How to Choose the Right Grad School in USA?

Getting funded Ph.D. offer is a challenging task. But selecting the right grad school or program after getting multiple funded Ph.D. admission is overwhelming as well. Often, a prospective Ph.D. student select the grad school mostly based on the program ranking and funding. There are so many factors e.g. living expenses, job opportunities, university ambience etc. beyond these two, which are often ignored by the prospective Ph.D. students. However, these factors become crucial down the line of a 4-5 years of Ph.D. journey. Prospective students are mainly unaware of such factors because of lack of proper information. Here, in this article we will try to focus on some critical factors for selecting the right grad school.

Policy of Grad School:

Ph.D. is a long journey of 4-5 years, and anything can go wrong down the road. Your professor might loose funding, you might want to switch your research group but will be finding it difficult etc. To be on safe side, you should choose such a grad school which will support you along your journey no matter what happens. For example, after spending 5-6 months in your Ph.D., you found out that you are having difficulties to work in your existing lab. You want to change the group, but also you are in fear of loosing the funding.

Now the question is that will the department will be supportive enough to offer you a teaching assistantship (TA) for a semester or two so that you can make your transition to a new group? To avoid such kind of issues, usually good schools, who take care of their students, design rotational program during the first year of Ph.D. In this rotational program, you will be assigned to 2 to 3 different labs by rotation and will finally choose the best one for you.

Thus, they make sure that their admitted students are going to the right research group. Good schools will always have some kind of supportive mechanism to ensure the growth of their Ph.D. students and also their financial and mental well being. Often, these type of information are not publicly available. You need to find an alumni network or group of international students and ask them for opinion.

Cost of Living:

This should be your major concern if you care about quality of life. Generally, PhD students earn between $23,000 and $33,000 per year depending on their institution, field of study, and location. Life for international students even more harder. You cannot work more than 20 hours during the academic year, except for the summer. Thus, you will not have any extra income opportunities unless you find an internship for the summer. A very few schools adjust their PhD stipend according to the average living expense. So, you should choose such cities where the living cost is minimum.

average salary in US universities gradbunker

Consider rent as well:

Generally, you will get bi-weekly based payment. To elaborate if you get 2000 USD (after tax), then you will get a payment of 1000 USD after every two weeks. So the healthy solution is with one pay check you pay your rent and with another you pay your bills, do groceries etc. During the post pandemic era, we have seen a dramatic rise in the rent across all the states. In big cities, a one bed room apartment have been shoot up to 1200-1500 USD. You can’t even find a studio apartment because those are barely available.

Grad schools, except a very few, simply do not care about the quality of life of their grad students. So they will barely adjust the stipend as per the inflated living cost. If you go to big city then more than half of your stipend will be gone just for paying rent. Some people might argue here about living in a shared apartment, but that comes with another burden. On the top of that, if you have a family, then you would definitely like to have an apartment of your own. So think about the financial burden that you will bear for the next 4 to 5 years, before you decide.

average house rent in USA gradbunker

Job/Internship Opportunities:

Not all major cities or states have a huge number of industries. So, depending on which state or city you go for your grad studies, will have an impact on the available opportunities for getting an internship or job. For example, a grad student from University of California San Diego will have much better intern opportunities than a student who is doing his PhD from University of Montana.

First of all, companies usually give priority to their in state students unless they find someone really competitive from out of state. However, you should keep in mind that in big cities or heavily industrialized cities or states, the living expense is much higher than average. And, there is no guarantee that you will get an opportunity to do intern every year. Because as a PhD student you will be doing your research projects, and your professor may or may not let you go for intern. Companies want to hire only those PhD students who are about to graduate or PhD candidates. On the top of that, companies do not like to hire interns due to VISA issues as they want to convert their interns into full time employee. So, you need to take all of these factors into consideration before making your final decision.

Choose a large community:

If you are an international student, you will need help in many ways to survive in grad school in USA. For example, for finding an apartment, buying used cares, registering for courses or when you will be looking for a job, you will need help from your community members. This is the first place where every one resort for getting help. It takes time to make new friends when you go to a new place. So, it is obvious that your community members will be their first to help you.

A senior Ph.D. student will surely able to tell you which courses to take so that you do not burden yourself with difficult courses or which professor to avoid. When you will start looking for jobs, you can easily forward your resume to different people from your community who already graduated and doing jobs. The larger the community you have in that school, the more connection you will be able to make through them. This will help you in number of ways.

In another article, we have already discussed about choosing a Ph.D. advisor based on university rankings, research opportunities, alumni network etc. Here, we have solely focused on other parameters that are often ignored in the beginning of your Ph.D. journey, but later becomes crucial. No matter which grad school you finally choose to go, there will be always pros and cons. So be mindful and choose wisely.

Disclaimer: No A.I. was used to generate any portion of this content.

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