Selecting a Graduate Program in the Sciences, Mathematics, and Related Fields (11/23/2001)

Prepared by:

Joseph Malkevitch
Department of Mathematics and Computing
York College (CUNY)
Jamaica, New York 11451

Email: (for additions, suggestions, and corrections)

Here is a check list of some questions which will help focus your thinking when it comes to applying for graduate work:

1. Will you need financial support to attend graduate school?

Note: Not surprisingly, it is easier to get into a graduate program than it is to get financial support for participating in the same program.

Note: Graduate schools very rarely provide financial support for Masters Degree programs. Applying for a doctoral program nearly always enhances your chances of receiving financial support.

2. Do you want to attend a public university or a private university?

3. Do you want to attend a large university or a small one?

Note: Large universities will have experts in nearly all different subfields of important disciplines. Small universities often have less coverage of subfields so that the experts they do have can create a research presence. If you are committed to a special narrow discipline make sure that the small school you might apply to has someone in that area.

4. Do you want to attend a university in New York City (or the New York City Metropolitan area) or are you willing to attend a university anywhere in the country? Is there a part of the country you would like attend a graduate program in ? (For example, perhaps you like to ski and want an area of the country where there are winter sports available.)

5. Do you want to attend a university in a large city, small city, or non-urban area?

Note: Minority students should note that getting ethnic foods, locating housing, finding suitable religious services, etc. is commonly more difficult in small cities and non-urban areas.

6. Do you want to attend a graduate school which has a highly competitive reputation or a school which is less competitive?

Note: While you are probably among the better students in your major as an undergraduate, when you get to graduate school all the students will be among the better students at their colleges.

7. Do you know precisely what sub-area of your "major" (i.e. biology, mathematics, computer science) you wish to go into?

Note: There are many interdisciplinary fields and emerging fields that exist in universities that do not exist as separate programs in colleges. These fields are sometimes easier to get into than "mainstream" subjects. For example, in Mathematics there are graduate programs in operations research, statistics, computational biology, computational chemistry, etc. to consider in addition to the mathematics program that nearly all universities will offer.

Once you have narrowed down your choice to the type of graduate program you want to be a part of, here are some ways of getting detailed information:

1. Many professional societies provide information about graduate programs within that discipline as well as information about financial support for those programs. For example, the American Mathematical Society publishes a yearly report on graduate programs in the Mathematical Sciences, which includes information about financial support.

2. Find the web pages of the universities you are interested in. Most universities now have much of their catalog on line so that you can see course descriptions and program descriptions.

3. Do web searches for special programs that interest you: e.g. "doctoral program in chemistry", "doctoral program in operations research", or "doctoral program in computational geology".

Note: Most search engines will treat words within quotation marks as requiring an exact match.

4. Talk to faculty at your school about their experiences in graduate school. (Do not talk to only one person, talk to several. That way you will get an idea of the range of experiences that can be had.)

Going to graduate school is an extremely exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience. Try it, you will like it!

Return to Joseph Malkevitch's Home Page