5 Hallmarks of an Excellent PhD Program

  • Scores on Entrance Exams
  • Acceptance Rates
  • Starting Salaries
  • Employment Rates
  • Quality Faculty

Finding the right Ph.D. program is probably the most important decision you will make in your academic career. This will be your terminal degree and will supersede every degree that came before. Ph.D. programs are also expensive. You want to make sure you are investing your money wisely. There are a number of personal criteria that need to be factored in. How flexible is the program? What modalities does it offer? How long will the program take? Once you have selected a few that meet your personal criteria, it’s now time to measure them using some comparable measures. When taking a deep dive into the strength of a graduate program, find the institution’s factbook and online resources to evaluate these five hallmarks of an excellent Ph.D. program.

1. Scores on Entrance Exams

When you look at an institution’s factbook, it is important to evaluate the school’s acceptable standards of readiness. Most graduate schools will require an entrance exam like the GRE, LSAT, or other specialized graduate tests. Check the average score of those accepted. High test scores mean that the institution has high standards. It also means that your classmates will all be at the same level of readiness, which impacts the pace of instruction.

2. Acceptance Rates

Much like scores on entrance exams, acceptance rates often indicate the standards of the institution. A low acceptance rate means the institution is selective about who they allow into the program. A strong graduate program generally promotes quality over quantity when admitting students. Again, a strong student body directly impacts the quality of the instruction that you will receive.

3. Starting Salaries

In addition to providing input statistics like scores on entrance exams and acceptance rates, an institution’s factbook will also disclose graduate employment information. One thing you should look for is the starting salaries for individuals graduating in your chosen field. Will the degree from that institution be worth the investment?

4. Employment Rates

Another employment statistic you want to review is the employment rate. How many students are getting employed in their field after graduation? Look for information on your specific field because these numbers can vary wildly from program to program even in the same institution. It doesn’t matter what the starting salary is if you can get a job. Strong institutions build relationships with others in their discipline and within their community to help funnel their graduates into open positions.

5. Quality Faculty

No, don’t check Rate My Professor. Rate My Professor is a social network full of skewed results based on personality. Instead, spend a little time investigating the professors in the program you are considering. Review their CV (Curriculum Vitae), which is a specific resume that outlines your professor’s qualifications. Have they published in their field? Do they attend or, better yet, present at discipline related conferences? Are they currently involved in research? You want to find professors who will serve as strong mentors, especially when you are tackling those long dissertations.

In the end, you are the only one who can decide which program is best for you. A working mom might need a program that offers a degree through monthly weekend seminars. Perhaps, finding an institution that has a healthy graduate teaching program to help you offset expenses is important. Just remember to evaluate the pulse of an institution by comparing its statistics.

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