Gathering relevant information about potential graduate programs requires patience and persistence. Also, as with any new endeavor, negotiating a productive calm may be a challenge at the start. As a first step, it may be useful to momentarily reflect on diverse questions shared by others who are also beginning their search in April or May, intent on completing their applications for fall deadlines.
How do I glean information from program websites? Where do I find reliable rankings? Who will help develop and shape my research interests? How do I reach out to programs of interest? Why is it important to connect with both professors and graduate students? When do perceptions of who I am become less of a focus than the relentless pursuit of my goals?
As an emerging scholar, you have honed the skills needed to successfully research and analyze relevant information. These skills will serve you well toward the end of compiling a reasonable working list of ten of the best graduate programs, a list from which a final choice will rise to the top! Compiling your findings within a reasonable timeframe (one month) will complement your overall timeline for the graduate application process.
Begin by looking at a few programs in your field, just to get a feel for what the programs are like and how they tend to differ. Accessing Graduate School and Graduate Program sites will offer a complete set of information regarding expectations, financial support and application deadlines. Also, consider research opportunities offered by Centers or Institutes within the larger university community.
Reviewing the bios and research interests of professors and current graduate students in programs of interest is recommended; doing so will offer multiple perspectives. To follow-up your review, draft a brief email to several (not all) graduate students in individual programs responding to their research and asking about their experiences in the program. As you review publications of professors in your programs of interest, ask for guidance from your current mentors regarding drafting a two or three sentence email expressing your interest in their work. Be sure to ask if they are planning to mentor students in the near future.
Finally, note qualities most important to you in a graduate program, listing pros and cons as you sort your findings. Remember to prioritize graduate program ranking, reputation, and research interest match, as you consider the general appeal of the institution itself.