Picking a grad school location

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 outside of academics. 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 with soliciting suggestions from several professors in the department. I started my search online, with the schools they suggested. At the time, I was still pursuing my MA, and was most likely occupied by my school work and feeling tired by the end of each day.

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.