Some Tips for Applying to PhD Programs: Pt. 1

Some people have asked me for advice in applying to a PhD program..
Here is my suggestion for beginning the process

Start a spreadsheet!

School Name


Degree Program

Their Philosophy/ Pedagogy

Application Requirements (reqs, essays, GRE, CV)

Professors of interest


  1. Are there any professors or schools frequently mentioned in your reading/research for papers? Are they accepting students/ are they affiliated with the Masters program?
  2. I then looked at US News and World Report under the specific discipline I wanted to apply to. I went down the list and looked at those I found intriguing. I then looked at program reqs (lots of statistics or more practice based?)
  3. It is MANDATORY to look at the specific professors and what they are doing. My wonderful friend Jasmine helped me draft an email of interest that I sent to each of the professors. I am including her advice here:

“I think the primary purpose of this email is to ask whether or not they are accepting students for the upcoming year, to express interest in their field of research, and to demonstrate that you have a good idea for where you want to take your own research. So all you really need are 3-4 sentences. The majority of professors did respond to my emails, which was surprising to me, and I think a large part of that is because I kept it short and to the point. Once you’ve established that initial contact, you can ask more questions and it becomes more of a conversation.

Hello Dr. ___________,I’m interested in applying to SCHOOL graduate program in CONCENTRATION, specifically working with you on projects involving QUICK SUMMARY. First, are you accepting graduate students for 201[ ]? I’ve looked through your website and would love to get involved with your research. If you are accepting students, what direction do you plan on taking it (future research projects/ideas) and where would new graduate students fit in? What also drew me to the program is ________________________. Do graduate students focus on work under one faculty adviser, or do faculty members within each area or even across areas “share” graduate students?I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I understand you must be very busy, so I tried to keep my questions short and at a minimum to determine if I would be a good fit for the program and vice versa. Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you soon. It is also important to look at the classes being offered – do you see a schedule you would like? Do they have a concentration of interest (for a Masters)?

4. Where are their alumni? Will the degree lead to a certification? How does that align with what you want to do?

5. For grad school, ESPECIALLY for the PhD, there is not a traditional “reach” school. You will be picked based on fit so the school #1 school could accept you but the #10 could reject you. This is why your statement of purpose is so important. Grad school is kinda like, look for a school/professor with compatibility and that compatibility will truly dictate your experience.

6. But it is also important to look at the school as a whole!

7. How much does the program cost? Are students allowed to work to supplement their income? Are there NSF grantees?If the PhD program is paid for (highly recommended but understandably not always possible), is teaching required? All of this should be on the website, but something to also ask students at an open house night.

8. Finally, ask those who are writing your recs for schools or program recommendations.If you are asking for recs, ASK NOW if you have not already. A 6 week courtesy is ideal. Those are some good places to start. Please let me know if you have any more specific questions ❤

Some Tips for Applying to PhD Programs: Pt. 1

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