You can find the original version of this article in ACM's Crossroad's Student
Magazine, Volume 6, Number 1. I occasionally make updates to
this version to keep it more current.
Choosing a Ph.D. program in Computer Science
by Rachel Pottinger
Applying to a Ph.D. program can be a very confusing and overwhelming
process as I learned when I applied two years ago, and more
recently as a member of my department's prospective students
committee. Thus, I've put together an overview of the process. Please
note that this reference is primarily for people interested in
Ph.D. programs, and all costs are as of 1999.
The most useful advice for people deciding whether on not to go
to grad school is
Advice for undergraduates considering graduate school by Phil
Agre. It covers deciding whether or not to go to grad school and how
to get research experience, and I defer to it on these topics. My
discussion focuses on the application process, but first I'll discuss
the basics of Ph.D. programs.
What happens in a Ph.D. program
Please note that this is geared towards programs in the United States;
I know that it is different in other countries.
The most important thing to realize is that schools do not require you to
have a masters degree when you apply. This is very important;
masters students almost never receive funding, while Ph.D. students
usually do. If you are planning on applying to a Ph.D. program
eventually, you might as well apply to the Ph.D. program from the
outset; you can always drop out if you change your mind. Note that
this is often not true in Canada; there the reverse holds -
many places will require that you have a masters degree before you can
enter the Ph.D. program, and they usually fund their masters students.
Ph.D. programs in the US almost always involve first getting a masters
degree and then getting a Ph.D. Even if you have a masters degree from
another university, you will often be asked to show that you have
sufficient breadth. This varies from department to department, so
you'll want to look closely at policies if you are in this situation.
Proving your breadth requires probably either taking classes or taking
exams or both. This is generally followed by a project and presentation.
This phase usually lasts for a year to two.
After that, you'll probably be required to read a number of papers in
the field that you have chosen, and then write a synthesis paper and
give a presentation on your conclusions. This generally occurs
between your second and fourth year. Finally, you choose a
Ph.D. thesis topic, propose your topic to people, research and
The whole program takes between four to eight years on average. This
can vary widely from department to department.
Applying for fellowships and other monetary issues
After you've decided to apply to grad school, the first set of
applications you need to worry about are fellowship applications.
One of the biggest myths about computer science graduate school is
that you have to go into debt to get a Ph.D. While it is true that
many departments do not offer support to their masters students, most
support their Ph.D. students. Most places pay for tuition and give
students a stipend that averages about $12,500 for 9 months. Most
funding comes in two varieties, either a TA, a teaching assistant, or
a RA, a research assistant. In general, first year students receive
TA positions, and then they are funded by their advisors and given TA
positions if there is no RA money.
Now that you know how the funding usually works, you may wonder
why it's necessary to start applying for fellowships so early. There
are several reasons:
Perhaps the most important reason to apply for a fellowship is as
follows. A year or two into your program you need to choose an
advisor. Aside from giving you advice, she is responsible for funding
you. If you have your own funding, you can work with whomever you
wish, not whoever has money. Also, if you want to switch advisors,
having your own funding makes this easier. Along the same lines, if
you decide to transfer, an outside fellowship will often follow you.
Which means that you can change schools more easily since they won't
be as concerned about your funding.
- Many universities will supplement an outside fellowship
with more money. Since you aren't costing them as much
money, they can give you extra money.
- Many fellowship applications are due before the graduate school
applications. Most graduate school applications are due in late
December or early January. Fellowship deadlines can be much earlier;
the National Science
Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship application is due early
in November, for example.
- Sometimes the fellowship organizers
will forward applicants' names to departments. When this happens, the
departments may decide to send you application materials or even offer
to waive your application fee. This is quite nice considering that
application fees usually run from $40 to $65. They may also extend
their application deadline.
- Some departments will not reject students until the NSF fellowships
are awarded. This means that you may get in departments based partly on
- You can reapply for many fellowships, and the hard part about the
statement of purpose (more on that later) is getting it written the
first time. You shouldn't think of the fellowship applications as
a trial run, but if you write the essays for them, it will give you
more time to think about what you want to say.
Now you know why to apply for a fellowship; the next question is
how. There are a number of resources you can use.
- Check with a faculty member in your department. Many departments
keep lists of fellowships.
- Many departments will send you a list of fellowships to apply
for when they send you your application.
Keep your eyes peeled. Sometimes a fellowship may pop up at the last
minute, and unless you pay attention you may miss it. One excellent
source is the systers-students
mailing list. Letting your department and friends know that you
are interested in graduate school is another excellent way to do this;
if something comes along, they may think of you and pass it on.
Applying to Graduate School
This section describes the different steps in applying. It's best to
start thinking about this in your junior year if not
before. The considerations you'll need to make are mainly about the GREs, which might influence which classes to take.
Picking departments to apply to
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a department,
including the reputation of the department, the size of the
department, what research they are doing, and your chances of getting
a job when you get out. The easy way of finding general information
about the departments is by reading their web pages. Note that a big
difference in applying to graduate school is that you must look
carefully at the department that you are applying to, not the
university. Check out the web sites of the departments, and check out
rankings, such as
US News and World Report's ranking of computer science
departments, or the National Research
Council Study of Ph.D. Programs in Computer Science; be
forewarned; the data for both of these sites is several years old.
Most importantly, talk to professors you know about the departments;
the world of computer science is smaller than you think.
In choosing which departments to apply to, remember what you did when
applying to your undergraduate institution. Apply to a few
departments you're pretty sure you'll get into, and then reach for
other ones. Unlike choosing an undergraduate institution, however,
it's a lot harder to judge what is a reach department for you, because
the numbers of people applying to graduate school are lower. Again,
I'd highly recommend talking to a faculty member who knows you well
and is willing to tell you where she thinks that you can get in.
When you're looking into the departments, there are a number of factors
to think about. Some factors to consider are:
- Big or small department? If you choose a small department,
chances are good that you'll get a lot of personal contact. However,
a big department offers you more fields that you can go into.
- Specialty? If you know in your heart of hearts that you only want
to go into theory, make sure that the departments you are thinking of
applying to have a strong presence in theory.
- Location? You're going to be there for 4 to 8 years, so this
should be a consideration.
Getting the applications
Most places have their applications ready by the end of September.
Contact each department by the beginning of October. Keep a record so
that you know that you've contacted each department. Send them mail
again if they haven't replied to you by November. Some places have
applications you can download off the web. Some places have a
pre-application, so make sure you find this out early enough to get
the real application from them. Most applications will be due in late
December or early January, so plan accordingly.
The GREs, Graduate Record
Examinations, are actually two different types of exams: Generals,
which test you on general knowledge, and then a subject test in
Computer Science. In terms of preparation for undergraduate school
the general is akin to the SAT I and the subjects are like the SAT II
(or the SAT and the achievement tests). Like the SAT, they are
administered by the Educational Testing
Service. Each test costs $96.
The general GREs
The verbal and quantitative sections
The general GRE, is similar to the SAT I except that instead of two
basic sections there are three. The sections are verbal, quantitative
and analytic. The verbal and quantitative sections are very similar
to the verbal and math sections of the SAT. The math does not require
any calculus; it's just harder problems of the same types. The
same goes for the verbal sections; it's the same types of questions,
only with bigger words.
The analytic section
Note: since I wrote this, they've changed the GREs such that the old
analytic section no longer exists, and they've replaced it with an
analytic writing section. According to the GRE website, this section
"The skills measured include the test taker's ability to
I haven't taken this test (nor am I going to), so I'm not going to
give you other tips, but the other sources I link should be able to
- articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
- examine claims and accompanying evidence
- support ideas with relevant reasons and examples
- sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
- control the elements of standard written English. "
The notes on the old section are here in case they give you some
clues, or if your curious about what used to be there. Those notes
are all in gray.
The analytic is something that you're
not likely to recognize; it involves a lot of logic questions. Some
people have told me that it is much like what you'd see on the LSAT.
In general there are two types of questions: puzzles and arguments.
The puzzles are listings of situations from which you are supposed to
derive logical conclusions. One such would be:
Irene, Jenny, Karen, Mary, and Nancy all want to room in the
same hall. The hall has three rooms; two are doubles and one is a
single. The single is located between the doubles. No one else will
live on the hall. In addition:
Irene will not live with or next to Jenny
Nancy will not room with Irene
Karen and Mary want to live either in the same room or in
Who must room with Nancy?
The answer is B. Since Irene won't like with or next to Jenny, we
know that they must each have one of the doubles on the end. This
means that Karen and Mary can't room together, and thus one of them
has to get the single. Since Nancy won't room with Irene, and she
can't live in the single, Nancy must room with Jenny
Arguments check how well you can derive logical conclusions from a set
of statements; it's much like figuring out what a politician is
actually saying. An example is:
Winters are colder than summers, and summers tend to have more sun
than winters. Based on the above, what has to be true?
(A) winters get more precipitation than summers
(B) It's warmer out when it's sunny out
(C) A winter day is more likely to be cloudy than a summer day
(D) Winters are better than summers
The answer is C.
Summers have more sunny days than winter (given)
Sunny days have fewer clouds. (definition of the word sunny)
summer days have fewer cloudy days than winter days
and conversely winter days are more cloudy than summer days.
Note, some people have thought that the answer is B; this is wrong;
you can't derive this from the given facts, not to mention that it's
false (the coldest days are when it's sunny; clouds help to hold the
Actually taking the test
It used to be that taking the general test meant going into a room for
hours and taking the test with a paper and pencil. That's not the
case any more. The GRE is only given on the computer at most sites,
so it's really important to get used to the computer format. The
subject test remains a pencil and paper ordeal. One advantage of the
computer based test is that you get your scores right away; you still
have to wait for up to a month for your subject test scores.
The computerized test is liable to be different from any test you've
taken in the past. Unlike the SAT, where you had a mix of easy,
medium, and hard questions, the GRE tries to target your score by
giving you questions based upon how well you've done on previous
questions. If you answer a question right, they give you a harder
one, if you answer one wrong, they give you an easier one. What this
means to you is that you will most likely be more challenged on the
test than you normally are on a standardized test. It also means that
the first few questions that you answer are very important; if you do
badly on the first few questions, you may never get to the hard
questions that would show you know the best of your abilities. Thus
you should take your time for the first few. Although you should
answer every question on the exam, it's the first few that matter the
Practicing for the tests You can get one free copy of the
general GRE by picking up a free booklet or downloading it online. The Princeton Review now has a
free full length computer based test online. I warmly recommend it.
In addition, many places sell books full of real or fake GREs. This
can be a good method of trying to figure out what you need to learn.
The only real GREs that you can get come directly from ETS. Some paper books,
attempt to simulate computer based exams by making you flip between
pages based on your answers to questions. I can't advise this,
because it was much too distracting to be useful.
Another option is computer software. I would strongly consider this
option. ETS puts one out called Power Prep that costs $40.
If offers a practice test and also some of their tips for taking the
Another option is The
Princeton Review. They have a number of GRE products. I would
recommend going with "Inside the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT", which is
software that both helps you study for the exams by giving you drills
and has four full length exams that give you answers and reasons
behind the answers. It costs $29.95.
Computer Science Subject GREs
The computer science GRE is an intensive exam designed to cover all of
computer science. Your
school's normal curriculum may not cover all of the topics involved,
so you should definitely ask a professor at your school about which
classes you should take before you take the GRE. The exam is currently 70
questions long, but this may change without warning, so I
strongly advise checking at the beginning and seeing how many
questions are there so that you can pace yourself accordingly.
The test is scored from a 200 to a 990, so looking at your scores may
confuse you; it's more useful to look at the percentile that comes
While the test is ideally only a test about computer science
concepts and should not involve any specific programming language,
it's difficult to ask questions that require no programming knowledge.
If you know no C,C++ or Pascal,
I'd strongly advise learning one of them at least a little bit.
The resources available for the computer science GRE are considerably
more limited than for the regular test. The only reasonable one is Practicing
to take the Computer Science Test by ETS. This book contained one
actual exam which was quite helpful in figuring out what the test in
general covered. It's $13. Unfortunately, the rest of the books out
there are dismal; I'd buy one only if you're panicked. The best
studying is to go through old tests and class notes. On the other
hand, many departments don't require the subject test. Check with the
departments in order to be sure you need it.
Final thoughts on both GREs
The GRE is an important part of your preparation, however you should
not leap to the conclusion that you will be automatically
rejected from a department even if your percentile is considerably lower
than their recommended score. If you have strong grades, statement of
purpose and most importantly letters of recommendation, that can go a
long way for making up for bad GRE scores.
Filling out the applications
The applications are a pain. You should start filling them
out rather early, as often they will ask for information which will
surprise you (such as the books used in all of the classes you've taken).
In addition, some schools consider applications on a
rolling basis, so early applications will receive more attention.
The application will probably consist of several pieces: basic
information (name, school, GPA, etc), transcripts, GRE scores, and
letters of recommendation. The part that will be the most work will
probably be the statement of purpose. In your statement of purpose
you are supposed to show them that you can write, you have done
research, and that you have an interesting idea for what you'd like to
research in the future.
Statement of purpose
The statement of purpose is an extremely important segment of your
application, and it's very different from anything that you have to
fill out for undergraduate admissions. Because of this you should
start to write it early. One issue that you should definitely be
aware of is that people are going to really want to see you have a
definite course of research in your statement of purpose. Unless you
know what you want to do, pick two or three different topics that
you're interested in and write up something short about each of them.
Then let them sit for a day or two and see which one you feel best
about. Definitely ask a professor to read over them for you if you
have someone who would be willing to do so. If you don't feel
comfortable asking a professor, ask other people to read them for you.
Graduate students you know are a good choice; all of them have been through this process,
and they remember how difficult it was.
If you know other people who are applying to graduate schools, even if
they're not in your area, something that can really help is to sit
down with them and read over each other's essays. This forces both of
you to make sure that you are clear enough, and since you are doing
each other favors, you may not wind up feeling unduly indebted to them.
Finally, as a general note, be very careful about how the universities
want their materials sent in. Some schools will request that you have all
of your supporting material in the same envelope that you send in your
main application. This means that since most of them will be due
during winter break you need to make sure to get transcripts and
letters returned to you before break.
Letters of recommendation
Letters of recommendation are also extremely important. Hopefully you
have a number of people who know would be willing to write you
recommendations, but make sure that you include everyone. If you are
applying for grad school in AI, and you did some research for an AI
person, even if it was long ago and you don't consider it to be
relevant, get a recommendation from that person. It almost never
hurts to have extra letters, and don't feel bad about asking people
for letters; it's part of their job.
If you don't have any faculty members who know you really
well, there are a number of ways that you can go about trying to
change this. The earlier you start, the more options you have.
The easiest option is to take an independent study with a professor.
Another option is to do research at another university. Ask
professors for internship programs that they know about. Having done
work at another university shows the institutions you're applying to
that you can thrive in many different situations.
It can also help because it associates more and varied names with
you. On a similar note, don't have more than one letter of
recommendation from industry, because unless they are researchers,
their recommendations aren't
going to mean as much to those who are reading them. Remember that
the field that you are going to work in is probably a small world
(much smaller than you'd think), and these people are all likely to
know each other.
Once you've chosen people to ask for recommendations, make sure to ask
for them early. It's also a good idea to ask your references straight
out what kind of recommendation they'd write you if you are unsure
what they think of you. Professors have been known to write
unfavorable recommendations, so if you have doubts, you are better off
asking them rather than getting rejected on the basis of a bad
It's helpful to give them a general idea about what you have been
up to, even if they know you very well. To that extent, you should
give them a copy of your transcript, resume, and, if you have it, your
statement of purpose.
The acceptance/rejection process
In general the departments have a process that works in the following manner.
They receive all the applications, and then figure out who their top
choices are and admit those. After that, they pick a second round of
people to admit. What happens after that differs from department to
department. Some departments will decide right there to reject people who
didn't get in from the first two rounds. Others will wait for a time,
sometimes to see if they get any early rejections, or see if one of
the candidates gets an outside fellowship and then possibly offer
admission to others later. If you've been rejected from a department
there's not much of a point in contacting that department to see if they
can let you in anyway, but they may tell you why you weren't
admitted, and if it was close they may encourage you to reapply.
After they accept you, most places will pay for you to come and visit.
Please note that there can be major variations in this. Departments
will start accepting you in early February, and most acceptances will
be out by the middle of March. If you know someone who was accepted,
and you haven't heard from the same program yet, do not assume that
you have been rejected from it; this probably means that you have been
moved to the second group of applicants, and they'll decide on your
application later. Also, some departments mail acceptances in very
small envelopes, so always open your mail before discarding it!
Some departments won't make their final decisions until very late in
the game, sometimes as late as when the NSF awards have been announced
(usually around April 1). Only when they make their final decisions
will most departments process the rejections. So not hearing from a
department by mid-March doesn't mean that you've been rejected, but
it's not exactly a "no news is good news" situation.
Visiting the departments
This stage usually comes after you've been accepted to the departments
and they're trying to convince you that you should go there. You can
visit by yourself beforehand, but they almost certainly will not be
willing to pay for your visit. That being said, here's what you
should expect to happen on your visit.
All acceptances that I received included an invitation to come and
visit the department at their expense (with reimbursement). Please
note that most departments will not ask for students in foreign
countries or masters students to visit. Some departments offered to
pay everything, while others put caps on the amount that they were
willing to pay. Be very careful about this. In particular make sure
that you have some reassurance about housing before you buy your
tickets. Some departments may pay for you to visit only if you can
come on the date that they are having the rest of their incoming
students come and visit; be sure to check on this as well. You may be
able to convince them to pay more, but do this before buying tickets,
Also note that in general you have to buy the tickets and then they
reimburse you. It can take departments up to two months to get
reimbursements to you, so plan accordingly; an extra credit card can be
very hand. You may be able to convince them to pay up front, but don't count on
Deciding which departments to visit
Visit as many departments that you are admitted to and interested in as
you can. It's bad form to take their money just to visit the
department if you aren't at all interested in them. However, visiting
the departments can get you a good idea of what's going on in the field
and can also help you make contacts for later. Also, check with your
professors at the beginning of the semester to make sure that visiting
the different departments isn't going to cause difficulty academically.
You should try to take a very light course load; this decision is probably
going to be a lot harder than you expected.
Preparing to visit a department
After you've decided to visit a department and made all of the travel
arrangements, you should start looking more carefully into the
information you have about the department. What you should be looking at
in particular is the research that you think you'd be interested in,
and the people who you think you'd like to work with. It's not
necessary to read all of the papers that the person you're interested
in has written, but it is to your advantage to see what their general
research topics are. The web is the easiest place to find this information.
Picking out who to look at is more difficult. Often times a professor
from the department will contact you as being interested in working with you.
Unless you have a reason not to, this would probably be a good
person's work to look at; you know that she's interested in working
with you based on your application information. Another good
resource is the people at your school. Ask the people at your school
if there's any people they'd recommend talking to. Most places will
probably set up a schedule for you, but if they don't, knowing who you
want to talk to is very important.
When you're packing for the places, wear something either casual or
a little above it. As with any trip, bring along an extra set of
essentials in case something goes really wrong, and bring along a
credit card for unexpected expenses. You won't need to bring along
anything for your visit day with the possible exception of a writing
implement; they'll give you a packet of stuff when you get there.
Most departments will have one or two dates on which they'd like you to
come and visit. If you can go on that date, it's a really good idea;
then you get to meet the other students who might be entering with
you. Since the people you are with are going to make a big difference
in how well your graduate education goes, that can be very
important. If you do go on another date, be aware that professors
may not have as much time to talk with you, and you'll probably have
to set up more of your own meetings.
Actually visiting the department When you visit the
department, what you are trying to see is how the general atmosphere
of the department is, whether there is research you want to do going
on there, whether there are professors you'd like to work with, and
basically do you want to go there. When you have concluded the visit,
make sure to write down what you thought about the department and
people as soon as possible; you'd be surprised how much the places can
If you go on the official visiting day, most likely your day will run
something like this: a greeting from the department chair, a long
talk about all of the department's research, meetings with the
individual professors, watching demos, and talking to grad students.
You'll probably be served food anywhere from one to three times during
this. Here's what you should expect out of each of these and what you
should try to get out of them.
The intro speech is, perhaps, the least informative of these events.
Other than learning more about what you'll be doing for the rest of
the day, there's really not a whole lot you can get out of it.
Perhaps the most helpful thing that you can do is listen to what the speaker
says and see if there's anything that she says that makes you feel
either uncomfortable or feel as though you want to go to that department.
If something like this does occur, write it down.
Description of research
One of two things can happen.
In any case, what you want to take out of this meeting is an idea of
which research you find interesting. Make sure that if you find a
particular project interesting you write down whose it is so that you
can talk to them, or you'll forget. Count on this part running late!
- Each professor speaks for herself. This method has several
consequences. The first is that since everyone needs to talk, it can
take a really long time, or people's research gets left out. If this
is the case, try to pay attention to the projects that people are
talking about, and also see if they sound like people that you'd like
to work with. Write down the names of people who you'd like to talk
to. Even if you have a list of people to talk to and they aren't on
it, try to talk to them sometime, even if it's just during lunch.
- One person talks about the research for everyone in their group.
This method can cause the meeting to run shorter, but will not
let you hear people talk about their own research. If that happens,
make sure that you pay careful attention to whose work they're talking
about, otherwise you can have your judgment clouded by who is talking
even if they have nothing to do with that research.
Meeting with Professors
This is the most important event. This is where you get to find out
if a professor is someone you'd actually be interested in working
with. This will go much smoother if you already have some idea of
what their research is. When you are talking to professors, you're
looking for two main things: 1. Would you like to work on the
research that this professor is doing? 2. Could you work with this
person? The advisor relationship is the most important one that
you'll form in graduate school, and you should think about it very
carefully. Make sure to ask them questions; like all of us, they like
talking about themselves.
This is the least important of the events. You'll get to see the cool
stuff that is going on in the department, however you can probably get
a better idea by talking to the professors or grad students. While it
can be fun, I would only go to the demos if you don't have anything
else to do.
Talking with graduate students
This is very important, for several reasons. One reason that
this is important is that the graduate students will most likely tell
you what is actually going on in the department.
They can probably answer most of your questions or point you at the
proper person to ask. Some questions you may want to ask are (in no
- how they like the department
- can they live on their stipend
- what is the worst thing about the department
- how are the resources (building, computers, etc)
- if there is a specific professor who you'd like to work with,
find some of her students and ask them how they like working with
the faculty member, how many students the professor has, how much interaction
they have with her, etc.
- how many people who enter the program finish with a Ph.D.
- why did the people who don't finish leave
- what happens if you decide to leave the
program (some places are considering making you pay back all of
the tuition if you leave)
- are they happy there
- how many hours a week they spend at work
- what the classes are like
- how many classes they have to take, and can you place out of them
- if there are no classes, what do you have to do instead
- what hurdles (like preliminary exams) do you have to take, and
what type are they (oral, written, etc)
- anything else that's important to you; for example, if you are
female ask the female students how they are treated as females. This
is important; don't feel silly for asking.
What to do if you can't visit
If you can't visit, you can still find out useful information about
the department. One method is to ask someone you know his
impressions. This will probably tell you about what the people
were like, but will not give you a very good view into what the
professors who you want to research with are like. Send the
professors email or give them a call. Most professors will be happy
to tell you what they are up to. Make sure to get information about
what the graduate community is like in addition to what the professors
Making your decision
After you've gone to the schools and gotten your final lists of
acceptances and rejections, you'll have to make up your mind. Most
schools will want to know by April 15. Besides making sure that
you'll have the decision by then, this also means one other thing: Pay
your taxes early! If you wait until the last moment, not only will it
make your decision harder, but you may discover that you're strapped
for cash because you've been trying to pay off your bills from
visiting all those schools.
If by this point you already know that there's exactly one place that
would be the best for you to go to, congratulations! If you haven't
made up your mind yet, don't panic. There's still a lot that you can
do to try to figure it out. Also, keep two things in mind. 1. After
a certain point, you cannot make a wrong decision. Chances are good
that there is no one perfect place for you to go to, and any where that
you go will be fine. You're just trying to optimize. This may not
make you feel a whole lot better, but keep it in mind; it really is
true. 2. No decision that you make will make everyone happy.
Someone will think that you've made the wrong decision no matter where
you decide to go. Accept that and when the first person expresses
that you've made the wrong choice, try not to let it bother you.
If you haven't made up your mind, try to narrow it down to two or
three based on general factors, then you
can concentrate on the last ones better. Basically, just keep trying
to make your list shorter, and if you do it long enough you'll get
down to one (it won't be fun, though). So how do you pick? Talk to
people. If you're really undecided, try sending mail or calling the
people you've talked to at other schools. If you look at web pages, you
may be able to find people who have links to both communities and who
would be able to give you good advice about the differences between
the two. Talk to your professors again and ask them for advice. Ask
the schools for information about where their graduates go after
graduation; some schools may already have a list that they can just
mail to you. The decision is going to be different for each person,
but one method that works is to flip a coin. If the coin comes up for
one school, and you're disappointed, then you know where you want to
I hope this helps, and good luck! If you have more questions, you may
want to check my FAQ
Rachel Pottinger is a second year Ph.D. student
at the University of Washington. She went to Duke for undergrad, and
would like to thank everyone who helped her when she was
choosing her graduate school.