You know what degree you want to pursue and you have a list of criteria that really matter to you. So where do you start finding information on graduate programs to see if they meet those criteria? Here are some places to start your research. Also, use this checklist of things to look for to help take notes and guide your research and decision. If you are touring a campus or going for an interview, check out our lists of questions to ask during your visit.
Website of the Graduate Program
Some things to look for:
- Program description: How does the program present itself and its areas of research focus? Does it match your interests? Are there details on the curriculum, financial support, and research or teaching requirements?
- Faculty directory: Explore the departmental faculty members’ research interests. Is there a match for yours? Are there more than one faculty that you could envision conducting your graduate study with? Even if you have one faculty member in mind who seems like an exact match, it’s always important to identify multiple faculty members who might serve as your advisers or mentors. A faculty member might retire or move to another institution, or you might discover your top choice isn’t an optimal fit. Even if your first choice turns out to be a great match, having multiple mentors is crucial to success in graduate school.
- Information about the program’s students and graduates: What is the admission rate? What is the makeup of the program’s student body? What careers do the program’s graduates go on to? Look for detailed information to answer those questions (if a program doesn’t provide that information, it could be a red flag). Sometimes that data might reside on the website of the institution’s graduate school rather than on the individual graduate programs’ website, so be sure to check that as well. (See the data for Duke Graduate School programs)
Websites of the Graduate School and University
You will no doubt be immersed within your particular program or department during your graduate study, but you should also be connecting with the larger graduate school and university communities, because they can be valuable support networks and resources. Some graduate departments or programs might mention these resources on their websites, but definitely go look on the websites of the graduate school and the university as well.
For instance, at Duke, The Graduate School offers a robust slate of professional development resources, ranging from programs that help you become a better teacher to workshops that help you prepare for a diverse range of career possibilities. We also provide various resources to help with your finances, academics, and general student needs.
Your Undergraduate Faculty
Chances are that the faculty members you interacted with as an undergraduate have connections and knowledge about programs in your field. They might be able to give you some names of faculty members whose research could be a match for your interests, provide some “insider” information about a program, or even make an introduction.
Current Students and Faculty
As part of the admissions process, you might be invited to campus for a visit, or be asked to participate in an online interview. Use these opportunities to talk to students and faculty in the program and get their perspectives on the things most important to you.
If you want to reach out to a graduate program and ask for information or request to speak with faculty or current students, a good place to start is that program’s director of graduate studies (DGS) or their assistant (DGSA). The DGS is a faculty member within the department who is responsible for overseeing that department’s graduate student training. (List of DGSes and DGSAs for Duke Graduate School programs)
Also, the program, the graduate school, or the university might host in-person or online sessions. For instance, at the Duke Graduate School, we hold video chats for prospective students where they get to hear from current students and staff on topics such as life in Durham, financial support, and health services.
You've found the perfect program. Now here's how to improve your chances of being accepted.