Step 4: Decide Where to Apply
Step 4: Decide Where to Apply

Once you have narrowed down your list to 10 to 20 accredited institutions that offer your field of study and any relevant specializations, you will need to compare the objective data among these institutions. Do not rely solely on rankings or ratings of institutions to do this; there is more to choosing the right department than choosing the most well-known or selective university. For any particular discipline there will be at least five or six schools that have excellent reputations. Keep in mind that a department's reputation relies heavily on the reputation of its faculty. Sometimes it is more important to study under a particular person than it is to study at a university with a prestigious name. Remember too that assistantships and fellowships are often based on the right "match" between student and faculty research interests. Good advance research can help you find the schools whose departments and faculty meet your academic and professional goals, and it may enhance your chances for obtaining financial assistance.

Make a comparison chart listing the differences among universities with respect to:
  • research programs and facilities, including libraries and computer facilities;
  • size of department (students and faculty) and size of institution;
  • qualifications of the faculty;
  • accreditation of the institution and, if applicable, the department or program;
  • course and thesis requirements;
  • length of time required to complete the degree;
  • academic admission requirements, including required test scores (see "Testing" for further information), degrees, and undergraduate grade average required;
  • cost of tuition, fees, books, etc.;
  • availability of financial assistance (see Financial Aid for further information);
  • location, housing options, campus setting, climate, and cost of living;
  • international student services and other needed services available on campus.
Eliminate those institutions that you cannot afford and that do not offer financial aid for which you qualify, that do not meet your individual needs, or that have admissions requirements that do not match your qualifications. Narrow your choices to those that meet your personal and professional needs, that you can afford to attend, and for which you are qualified for admission. Develop a final short list of four to seven institutions to which you plan to apply. See "Preparing Successful Applications," for further guidelines.