping you navigate the job search people who have recently gone through the process themselves?

-If you don’t get placed, is there anything the department can do for you? (e.g., can you stay an extra year?)

-How does the department prepare you for and help you attain conference presentations and publications?

-SUMMER WORK

-What is encouraged/required?

-If there separate funding/is the year-round funding enough to live on during the summer?

-Do people find themselves needing to get outside work during the summer in order to have enough money?

-Am I expected to stay in town in the summer, and what happens if I don’t?

-LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT

-What is done to help people who don’t have language proficiency attain it? Does the university provide funding?

-What is the requirement, and by when do you have to meet it?

-Given my research interests, what languages should I study?

-When do you recommend doing the work necessary to fulfill the language requirement? (i.e., summer before first year, summer after first year, while taking classes, etc.)

-LOCATION REQUIREMENTS

-How long are students required to be in residence?

-How many students stay in the location for the duration of the program? (i.e., how many dissertate in residence?)

-How is funding affected if you don’t stay?

-Incompletes on papers at the end of the term: What is the policy, how many students take them, and how does this affect progress through the program?

-TEACHING

-What sort of training is provided?

-What types of courses do people teach?

-Does teaching entail serving as a grader? Serving as a TA? Developing and teaching a section of comp?

-How are students placed as TAs? Is there choice about what classes you teach and which professors you work with? Do classes correspond to your field?

-How many courses do you teach per semester/year?

-How many students are in your classes?

-How does the school see teaching as fitting in with the other responsibilities/requirements of graduate study?

-How do students balance teaching with their own work?

-Is the department more concerned with training you as a teacher/professor or with having cheap labor to teach their classes?

-How, if at all, does the economic downturn affect teaching load/class sizes?

-What are the students like? Can I sit in on a course a TA teaches to get a sense of them?

-METHODOLOGY

-Is a theory course required?

-What methodology do most people use?

-Where, methodologically, do you see the department – and the discipline – heading?

-Is interdisciplinarity encouraged, and what sorts of collaboration have students undertaken?

-Typical graduate class and seminar sizes

-What should I do to prepare over the summer?

-Ask people I know: What are the questions – both about the program itself and about the location – I should ask that will most help me get a feel for whether this is the right program for me?

-Ask people I know: What do you wish you knew or wish you had asked before choosing a program?

-Is the school on the semester or the quarter system, and how does that affect classes/teaching/requirements?

-What is the course load for each semester, and how many courses are required?

-What kind of support is provided while writing the dissertation? I worry about the isolation and anxiety of writing such a big project. What does the program do to help you break the dissertation down into manageable pieces, and to make the experience less isolating?

-What do writing assignments look like in classes? Do they differ based on the type/level of class and/or based on whether you intend to specialize in the field?

-Ask professors: what have you been working on lately?

-Ask professors: What is your approach to mentoring and advising graduate students?

-How long are class meetings?

-How often do professors teach graduate courses?

-Are course schedules available for future semesters (10-11, etc.)?

-Can I see the grad student handbook? Are there any other departmental documents – such as reports on the program prepared for accreditation – that I can see?

-QUALITY OF LIFE

-Prices – how does the cost of gas, milk, cereal, etc. compare to other places I've lived in?

-Cost and quality of typical one-bedroom apartment.

-What does the university do to provide you with or help you find housing?

-When (i.e., what month) do people start looking for an apartment for the fall, and where do they look?

-Is it easy to find a summer subletter?

-How close to campus can—and should—one live?

-What grocery stores are there in town?

-How late are cafes, bookstores, malls, restaurants typically open?

-What do people do to make extra money?

-Does the town have more of a driving or a walking culture? What is parking like near campus (availability, ease, cost)?

-Where do most English grad students live? Most other grad students? Most professors? Where is the student ghetto? Do most students live near each other, or are they spread out far and wide?

-How far does the stipend go in this location?

Greekdaph,

If I could give you a "+10" vote, I would. This is a tremendously helpful list. My only hope is to pull in an acceptance or two and have the opportunity to get some of these questions answered!

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greekdaph, i'm considering having this tattooed on me.

this is incredibly helpful and will go a long way towards improving my life this week, and really soothes my shaky nerves as i anticipate talking with faculty.

just want to give a resounding, THANK YOU!

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@greekdaph - thank you thank you thank you!!

I will definitely keep that list in mind (and should probably print it out, as well), since i know i'm a doofus about asking the right questions. i always forget, being so overwhelmed by... well... everything :lol:

Since i'm living abroad at the moment (and not even really expecting to get in anywhere this year), i'm thinking about taking a 2-3 week trip to the US in september / october and check out some schools BEFORE applying again. I'm thinking that I should take that list with me and start personally ranking programs even before I send out applications... (also to talk to as many profs as possible that i like while there... see where i would have the best fit, while still sending out apps to about 10-15 schools...)

many, many thanks!!

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Also, are graduate students responsible for paying tuition fees? Even thought tuition is "covered" by a stipend, some places have you pay tuition fees each semester, which can be substantial (e.g., I pay $500 in Fall/Spring and $300 in Summer).

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Learning from my boyfriend who just applied and is attending an MFA in his 2nd year, I've learned from his app experience. I think one thing that is understated is judging by the amount of recruitment and effort the dept is putting into you. He got an overwhelming response from OSU's English dept, phone calls from the DGS and other students, lots of activity on facebook, emails, offers for funding and recomendations for places to eat out. His response from FSU was a single letter saying 'you've been accepted.' When he tried to call to see what the funding situation was, he didn't get an answer.

And the outcome of these situations are, OSU has a very non-competitive, supportive program where everyone is friends. Everyone has funding so there isn't a competitive negative vibe. I hear from someone who went to FSU that their program is very unfriendly and competitive. And I think that you can judge these two cases by the response he got and the amount of effort and recruitment they put into him. It's the most important thing, I think, to have a friendly and supportive environment and you can tell by the way they respond to you.

Has anyone else had similar experiences? What are the responses like for other schools? I'm waiting to hear anything, myself.

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Bump for 2013

 

 

Seconded. The list from greekdaph just saved me hours of brainstorming.

 

thank you for finding and bumping this.  so helpful.  going to copy, paste, adjust, and make a spreadsheet out of this. hugs to greekdaph, wherever s/he is ;)

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This list is fabulous.  Everything that I should have thought of but at least half of it would have slipped my mind.

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Weird; I definitely have this list saved on my computer, and I know I got it off of the internet but I don't think it was from here. It has been immensely useful so far, though! greekdaph is a god.

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I wrote up an exhaustive--and exhausting--list of questions before my visit last year and am pasting it below. Keep in mind that encoded within these questions are assumptions and preferences that are likely specific to me and what I was looking for. Also, though I asked many of these questions during my visits, I also found that, in the scheme of things, most of these questions--or, I should say, most of the answers--didn't really matter in my decision-making process. In much the same way that stats tell you something, but not necessarily something useful, about what programs are looking for and what your fellow applicants are like, these questions often tell you structural things about a department but not what it actually feels like to be there. Everyone's mileage will vary, of course, but I found myself not caring if, say, prelims were written or oral (though I had a preference) if everything else about the program was appealing. In the end, if it's a program you love, you'll jump through whatever hoops it presents. I highly recommend visiting schools, as there were programs at which my instinctive reaction told me everything I needed to know after about 5 minutes of being there. Additionally, visiting schools lets you make contact with people who will be important to your work regardless if you end up working with them directly. Good luck! It's an exciting, if unnerving time, and as difficult as it was last year to weigh the options, I found myself missing the sense of possibility after I had made a decision that I was (and am) very happy with.

-PLACES TO STUDY AND WORK

-Where do most people do their writing and reading?

-What study spaces are available? Do students get a carrel? Do those who teach get or share an office?

-LIBRARY

-What is the library system like? Are the stacks open or closed?

-What are the library hours?

-Are there specialized archives/primary sources that would be useful to my research?

-Are there specialist librarians who can help me with my research?

-FACULTY

-Are the faculty members I want to work with accepting new students? Are any of those faculty members due for a sabbatical any time soon?

-Are professors willing to engage you on a personal level rather than just talking about your work?

-Are there any new professors the department is hiring in areas that align with my interests?

-Students’ relationships with their professors – are they primarily professional, or are they social as well?

-FUNDING

-Is funding competitive? If so, do students feel a distinction between those who have received more generous funding and those who haven’t?

-How does funding break down among the cohort? i.e., how many people receive fellowships?

-How, if you don’t have much savings, do you make enough money to live comfortably?

-Are there external fellowships one can apply to? If so, what is available? Does the program help you apply for these fellowships? How does receiving an external fellowship affect internal funding?

-If people need more than five/six years to finish, what funding resources are available? (For instance, Columbia can give you an additional 2-year teaching appointment.)

-Do you provide funding for conferences or research trips?

-How often is funding disbursed? (i.e., do you get paid monthly or do you have to stretch a sum over a longer period of time?)

-COHORT

-Do students get along with each other? Is the feeling of the program more collaborative than competitive?

-Do students in different years of the program collaborate with each other, or are individual cohorts cliquey?

-How many offers are given out, and what is the target number of members for an entering class?

-Ages/marital status of people in the cohort – do most people tend to be married with families? Are there younger people? Single people? What sense do you have of how the graduate students interact with each other socially?

-Do people seem happy? If they’re stressed, is it because they’re busy or is it because they’re anxious/depressed/cynical/disillusioned?

-Is the grad secretary/program administrator nice?

-What is the typical time to completion? What are the factors that slow down or speed up that time?

-I’ve read that there are two kinds of attrition: “good” attrition, in which people realize that the program, or graduate study, isn’t right for them and leave early on, and “bad” attrition, in which people don’t finish the dissertation. What can you tell me about the rates of each, and of the reasons why people have chosen to leave the program?

-JOB MARKET/PROFESSIONALIZATION

-What is the placement rate? How many of those jobs are tenure-track?

-What are examples of institutions in which people in my field have been placed?

-How does the department prepare you for the job search? Are there mock interviews and mock job talks?

-Are the people helping you navigate the job search people who have recently gone through the process themselves?

-If you don’t get placed, is there anything the department can do for you? (e.g., can you stay an extra year?)

-How does the department prepare you for and help you attain conference presentations and publications?

-SUMMER WORK

-What is encouraged/required?

-If there separate funding/is the year-round funding enough to live on during the summer?

-Do people find themselves needing to get outside work during the summer in order to have enough money?

-Am I expected to stay in town in the summer, and what happens if I don’t?

-LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT

-What is done to help people who don’t have language proficiency attain it? Does the university provide funding?

-What is the requirement, and by when do you have to meet it?

-Given my research interests, what languages should I study?

-When do you recommend doing the work necessary to fulfill the language requirement? (i.e., summer before first year, summer after first year, while taking classes, etc.)

-LOCATION REQUIREMENTS

-How long are students required to be in residence?

-How many students stay in the location for the duration of the program? (i.e., how many dissertate in residence?)

-How is funding affected if you don’t stay?

-Incompletes on papers at the end of the term: What is the policy, how many students take them, and how does this affect progress through the program?

-TEACHING

-What sort of training is provided?

-What types of courses do people teach?

-Does teaching entail serving as a grader? Serving as a TA? Developing and teaching a section of comp?

-How are students placed as TAs? Is there choice about what classes you teach and which professors you work with? Do classes correspond to your field?

-How many courses do you teach per semester/year?

-How many students are in your classes?

-How does the school see teaching as fitting in with the other responsibilities/requirements of graduate study?

-How do students balance teaching with their own work?

-Is the department more concerned with training you as a teacher/professor or with having cheap labor to teach their classes?

-How, if at all, does the economic downturn affect teaching load/class sizes?

-What are the students like? Can I sit in on a course a TA teaches to get a sense of them?

-METHODOLOGY

-Is a theory course required?

-What methodology do most people use?

-Where, methodologically, do you see the department – and the discipline – heading?

-Is interdisciplinarity encouraged, and what sorts of collaboration have students undertaken?

-Typical graduate class and seminar sizes

-What should I do to prepare over the summer?

-Ask people I know: What are the questions – both about the program itself and about the location – I should ask that will most help me get a feel for whether this is the right program for me?

-Ask people I know: What do you wish you knew or wish you had asked before choosing a program?

-Is the school on the semester or the quarter system, and how does that affect classes/teaching/requirements?

-What is the course load for each semester, and how many courses are required?

-What kind of support is provided while writing the dissertation? I worry about the isolation and anxiety of writing such a big project. What does the program do to help you break the dissertation down into manageable pieces, and to make the experience less isolating?

-What do writing assignments look like in classes? Do they differ based on the type/level of class and/or based on whether you intend to specialize in the field?

-Ask professors: what have you been working on lately?

-Ask professors: What is your approach to mentoring and advising graduate students?

-How long are class meetings?

-How often do professors teach graduate courses?

-Are course schedules available for future semesters (10-11, etc.)?

-Can I see the grad student handbook? Are there any other departmental documents – such as reports on the program prepared for accreditation – that I can see?

-QUALITY OF LIFE

-Prices – how does the cost of gas, milk, cereal, etc. compare to other places I've lived in?

-Cost and quality of typical one-bedroom apartment.

-What does the university do to provide you with or help you find housing?

-When (i.e., what month) do people start looking for an apartment for the fall, and where do they look?

-Is it easy to find a summer subletter?

-How close to campus can—and should—one live?

-What grocery stores are there in town?

-How late are cafes, bookstores, malls, restaurants typically open?

-What do people do to make extra money?

-Does the town have more of a driving or a walking culture? What is parking like near campus (availability, ease, cost)?

-Where do most English grad students live? Most other grad students? Most professors? Where is the student ghetto? Do most students live near each other, or are they spread out far and wide?

-How far does the stipend go in this location?

Oh my god - thank you! Seriously, THANK YOU.

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That list of questions is amazing.  Here are a couple I will also be asking.  They're a little specific to my situation, but may help others as well:

 

 

- Already have an MA.  How/what credits can be transfered, and how does this affect projected graduation time?

- Moving from trimesters (BA, MA) to semesters.  What do I need to know about pacing myself through the term? How does this affect course transfer?

- Are there opportunities for research/study abroad?  Is there funding for this?

- Will I be able to teach mid or upper division courses in my field (~300 level)?

- What is the support (financial and prep) for attending/presenting at conferences?

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this is brilliant. i love it!

 

how does everyone else feel about recruitment emails, unsolicited letters from faculty, 'woo-factor,' &c.?

i'm getting very different vibes from the different places i'm in, due to the tone/frequency of these pushes

on their part, and i don't want to end up getting the wrong impression (i.e., that some places Just Aren't

That Into Me) based on this, if it really is just a matter of different guerilla campaigns ...

 

thoughts?!

 

 

SERIOUSLY THIS LIST. THE BEST. WONDERFUL.

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That list of questions is amazing.  Here are a couple I will also be asking.  They're a little specific to my situation, but may help others as well:

 

 

- Already have an MA.  How/what credits can be transfered, and how does this affect projected graduation time?

- Moving from trimesters (BA, MA) to semesters.  What do I need to know about pacing myself through the term? How does this affect course transfer?

- Are there opportunities for research/study abroad?  Is there funding for this?

- Will I be able to teach mid or upper division courses in my field (~300 level)?

- What is the support (financial and prep) for attending/presenting at conferences?

 

Re: transfer credits. I have heard from some well-placed people that the right time for a transfer-credit question should come after at least a few months. I suppose the risk is that you may come off as wanting to get out of work too soon? I had thought about asking this during my visit, but I've decided I shan't do so (I will be entering with an MA). 

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how does everyone else feel about recruitment emails, unsolicited letters from faculty, 'woo-factor,' &c.?

i'm getting very different vibes from the different places i'm in, due to the tone/frequency of these pushes

on their part, and i don't want to end up getting the wrong impression (i.e., that some places Just Aren't

That Into Me) based on this, if it really is just a matter of different guerilla campaigns ...

 

thoughts?!

 

I second this question. 

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