How to Choose Between Two Graduate Programs

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Question: How to Choose Between Two Graduate Programs

Most students worry about whether they will be accepted to any graduate program. Some, however, are faced with the unexpected (but delightful) decision of choosing among two or more graduate programs. Consider the following question from a reader: I am currently finishing my senior year and I need help deciding on a graduate school. I have been accepted to two programs, but I can't figure out which is better. None of my advisors are helping.

Answer: This is a difficult decision, so your confusion is certainly justified. To decide, you should look at two broad factors: program structure/quality and quality of life.

Consider Each Graduate Program

  • When comparing the academic side of the two programs, examine the department web pages carefully. Are there differences in curriculum?
  • Are there differences in other requirements (e.g., theses, internships)?
  • Are the faculty actively conducting research?
  • Are there faculty in your interest areas?
  • Speak with current students and find out what they think of the program.
  • Where are graduates employed?
  • If possible, speak with recent graduates and get their input.
  • How much does each program cost?
  • Is funding available?
  • Are research and teaching assistantships available?

Consider Your Quality of Life
Most students overemphasize program rankings and forget about quality of life issues. Make no mistake, academics are very important, but you have to live with your decision. You'll spend between two and eight years in a graduate program. Quality of life is an important influence on your success. Research the surrounding area and community. Try to determine what your day-to-day life will be like in each program.

  • Will you move away to attend graduate school?
  • Where might you live?
  • Is housing affordable or will you require on-campus housing or perhaps multiple roommates?
  • What is the community like?
  • How far are you from friends and family? Is distance important to you?
  • How affordable is the city or community?
  • What sources of recreation are available?
  • Are there opportunities to engage in activities that you enjoy, such as hiking?

Deciding where to attend graduate school is a difficult choice. Academic and career opportunities are critical to your decision, but you must also consider your own happiness. You won't succeed in graduate school if you're miserable in your personal life.