I'm in the process of listing and comparing all the graduate schools I am interested in. What should I be comparing, gathering, etc. And what is the best way to keep all the information together?

2 Answers 2


Here are some ways in which different schools differ from each other:

  • Size. Both small schools (personal attention) and big schools (lots of seminars, people to talk to) have their advantages. Which is more important to you?

  • Research focuses. Even large schools will be dominated by a couple of research groups. Do you find their work interesting?

  • Program structure. Some programs are very structured, with lots of requirements; some are more free-form. Which is best is a matter of individual preference.

  • Competitiveness. Some departments are friendly and competitive, some departments are friendly and less competitive. (And a couple of departments are unfriendly and you should avoid them.) Do you thrive under pressure? If so, choose a competitive place.

  • Quality. (This one is obvious.)

  • Geography. Some places (Harvard, Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington, among many others) are located in towns where it's a lot of fun to be a grad student. Some are not.

  • Support. Some places offer more money, and/or less teaching requirements in exchange for funding. (Typically private schools fare better than public in this regard, but not necessarily.)

All things to keep in mind when you compare schools.

  • 2
    +1 for answer the first part of OP's question. But, this doesn't answer the second part of the question (how to keep all the information together). My simple suggestion: a spreadsheet.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 10:18
  • 3
    To add to this list - Outcomes: What percentage of students graduate in a reasonable time (maybe 7 years for PhD depending on field). This information can be hard to come by, but for US programs: phds.org/graduate-school/graduate-school-listings-and-rankings
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 12:13
  • You forgot another big one: People. Look through the faculty web pages in details. Can you identify a few potential advisors? Are they highly visible in their field? Are their former students successful? Do they look like someone you would get along with? (Yes, this is hard to judge over the web, but if something raises a red flag, even subconsciously, you should probably listen.)
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 20:38

What is the best way to keep all the information together?

You've got a number of options here, but I would suggest two:

  1. A spreadsheet (as Thomas mentions in his comment) for the logistical issues. I had a spreadsheet with the following columns:

Name | Website | Location | Due date for application | App. complete? (Y/N) | Letters sent? (Y/N) | Accepted? (Y/N/Waitlist) | Visit date | Primary contact name | Primary contact email | Thoughts (this was a one-liner column where I would put "great location!", "no funding...", or "perfect research fit", etc.

2. A folder on your computer for each school, underneath an overarching "Grad School Applications" folder. This is where you can drop all information pertaining to the school, including: a document with jotted down thoughts, your personal statement personalized for the school, a cover letter, the application form (if offline), correspondence you've received from the school (printed emails work pretty well), etc.

I would put everything in a Dropbox so you can access it on the road (and for backup).

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