First, take a moment to celebrate! The difficult part of connecting with people through your network and getting all of your applications together is over. The next step is picking the right program. There are a variety of factors to consider as you make your graduate school decision including finances, program quality/school reputation, program size, faculty quality, level of faculty-student interaction, student life, location. Please read below for further tips, including the Financing Graduate School blog page at the bottom.
Financing Graduate School
Direct and Indirect Costs
The direct costs of attending graduate school include tuition and fees and sometimes health insurance. The indirect costs include things like room, board, books and supplies, travel, loan fees, and personal expenses. This handout provides a comparison for different types of programs, costs associated, and contributions expected from students.
Funding is often offered for many doctoral programs; in exchange, students are often required to complete teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships, and trainee-ships. Internal funding opportunities generally provide tuition support and health insurance in addition to a stipend for living expenses. Master’s programs are less likely to offer the same level of financial support as doctoral programs.
External grants and awards can sometimes provide better funding and support than internal assistantships and fellowships offered. A list of nationally competitive external fellowships can be found on Yale’s Fellowship and Funding page. The following sites also have lists of external funding that students can explore: Scholarships.com, Fastweb!, ProFellow, Grants.gov, Peterson’s, Grantwatch.com, and MSU’s Grants for Individuals.
Need-Based Funding and Loans
Financial aid is also available through a school’s office of scholarships and student aid (names of the office may vary) in the form of need-based loans or grants, including Federal Stafford Loans and Graduate PLUS Loans. Students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for either.
You must be sure to pay attention to all deadlines when applying for any kind of financial aid especially because they can be earlier than each school’s application due dates. Many forms of aid require elements in their application packets like letters of recommendation, transcripts, and test scores that require time to prepare. Begin all application processes well in advance of their due dates!
Evaluating Your Options
Factors we think are overrated
- Overall school prestige: If you want to go into academia, the brand name of the school isn’t as important as the quality of the specific program
- Location: a big, fun city with lots of things to do – a better consideration might be a location with a low cost of living, where you can focus on your degree
- Absolute stipend amount: remember to factor in cost of living! A smaller amount might go further in a cheaper city than a larger amount in a big city
Factors we think are underrated
- Research match: This is one of the most important factors in considering a graduate program. If you don’t have a strong research match, it’s probably not the place for you
- Personality match: Make sure you click with the people in the department, and especially your potential advisor if you know who they are
- Departmental collaborations and research environment: If the department has a lot of drama and other issues, it might not be the best place to work for the next 5 years; if everyone loves each other, that’s a good indicator of a healthy program
- Other students: These individuals will be your colleagues in the coming years. Are current students happy? Do they get along with each other? Are they smart and passionate about their work, and other work going on in the department?
What is the culture of the institution?
- Ask yourself if you would enjoy it there and fit in. You are about to spend considerable time, energy and resources to earn a graduate degree
- Is the program very competitive? Is the environment supportive? Will the advising and mentorship be enough for you?
- Make sure you feel reasonably comfortable about the general atmosphere you believe characterizes the institution; it is not worth being unhappy for however many years you will be attending the program
- The way a school responds to prospective students, applicants, and admits is very telling about the way institutions treat their students and their alumni
Considering and declining admissions offers
- Do not commit to more than one institution! While this may be tempting, it is likely that the field you are entering is small, and people will speak to each other regarding good candidates. Avoid committing to a program if you are unsure!
- Consider grad programs in pairs, to help decide immediately which program you would prefer
- Be polite, these are people that you will likely encounter in the future within the field
- Send a short e-mail or note to inform the contact person in the program, or the admissions committee member, of your decision; remember to thank them for their consideration of your application
- Remember: There are no right or wrong answers here, but it is important for you to know why you have chosen to attend a school. No institution is perfect, but as you progress through the admissions process you will gain a realistic impression about your options.
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Letters of Recommendation
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