The Process of Selecting a School in a New Location
by Cinthia Lee
Before starting my school search, I asked myself a few questions. (These questions maybe found more applicable to international students.) First, do I have any preference in terms of the school's location, weather, national academic rank, etc.? Since this is going to be a school where I would be staying for more than 4 or 5 years, it is critical that I think about whether I would be enjoying my life there besides the academic pursuit. I first listed my strong dislikes, and then eliminated those schools that fell into my dislike criteria.
There were give-and-takes as I made a list as such. Again, the most efficient way for me was to ask for suggestions from my then present advisor or professors, those who were close to me. I think being in the academic world for a long time, they are more likely to know which school would fit me and my needs/interests better.
For example, when I first thought of going after PhD, I was only sure of two things. One was that I wanted to study in a school that had a strong special education program (though it did not have to be a top-ten school), and the other was my strong interest in research.
So, I went ahead, and soliciting suggestions from several professors in the department. With the schools they suggested, I started my search online since it was the most convenient tool I could use, especially then- I was still pursuing my MA, and was most likely occupied by my school work and feeling tired by the end of each day. Nevertheless, the Internet provides vast degree of information. One must be selective in order to reach a good efficiency in such task.
The first thing I looked at would be the mission statement of the program and the entire department. This would give me a general idea about the program's focus or emphasis.
Second, I would look at the faculty profile in the program. Most of the time, the professors would have their resumes and their area of interest posted online. I think it is important to target at least two professors whose interests are in mash with mine. That way, I could start contacting these targeted professors via emails or phone calls, offering them a simple introduction about myself, my area of interest, a synopsis of my future plan, etc. In addition, I would ask them more detailed info about the program's current direction/ focus because most of the time, I tended to find the school info offered online not self-explanatory. I kept a log for myself as I went through the searching process. Making a list helped me see the differences among the schools better. The list was simply started with the basic facts as its location, weather, rank, etc, which I had mentioned earlier, and went into the detailed things as the criteria in completing the program if I was offered the admission.
In addition to make the initial contacts to the professors, I found it equally critical to search for the contact information of the area/program secretary or manager. This staff person often ended to be the one that I would have most chance to get in contact with. Especially when the professors were out of the office, she/he would be the best person to solve my problems right away. So, when I sent my first personal intro to the professors, I always reminded myself to CC the program manager. It definitely saved me time and efforts in doing another email or phone call, and at the same time, I also showed proper respect to the program secretary.
I will stop my journal here. Hope the sharing above helps whoever reads or needs it. If time permitted, I would like to share more information, including how things are differed from my expectations after I get into the program, e.g. what adjustments I have to make to reach my goal.