T Nation

What to look for in a Grad school?

I know there’s some grad students on here, and some people who’ve already finished. How did you pick your grad school? Every single place I visit says almost the same thing, how they’re one of the best research U’s in the country, and it just seems like they’re all the same, I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to figure out where I want to go, and I was just wondering if anyone had any tips on what to look for, places not to go, etc. It seems like all I get done now is visiting grad schools.

Just make sure you make your decision based on what is important to you. My school was a no-brainer because I love the city it’s in, did an undergrad stint here, and it’s got the prestige and national recognition. I can tell you some things that I was considering to help me decide between the other schools I got into before I got in at my top choice:

  • What kind of vibe did you get when you visited? Did they act like their shit didn’t stink or were they trying to sell their school to you?
  • Did the other students there seem happy or stressed out and uptight? Being surrounded by stiffs is no fun.
  • Don’t go to a place where there is nothing to do. One of the schools I got into was literally in the middle of a cornfield. I would have gone postal without Big 10 football, bar scene, etc.
  • Cost, financial aid, pay for TA, etc. Some schools are skimpy with their budgets for fin. aid.
  • Not too close to home but not too far, guess it depends on various factors such as girls, family, friends, etc.

Definitely pick a school that has something you’re interested in. No point in spending a year writing a paper on a topic you’re not interested in.

scrub brought up some good points, but I think he missed one (I just scanned, if I missed it, I’m sorry). If you’re going into research, do they truly have what you want to do? I want to study the cell cycle and cancer, so I applied to places who had researchers that I liked. I visited Princeton, Northwestern, Washington University in St. Louis (I’m here now), U. of Chicago, 2 programs at University of Cincinnat and U-Texas Houston. There were definite ups and downs to all of them.

Here’s my breakdown:
Princeton: very prestigious with lots and lots of money. BUT only had 36 professors in the molecular biology dept. Not cool to me. Plus, I got some snob vibe from some of the people, as I was 1 of 4 non-ivyleaguers there.

Northwestern: loved it, but it would be very expensive (downtown campus) Plus, their faculty are getting hired out to other places, so they are going a little downhill. Treated me very well.

Wash U: loved it and never would’ve known how good they were unless I visited. 300+ professors to work for, students were awesome, treated us very well. Plus, St. Louis is a lot like home, which is Cincinnati.

U. Chicago: idiots. They lost my application, then just said “sorry”. No make ups, no here’s a refund, nothing. Pissed me off. Plus, it’s in the ghetto.

UT Houston: Nice place, hot and sticky. Good research (MD Anderson Cancer Center), but it was just too far away from home and fiancee. Would love to do a post-doc there.

UC’s 2 programs: Very good, treated me like royalty. Apparently, I was there top candidate (somehow, don’t ask me why) and they did EVERYTHING they could to get me to go there. Extra scholarships/fellowships, etc. Very cool, but I wanted to get away from home.

It boiled down to Wash U and Northwestern. I chose Wash U because 1) the cost of living in st. Louis is much cheaper, 2)I get just as good of an education here as anywhere else 3)there were at least 10 people working on stuff I cared about, 4) I have family close by, 30 minutes, and in chicago, 4 hours.

Basically, it’s what you want to study and how the place treats you. If I was you, I would talk more and more to students rather than PI’s. Of course PI’s are going to tell you that their school is the greatest. That’s a given. The students give the real deal. If you want to visit here or ask about any of the schools I applied to, feel free to PM me.


My priority was reputation and ranking. I wanted to go to the best school I could get in to.

I looked at the average admission scores and acceptence rates and applied to schools where I was on the bottom end of the average. I figured I wanted to be around a bunch of people smarter than me, not the other way around.

Now that I’m here, I realized I lucked out with a school that has an integrated curriculum. I can’t imagine going into a program without it now.

What are you planning on studying?

go where the chicks are relatively easy and plentiful… it matters.

What are you going to study? If business limit yourself to the top schools if you have the grades. If you can’t get into them work first and try again.

My experience with grad school is limited to business schools and the top ones will always open a door for you.

Right now it looks like my options (I’m going after a PhD in Physics) are Case Western in Cleveland, OH (Liked campus, didn’t like the town all that much), Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh (see above), UMaryland College Park (most of the grad students seemed like they were about to break, although it was almost midterm when I visited, so I’m not sure), and UFlorida (long way from friends and family). I’m not even 100% sure that I want to go with getting the PhD in physics, so I wanted a well rounded science school. I’ve gotten a lot of information about engineering in grad school as well, but if I ask people in either profession, they both tell me that theirs is better. About the only engineering I’d be interested in would be Biomedical, though. Thanks for your help so far guys.

If you can, take a look at some of the profiles of the profs (even better: meet them). Figure out what their research interests are and try and find somebody who you would like to work with.

Nothing would suck more than committing to a school only to find out that the one prof who specializes in your field is a complete asshole.

I also agree with looking into the workload/pay of a research/teaching gig. Stuff like that can make a big difference.

Have you already been accepted?

Nope, I haven’t been accepted yet, I’m waiting on one more class to be over with before I take the physics GRE, the regular GRE I did great on, but the physics one, it’s definitely a lot harder. I’ve met the professors in my field at all of these places, the profs eliminated some of the schools, I can’t handle the whole “you’re not worthy of being in my office yet” feeling I was pickin up from some of them.

yeah man, if you don’t like them when you meet them, then fuck em. I hated Princeton when I went there. The very first prof I met was a jerk and a snob. A lot of the students were A) fake and B) liars. I hated that. Tell me the truth dammit.

Hey JWright, what do you think of WashU? I thought about applying there if I go biomed, I’ve heard they have a really strong program in it, and one of my best friends from HS is there, and she loves it. How do they treat the grad students?

Dude, they are awesome to their grad students. I love it here. It’s hard as hell though, which is good and bad. I’ve never been so busy in my life, but at the same time, I’m learning so much. I would suggest at least visiting, cuz they pay for it. I could probably go to a different seminar daily and get a free lunch every time. They have so much money, it’s ridiculous. The students are awesome, real friendly and helpful. I’m on the med/hospital campus, which is about 3 miles from the Hilltop (undergrad) campus. There are grad students on hilltop, but in science it is only the plant biology people.

I really like St. Louis too. The only bad part is certain parts of the city are extremely dangerous and violence riddled. I mean worse than any other place I’ve seen. Every day, you hear about a stabbing or shooting or carjacking IN THOSE AREAS ONLY. No joke. It’s funny. If you live in a nice area, it’s a totally different concept.

You can ask me more intimate questions via PM if you’d like.

I’m in law school now and I picked it by figuring out where I could and wanted to go, putting those schools on a spectrum based about 100% on US News and World Report Rankins, blowing off applying to most of them, and then going to the the highest ranked one I was accepted in to.

That’s why I attend the University of MN, not Wisconsin (lower) or Michigan (didn’t get in). That and I’m paying in-state tuition.

Shallow, I know, but hey what can you say.