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How to pick the right phd program.

Picking the right PhD program isn’t like choosing between pour-over or latte, paper or plastic, half-and-half or heavy cream. It’s a major investment, a significant period of time, and a major career direction.

How do you know you’re picking the right PhD program? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you narrow down your search.

Find The Right PhD for You

Is it compatible with your professional goals?

Sometimes a Ph.D. program may look attractive because of the coursework, or faculty, or location, but in the end, you have to ask yourself if that Ph.D. will advance your career in the direction that you want to take. If it doesn’t, then it might be time to look elsewhere to make sure you choose the right Ph.D. to match your needs or maybe a different professional direction altogether.

What research options are available?

Research is a key part of a Ph.D. program, and the work you do as part of your Ph.D. program can help your career get off on a solid footing. Take your time and ask questions as you analyze the research opportunities that will be part of your Ph.D. program. Visit the campus, meet your professors, and dig deep to see if you’ll have all of the tools and resources you need at your disposal, including the freedom to research what you are truly passionate about.

What’s the reputation of the faculty?

You’ll be spending the lion’s share of your time being guided by the faculty, so do all you can to make sure they’re the kind of scholars and mentors you want to influence your work and your career. Sites like Rate My Professors tend to be skewed and focus on personality alone, so be sure to spend most of your research time looking at faculty CVs, publications, research records and areas of interest to ensure that your potential teachers match up with your research goals.

What funding is available?

Funding is a big factor that can influence your choice for the right Ph.D. program. Fellowship and assistantship offers can even make it your #1 factor. Turning to loans to fund your graduate studies is a big decision that will influence the rest of your life, so do your due diligence to find out how you can save money and obtain funding. Check out our guide to “scholarships” for grad school.

How long will it take?

Chances are you have career and family factors to consider, and you probably can’t put it all on “pause” to get your Ph.D. How long do you want to keep studying? How can you balance your current job situation with a Ph.D. program? Asking yourself these kinds of questions will help steer you towards choosing the right Ph.D. program.

Are students happy, graduating, and finding jobs?

Current grad students in the program and those who have recently graduated can also be an important asset to you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Ask about their grad school experiences, find out whether they’re happy with the program and faculty, research support and teaching opportunities, and prep for the job market. Find out too if they’re getting jobs, and where they’re ending up after graduation. They were once in your shoes and knowing about their experiences can help you choose the right Ph.D. program.

Find the Right PhD for You!

Learn more about PhD programs at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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How to prepare a strong phd application.

Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School outline a few tips to help you navigate the PhD application process.

It’s no secret the application process can be intimidating. Where do you start? What exactly are schools looking for on your application? What materials do you need to submit? Doctoral candidates and departmental coordinators at the Wharton School have outlined a few tips to help you navigate the process.

Don’t Delay the Process

A successful PhD applicant starts thinking about their application months or even years before the deadlines. For Alejandro Lopez Lira , a third year student in Finance, the application process began a year before he actually submitted the paperwork. He said, “I spoke to my advisors way before, like one year before, about my letters of recommendation, where to apply, everything involved in the process.”

Each program has different requirements, which can make for a tedious process. Karren Knowlton , a third year in Management, said, “I took a little while to draft a personal statement. I had my mom, who teaches creative writing, and a few other people that I trust just read over it. Then you have to tweak it for different schools because they want slightly different things.”

Taking time to prepare your application is critical. Starting the process sooner rather than later gives you several advantages:

  • It allows your letter of recommendation writers enough time in advance to thoughtfully prepare a letter that speaks to who you are as a PhD candidate.
  • It gives you more time to review your materials, fix any errors, and proofread, proofread, proofread.
  • Finally, it means a lot less stress when the deadline starts rapidly approaching. By planning ahead, you’ll have a much smoother process applying.

Get Letters of Recommendation

Prof. Matthew Bidwell , who previously served as the doctoral coordinator for the Management program , said a common mistake he sees are letters of recommendations from employers. Although he said it is impressive to see work experience, having an employer write a letter is not the best choice.

“We don’t pay very much attention to those because rightly or wrongly, we worry that they’re not looking for the kinds of things that we’re looking for,” he said. “If you have one, it’s not a disaster, but when you see people with two or three — most of their recommendations coming from their work — that kind of heightens our concern. You’re committing to a fairly specialized career, do you really know what that career entails?”

Instead, he suggests getting to know an academic who will be able to write a recommendation attesting to your ability to manage doctoral-level research and work.

Include Research/Work Experience in Your Field

Each program has a unique set of criteria to evaluate applicants, but several doctoral coordinators agree that some research and work experience in your field of interest will strengthen your application overall.

Prof. Fernando Ferreira , doctoral coordinator for the Business Economics and Public Policy and Real Estate programs, thinks work experience can be useful in demonstrating an applicant’s abilities. He said, “Any work experience after undergraduate school is important. If that experience is more related to research it’s even better, but work experience in general is always good.”

Prof. Guy David , doctoral coordinator for the Health Care Management & Economics program , thinks that work experience benefits applicants in terms of giving them a broader view of business. “Work experience creates retrospection about how the world works, how organizations make decisions, and how people function in various situations,” he said.

However, he warns that spending too much time away from an academic setting can have its drawbacks too. “It may lead people to start their PhD later when they are not in the habit of immersing themselves in rigorous studies and have a shorter horizons to develop a name for themselves,” he said.

Although having both research and work experience can strengthen your application, you will not be denied entry because you are lacking either.

Prof. Bidwell said, “I think research experience does give us some confidence that people have some idea about what it is that we do. In terms of work experience, I think we don’t have a strong view. We quite like work experience, but we also take people straight out of undergrad.”

Prepare for the Standardized Tests

Most PhD programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Having high test scores is a key part of an application as it tests skills learned over the course of many years in school. Quantitative skills are especially important when applying to doctoral programs in business areas. Much like any other standardized test, the GRE requires preparation.

Karren, who took the GRE twice to ensure her scores were high enough, offered advice to those who may be struggling. “I would absolutely recommend practicing the writing beforehand. Look up examples and have your outline structured,” she said. “So much of it is just getting the right structure and how you formulate your arguments so knowing what they’re looking for is key.”

Test prep can be time-consuming, but like anything else, practice makes perfect. There are multiple text books and online sites to help you prepare for the exam. Karren aimed to improve her math scores the second time she took the GRE and recommended this site to help strengthen math skills.

Taking advantage of resources to help you study can limit the number of times you need to take the GRE while ensuring you score high enough to remain in the applicant pool.

Watch a Webinar with Former Wharton Vice Dean Catherine Schrand

Posted: August 4, 2017

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  • Advancement and Transition

Doctoral Programs

Start your doctoral journey.

Whether you’re just starting your research on PhD programs or you’re ready to apply, we’ll walk you through the steps to take to become a successful PhD candidate.

Deciding to get a PhD

You might be surprised to find out what you can do with a PhD in business.

Is an Academic Career for You ? What Makes a Successful PhD Student

Preparing for the Doctoral Path

The skills, relationships, and knowledge you need to prepare yourself for a career in academics.

How the PhD Program Works How to Become a Successful PhD Applicant

Choosing the right program

What’s the difference between PhD programs? Find out how to choose one that fits your goals.

What to Consider When Choosing a Doctoral Program What Differentiates R1 Universities?

Starting an application

Tips for a successful application process.

Application Requirements Preparing Your PhD Application

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How to Choose a PhD Program

Successfully completing a doctoral program requires commitment and perseverance. the most important step in this process is to consider whether academic life is right for you and what kind of doctoral program — from discipline to environment — will be the best fit for your goals and preferences., we asked our current students and faculty, “what is key to making this decision” following are some questions they suggested you ask yourself, and answer, in order to select the appropriate program..

First, a basic description of a doctoral program:

As a doctoral student, you will spend the first two years of your program exploring areas of interest through coursework. In the two to three years that follow, you will select and pursue your own research topic, one which will make an original contribution to the existing body of knowledge in your field. Your original research culminates in an extensive written document known as the doctoral dissertation.

General Questions

If you are considering your career options, answering these questions will help you clarify your goals and ambitions — and determine if a doctoral program is the right decision for you.

  • Am I the type of person who is suited for a career in academia? Am I independently motivated to answer questions that I find interesting?
  • Do I want to spend the rest of my career doing research, as well as reading and talking about it?
  • Do I have a strong enough academic background in order to apply and be accepted by the program?
  • Is now the time for me to pursue a PhD?
  • What are my goals after completing the PhD?

Program Questions

If you know you want to pursue a doctoral degree, answers to these questions will help you select the right program for you.

  • How many faculty are working with students?
  • How many faculty members are doing research in areas related to my own interests?
  • What opportunities are there to work with a variety of faculty and to be exposed to different approaches in research (modeling, work with data, experiment design)?
  • Am I technically prepared to learn to do research in this field?
  • Most PhD students change their vision of research and many change their intended concentration area after joining the program and being exposed to a variety of research styles. Does my program of choice offer flexibility needed to do so?
  • Is there financial support for students to attend academic conferences to present their own research?
  • What opportunities are there for students to participate in colloquia, both as an attendee and as a presenter?
  • What is the department’s placement record? What types of jobs do graduates take and where?
  • Finally, how well do graduates of the program perform in the long term (contributing to the field through publication, practice of management and earning tenure)?

Hear From Our Doctoral Community

From undergrad to phd, how this phd student discovered a dynamic research community at wharton, closing the tenure gap for business faculty of color.

The Wharton School

30 Fully Funded Ph.D. Programs

These fully funded Ph.D. programs are in fields like business, computer science, education and nursing.

Two women standing in the modern library

(Getty Images)

Many Ph.D. programs are fully funded.

Students interested in graduate research in various fields, from public health and English to computer science and engineering, have numerous options for Ph.D. programs that offer full funding. These programs typically provide waived tuition and fees and an annual stipend. Some also offer health insurance and other benefits. Gaining admittance into these small cohorts can be highly competitive, and the programs can be time-consuming . Here are 30 fully funded Ph.D. programs at U.S. colleges and universities. Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list – there are others out there.

A man handling papers from the Hulton Archives, wearing white gloves.

  • Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago

Anthropology Ph.D. students at the University of Chicago can receive funding for up to eight years of study, assuming they are in good standing at the university. During that time, they will receive a full-tuition scholarship plus health insurance and a living stipend – which equated to $33,000 for the 2022-2023 school year – and can apply for external fellowships.

Radcliffe Quad undergrad housing at Harvard University in Fall in Cambridge, MA, USA on November 2, 2013.

Ph.D. in biological sciences in public health at Harvard University (MA)

Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston offers a Ph.D. in biological sciences in public health that aims to provide students with expertise in disease prevention and treatment. This program includes tuition, a stipend and health insurance for five years as long as the student maintains satisfactory academic progress. International students receive the same benefits. Current research in the school's laboratories involves diseases like AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, malaria and tuberculosis.

MIT, a private university

(Dominick Reuter)

  • Ph.D. in business at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Students enrolled in the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can study a range of fields like organization studies, accounting and information technology. Those pursuing a Ph.D. will receive a full-tuition scholarship plus a monthly stipend of $4,267, capped at $51,204. They will also receive medical insurance, new laptops at the beginning of their first and fourth years of study and $4,500 over five years for conference travel expenses.

Rice University

(Tommy Lavergne/Rice University)

Ph.D. in business at Rice University (TX)

At the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business in Texas, students enjoy full financial assistance upon admission to the Ph.D. program. Aiming to prepare students to teach in fields like accounting, finance, organizational behavior and strategic management, the program provides students with a research or teaching assistantship. Students receive a tuition waiver and a $40,000 annual stipend contingent on making satisfactory academic progress and maintaining full-time student status.

how to find a good phd program

Office of Strategic Communication/University of Iowa

  • Ph.D. in business at the University of Iowa

The University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business offers Ph.D. degrees in fields such as accounting, economics, business analytics and marketing. The college says it provides full funding to "virtually all admitted students." This includes tuition and fees, a minimum nine-month stipend of about $20,000 with annual adjustments and comprehensive health insurance covered at 90%. Some departments offer funding for research presentations at major conferences, summer fellowships and paid time off for independent research.

Cornell University buildings viewed from McGraw Tower

Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Cornell University (NY)

According to Cornell University 's website, all students admitted to the chemical engineering Ph.D. program at the New York school receive a full tuition waiver, health insurance and a stipend. This funding can come from a teaching assistantship, research assistantship or fellowship, and full stipends are granted for nine months with the likelihood of additional aid in the summer.

how to find a good phd program

Chris Taggart/Columbia University

Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Columbia University (NY)

Students enrolled in Columbia University 's Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at the Teachers College in New York receive fully funded tuition and a $25,000 stipend annually for three years. The stipend also carries into a student's fourth year. These doctoral fellows "may be expected to serve" as graduate teaching or research assistants. Students typically complete the mentor-matched program, which includes a full-year internship, in five to seven years.

Unidentified individuals, and University Hall  on the campus of Brown University.

Ph.D. in computer science at Brown University (RI)

Brown University 's Ph.D. students in computer science have access to "full financial support while completing the degree," plus the option to take classes at nearby schools without incurring additional costs, according to the school's website. In fact, doctoral students in any program at the Rhode Island university are guaranteed five years of financial support, which includes tuition remission, a stipend, health services fees and a subsidy for health insurance.

how to find a good phd program

Georgetown University

Ph.D. in computer science at Georgetown University (DC)

Georgetown University 's Ph.D. program in computer science provides scholarships and assistantships that cover full tuition at the Washington, D.C., school and include a stipend and health insurance for the first five years. Once enrolled in the program, students must complete the Apprenticeship in Teaching Program and ultimately write and defend a full research dissertation in a seminar open to the public.

Cherry trees in bloom in the campus of Washington university in springtime

Ph.D. in computer science at Washington University in St. Louis

Ph.D. students in the computer science or computer engineering program at Washington University in St. Louis receive full tuition support and health insurance. According to the university's website: "As a doctoral candidate, you will also receive a generous stipend to cover living expenses and a new, high-end Apple laptop computer. This support is guaranteed as you continue to make satisfactory progress towards your degree." Doctoral students may also qualify for one of three fellowships.

how to find a good phd program

Jeff Miller/UW-Madison

  • Ph.D. in counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison

Incoming Ph.D. students at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison are guaranteed full funding for the duration of the time that they are expected on campus, according to the university's department of counseling psychology website. Doctoral students also receive a benefits package that includes health insurance. Funding may come from financial aid, fellowships, assistantships and/or traineeships.

how to find a good phd program

Emory University

Ph.D. in economics at Emory University (GA)

Students enrolled in the economics Ph.D. program at Emory University typically receive full funding, according to the Georgia university's website. The stipend provided to students is $36,376 per year for five years, starting in fall 2023, and the full tuition scholarship is worth $70,200 per year. Funding for admitted students also includes a $4,370 annual subsidy that covers 100% of a student's cost of health insurance. First-year students have no stipend-related work requirements.

New York City, New York, USA - September 13, 2013: Street view of New York University NYU in Greenwich Village Manhattan. There are people visible in this image.

  • Ph.D. in education at New York University

New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers more than 30 degree programs. Many can be pursued on campus or online. Ph.D. degrees are offered in areas like developmental psychology, educational leadership and childhood education. Full-time NYU Steinhardt Ph.D. students are eligible for a funding package that includes an annual stipend – $32,000 for the 2022-2023 academic year – tuition coverage for required coursework and student health insurance for five years.

how to find a good phd program

L.A. Cicero, Stanford News Service

Ph.D. in education at Stanford University (CA)

Stanford University's Graduate School of Education allows students numerous fellowship and assistantship opportunities at the California school, along with a "five-year funding guarantee that provides tuition aid, fellowship stipend, and assistantship salary, and covers the standard cost of attendance," the program website reads. At the Graduate School of Education, doctoral students can choose from a range of academic areas like curriculum studies and teacher education, and developmental and psychological sciences.

Two friends working in a public library, using a computer to find some specific books for their studies together.

  • Ph.D. in education at the University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education provides full funding to Ph.D. students as part of a fellowship and research apprenticeship package. This funding includes a living stipend, health insurance and coverage of tuition and fees for up to four years if the student maintains full-time enrollment. Some students may also qualify for additional summer funding.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA - November, 20 2010: The Computer Science and Engineering Building on the University of Michigan's North Campus has an eco-friendly design.

  • Ph.D. in engineering at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

Doctoral students in engineering at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor can choose from numerous areas of specialization under umbrella categories like aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering, macromolecular science and engineering, and robotics. All engineering doctoral students are guaranteed full funding, a monthly living stipend and health insurance. The exact amount can vary, according to the program's website, and funding comes from a range of sources, including graduate student instructor positions and fellowships.

how to find a good phd program

Boston University Photography

  • Ph.D. in English at Boston University

Annually, doctoral students studying English at Boston University receive a stipend plus full tuition, fees and basic health insurance. This funding is guaranteed for at least five years, with two of those years typically free from teaching requirements. Funding can sometimes be extended up to seven years, according to the university's website, but it's not guaranteed. Students may also apply for various prizes, fellowships and short-term research and travel grants.

how to find a good phd program

(Stephanie Diani)

  • Ph.D. in English at the University of California—Los Angeles

Applicants to the Ph.D. in English program at the University of California—Los Angeles are automatically considered for various funding options. A six-year funding package includes "a minimum of two years of full fellowship, four years of summer stipend support and up to four years of teaching assistantships," according to the school website. Beyond tuition, fees and health insurance are also covered.

how to find a good phd program

Ph.D. in international relations at American University (DC)

American University offers doctoral students in its international relations program who do not have external funding a renewable four-year Dean's Fellowship that is contingent on making satisfactory academic progress. The fellowship includes the cost of tuition, fees and a stipend that must be earned via a part-time role as a teaching or research assistant. Students also must "demonstrate competency in a modern foreign language" before graduating.

how to find a good phd program

Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University

  • Ph.D. in management at Binghamton University—SUNY

All students admitted to the interdisciplinary management Ph.D. program at the Binghamton University—SUNY School of Management in New York receive a combination of a full-tuition scholarship and a teaching or research assistantship for each academic year, up to four years. This STEM-designated business doctoral degree prepares students for careers in academia and work in the public and private sectors, and has a student-faculty ratio of 1-to-1, according to the university's website.

how to find a good phd program

Duke University Communications

Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Duke University (NC)

Doctoral students at Duke University in North Carolina studying materials science and engineering generally receive full tuition, a stipend and fee support for the first five years. Students also receive up to six years of health insurance if they are on the university's student medical insurance plan. The doctoral program aims to help students publish with a faculty adviser and develop research skills, with the opportunity to present research at professional conferences.

how to find a good phd program

Homewood Photography/JHU

Ph.D. in nursing at Johns Hopkins University (MD)

The School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland provides most doctoral students with three fully funded years of study. Available financial aid includes graduate assistantships, targeted fellowships and nursing-specific funding. The university aims to "advance the theoretical foundation of nursing practice and healthcare delivery" with the degree, its website reads. "By graduation, most Hopkins nurse scholars have been awarded grants that continue their research and set them well on their way to a successful career."

"The Lawn in late afternoon at the historic University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. The lawn was part of Thomas Jefferson's campus design."

  • Ph.D. in nursing at the University of Virginia

All students admitted to the University of Virginia 's Ph.D. in Nursing program are eligible for four years of scholarship funding to cover tuition, insurance and fees, as well as annual stipends. To receive certain aid, students must work 10 hours per week as a graduate teaching assistant. With a heavy research focus, students can expect courses in qualitative, quantitative and historical research, and will have to submit a research proposal for peer review.

Yale University

Ph.D. in nursing at Yale University (CT)

At Yale University in Connecticut, the School of Nursing offers full funding to its Ph.D. students. They receive a monthly stipend for four years in addition to paid tuition and health care. The program allows students to gain in-depth knowledge in a particular area of study. Every incoming Ph.D. student gets paired with a faculty adviser "whose area of expertise and active research most closely matches with the student’s scholarly interest," according to the school's website.

how to find a good phd program

University of Minnesota

  • Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities

Students admitted to the Ph.D. program to study psychology at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities are guaranteed full funding for five years as long as they maintain satisfactory performance and degree progress. This funding includes full-time tuition, a nine-month stipend and subsidized health insurance. Funding comes from some combination of teaching assistantships, traineeships, research assistantships and fellowships. Students in the program can specialize in areas like cognitive and brain sciences, industrial-organizational psychology and social psychology.

how to find a good phd program

Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Ph.D. within the Romance languages and literatures department at the University of Notre Dame (IN)

University of Notre Dame doctoral students who focus on French and Francophone studies, Iberian and Latin American studies or Italian studies are guaranteed five years of funding. Funding includes a full scholarship, including tuition and fees, plus a stipend and health insurance. Anyone who completes the Ph.D. degree requirements at the Indiana university within five years will automatically receive a one-year postdoctoral fellowship via the university's 5+1 Program. Fellows will have a teaching load limited to one course per semester.

how to find a good phd program

Ph.D. in social work at Bryn Mawr College (PA)

Students admitted to Bryn Mawr College 's Ph.D. program in social work receive full tuition waivers and "substantial stipends" toward living expenses. The Pennsylvania college's website says: "Consistent with our model, all Ph.D. students are funded equally, and do not compete for basic financial support during coursework." The program's cohorts typically include only three or four students each year. According to the college, it awarded the first Ph.D. degree in social work in the U.S. in 1920.

how to find a good phd program

Vanderbilt University

Ph.D. in special education at Vanderbilt University (TN)

Funding is guaranteed for all admitted doctoral students enrolled in the special education Ph.D. program at the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. This includes full tuition, a "competitive" monthly stipend and health insurance for up to four years. Students may also be nominated for additional honor scholarships and fellowships. Areas of focus within the Ph.D. program include high-incidence disabilities and early childhood education.

Chicago, Illinois in the United States. Entrance to Northwestern University - School of Law.

Ph.D. in theatre and drama at Northwestern University (IL)

This interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at Northwestern University in Illinois combines coursework in humanities, social science and the visual arts. The program's students receive a five-year full-tuition scholarship plus an annual living stipend. Ph.D students enrolling at this program in fall 2022 will receive a living stipend of at least $36,960 during the 2023-2024 school year. Stipend amounts may change from year to year. Students can apply for subsidies to facilitate conference travel and summer language study.

COLLEGE PARK, MD - OCTOBER 4:   Testudo is pictured on the University of Maryland Campus. The University of Maryland announced a transformative investment of $219486,000 in the university on October 4. In a first of its kind announcement, university and government officials unveiled the investment in a celebration event for the campus community.

(Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

  • Ph.D. in women, gender and sexuality studies at University of Maryland

At the University of Maryland 's Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Ph.D. students without a master's degree usually have five years of guaranteed funding. Those with a master's degree usually are funded four years, with awards stemming from a mix of departmental fellowships and graduate teaching assistantships. Since the program's establishment in 1999, the department has granted 36 Ph.Ds, according to UMD's website.

how to find a good phd program

Learn more about paying for graduate school.

Finding a fully funded program isn't the only option to offset the costs of graduate school. See these seven strategies to pay for graduate school to learn more. Check out the latest Best Graduate Schools rankings to see the country's top business, medicine and law programs – and more. For additional grad school tips, follow U.S. News Education on Facebook , Twitter and LinkedIn .

Locust Walk with students in fall, University of Pennsylvania, University City area, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Ph.D. programs that are fully funded

  • Ph.D. in biological sciences in public health at Harvard University
  • Ph.D. in business at Rice University
  • Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Cornell University
  • Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Columbia University
  • Ph.D. in computer science at Brown University
  • Ph.D. in computer science at Georgetown University
  • Ph.D. in computer science at Washington University—St. Louis
  • Ph.D. in economics at Emory University
  • Ph.D. in education at Stanford University
  • Ph.D. in international relations at American University
  • Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Duke University
  • Ph.D. in nursing at Johns Hopkins University
  • Ph.D. in nursing at Yale University
  • Ph.D. within the romance languages and literatures department at the University of Notre Dame
  • Ph.D. in social work at Bryn Mawr College
  • Ph.D. in special education at Vanderbilt University
  • Ph.D. in theatre and drama at Northwestern University

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9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD

The ideal research program you envision is not what it appears to be


Editor's Note: When Andy Greenspon wrote this article, he was a first-year student in Applied Physics at Harvard. Now he has completed his PhD. — Alison Bert, June 23, 2021

If you are planning to apply for a PhD program, you're probably getting advice from dozens of students, professors, administrators your parents and the Internet. Sometimes it's hard to know which advice to focus on and what will make the biggest difference in the long-run. So before you go back to daydreaming about the day you accept that Nobel Prize, here are nine things you should give serious thought to. One or more of these tips may save you from anguish and help you make better decisions as you embark on that path to a PhD.

1. Actively seek out information about PhD programs.

Depending on your undergraduate institution, there may be more or less support to guide you in selecting a PhD program – but there is generally much less than when you applied to college.

On the website of my physics department, I found a page written by one of my professors, which listed graduate school options in physics and engineering along with resources to consult. As far as I know, my career center did not send out much information about PhD programs. Only after applying to programs did I find out that my undergraduate website had a link providing general information applicable to most PhD programs. This is the kind of information that is available all over the Internet.

So don't wait for your career center or department to lay out a plan for you. Actively seek it out from your career center counselors, your professors, the Internet — and especially from alumni from your department who are in or graduated from your desired PhD program. First-hand experiences will almost always trump the knowledge you get second-hand.

2. A PhD program is not simply a continuation of your undergraduate program.

Many students don't internalize this idea until they have jumped head-first into a PhD program. The goal is not to complete an assigned set of courses as in an undergraduate program, but to develop significant and original research in your area of expertise. You will have required courses to take, especially if you do not have a master's degree yet, but these are designed merely to compliment your research and provide a broad and deep knowledge base to support you in your research endeavors.

At the end of your PhD program, you will be judged on your research, not on how well you did in your courses. Grades are not critical as long as you maintain the minimum GPA requirement, and you should not spend too much time on courses at the expense of research projects. Graduate courses tend to be designed to allow you to take away what you will find useful to your research more than to drill a rigid set of facts and techniques into your brain.

3. Take a break between your undergraduate education and a PhD program.

You are beginning your senior year of college, and your classmates are asking you if you are applying to graduate school. You think to yourself, "Well, I like studying this topic and the associated research, and I am going to need a PhD if I want to be a professor or do independent research, so I might as well get it done as soon as possible." But are you certain about the type of research you want to do? Do you know where you want to live for the next five years? Are you prepared to stay in an academic environment for nine years straight?

Many people burn out or end up trudging through their PhD program without a thought about what lies outside of or beyond it. A break of a year or two or even more may be necessary to gain perspective. If all you know is an academic environment, how can you compare it to anything else? Many people take a job for five or more years before going back to get their PhD.

It is true though that the longer you stay out of school, the harder it is to go back to an academic environment with lower pay and a lack of set work hours. A one-year break will give you six months or so after graduation before PhD applications are due. A two-year gap might be ideal to provide time to identify your priorities in life and explore different areas of research without having school work or a thesis competing for your attention.

Getting research experience outside of a degree program can help focus your interests and give you a leg up on the competition when you finally decide to apply. It can also help you determine whether you will enjoy full-time research or if you might prefer an alternative career path that still incorporates science, for example, in policy, consulting or business — or a hybrid research job that combines scientific and non-scientific skills.

I will be forever grateful that I chose to do research in a non-academic environment for a year between my undergraduate and PhD programs. It gave me the chance to get a feel for doing nothing but research for a full year. Working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the Space Division, I was the manager of an optics lab, performing spectroscopic experiments on rocks and minerals placed in a vacuum chamber. While my boss determined the overall experimental design, I was able to make my own suggestions for experiments and use my own discretion in how to perform them. I presented this research at two national conferences as well — a first for me. I was also able to learn about other research being performed there, determine which projects excited me the most, and thus narrow down my criteria for a PhD program.

4. Your current area of study does not dictate what you have to study in graduate school.

You might be studying the function and regulation of membrane proteins or doing a computational analysis of the conductivity of different battery designs, but that doesn't mean your PhD project must revolve around similar projects. The transition between college or another research job to a PhD program is one of the main transitions in your life when it is perfectly acceptable to completely change research areas.

If you are doing computation, you may want to switch to lab-based work or vice versa. If you are working in biology but have always had an interest in photonics research, now is the time to try it out. You may find that you love the alternative research and devote your PhD to it, you might hate it and fall back on your previous area of study — or you may even discover a unique topic that incorporates both subjects.

One of the best aspects of the PhD program is that you can make the research your own. Remember, the answer to the question "Why are you doing this research?" should not be "Well, because it's what I've been working on for the past few years already."While my undergraduate research was in atomic physics, I easily transitioned into applied physics and materials science for my PhD program and was able to apply much of what I learned as an undergraduate to my current research. If you are moving from the sciences to a non-STEM field such as social sciences or humanities, this advice can still apply, though the transition is a bit more difficult and more of a permanent commitment.

5. Make sure the PhD program has a variety of research options, and learn about as many research groups as possible in your first year.

Even if you believe you are committed to one research area, you may find that five years of such work is not quite what you expected. As such, you should find a PhD program where the professors are not all working in the same narrowly focused research area. Make sure there are at least three professors working on an array of topics you could imagine yourself working on.

In many graduate programs, you are supposed to pick a research advisor before even starting. But such arrangements often do not work out, and you may be seeking a new advisor before you know it. That's why many programs give students one or two semesters to explore different research areas before choosing a permanent research advisor.

In your first year, you should explore the research of a diverse set of groups. After touring their labs, talking to the students, or sitting in on group meetings, you may find that this group is the right one for you.

In addition, consider the importance of who your research advisor will be. This will be the person you interact with regularly for five straight years and who will have a crucial influence on your research. Do you like their advising style? Does their personality mesh with yours? Can you get along? Of course, the research your advisor works on is critical, but if you have large disagreements at every meeting or do not get helpful advice on how to proceed with your research, you may not be able to succeed. At the very least, you must be able to handle your advisor's management of the lab and advising style if you are going to be productive in your work.

The Harvard program I enrolled in has professors working on research spanning from nanophotonics to energy materials and biophysics, covering my wide range of interests. By spending time in labs and offices informally chatting with graduate students, I found an advisor whose personality and research interests meshed very well with me. Their genuine enthusiasm for this advisor and their excitement when talking about their research was the best input I could have received.

6. Location is more important than you think — but name recognition is not.

At the Asgard Irish Pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Andy Greenspon talks with fellow graduate students from Harvard and MIT at an Ask for Evidence workshop organized by Sense About Science. He grew up near Boston and chose to go to graduate school there. (Photo by Alison Bert)

The first consideration in choosing a PhD program should be, "Is there research at this university that I am passionate about?" After all, you will have to study this topic in detail for four or more years. But when considering the location of a university, your first thought should not be, "I'm going to be in the lab all the time, so what does it matter if I'm by the beach, in a city, or in the middle of nowhere."

Contrary to popular belief, you will have a life outside of the lab, and you will have to be able to live with it for four or more years. Unlike when you were an undergraduate, your social and extracurricular life will revolve less around the university community, so the environment of the surrounding area is important. Do you need a city atmosphere to be productive? Or is your ideal location surrounded by forests and mountains or by a beach? Is being close to your family important? Imagine what it will be like living in the area during the times you are not doing research; consider what activities will you do and how often will you want to visit family.

While many of the PhD programs that accepted me had research that truly excited me, the only place I could envision living for five or more years was Boston, as the city I grew up near and whose environment and culture I love, and to be close to my family.

While location is more important than you think, the reputation and prestige of the university is not. In graduate school, the reputation of the individual department you are joining — and sometimes even the specific research group you work in — are more important. There, you will develop research collaborations and professional connections that will be crucial during your program and beyond. When searching for a job after graduation, other scientists will look at your specific department, the people you have worked with and the research you have done.

7. Those time management skills you developed in college? Develop them further.

After surviving college, you may think you have mastered the ability to squeeze in your coursework, extracurricular activities and even some sleep. In a PhD program, time management reaches a whole new level. You will not only have lectures to attend and homework to do. You will have to make time for your research, which will include spending extended periods of time in the lab, analyzing data, and scheduling time with other students to collaborate on research.

Also, you will most likely have to teach for a number of semesters, and you will want to attend any seminar that may be related to your research or that just peaks your interest. To top it all off, you will still want to do many of those extracurricular activities you did as an undergraduate. While in the abstract, it may seem simple enough to put this all into your calendar and stay organized, you will find quickly enough that the one hour you scheduled for a task might take two or three hours, putting you behind on everything else for the rest of the day or forcing you to cut other planned events. Be prepared for schedules to go awry, and be willing to sacrifice certain activities. For some, this might be sleep; for others, it might be an extracurricular activity or a few seminars they were hoping to attend. In short, don't panic when things don't go according to plan; anticipate possible delays and be ready to adapt.

8. Expect to learn research skills on the fly – or take advantage of the training your department or career center offers.

This may be the first time you will have to write fellowship or grant proposals, write scientific papers, attend conferences, present your research to others, or even peer-review scientific manuscripts. From my experience, very few college students or even PhD students receive formal training on how to perform any of these tasks. Usually people follow by example. But this is not always easy and can be quite aggravating sometimes. So seek out talks or interactive programs offered by your department or career center. The effort will be well worth it when you realize you've become quite adept at quickly and clearly explaining your research to others and at outlining scientific papers and grant proposals.

Alternatively, ask a more experienced graduate student or your advisor for advice on these topics. In addition, be prepared for a learning curve when learning all the procedures and processes of the group you end up working in. There may be many new protocols to master, whether they involve synthesizing chemicals, growing bacterial cells, or aligning mirrors on an optical table. In addition, the group may use programming languages or data analysis software you are unfamiliar with.

Don't get discouraged but plan to spend extra effort getting used to these procedures and systems. After working with them regularly, they will soon become second nature. When I first started my job at Johns Hopkins, I felt overwhelmed by all the intricacies of the experiment and definitely made a few mistakes, including breaking a number of optical elements. But by the end of my year there, I had written an updated protocol manual for the modifications I had made to the experimental procedures and was the "master" passing on my knowledge to the next person taking the job.

9. There are no real breaks.

In a stereotypical "9-to-5" job, when the workday is over or the weekend arrives, you can generally forget about your work. And a vacation provides an even longer respite. But in a PhD program, your schedule becomes "whenever you find time to get your work done." You might be in the lab during regular work hours or you might be working until 10 p.m. or later to finish an experiment. And the only time you might have available to analyze data might be at 1 a.m. Expect to work during part of the weekend, too. Graduate students do go on vacations but might still have to do some data analysis or a literature search while away.

As a PhD student, it might be hard to stop thinking about the next step in an experiment or that data sitting on your computer or that paper you were meaning to start. While I imagine some students can bifurcate their mind between graduate school life and everything else, that's quite hard for many of us to do. No matter what, my research lies somewhere in the back of my head. In short, your schedule is much more flexible as a PhD student, but as a result, you never truly take a break from your work.

While this may seem like a downer, remember that you should have passion for the research you work on (most of the time), so you should be excited to think up new experiments or different ways to consider that data you have collected. Even when I'm lying in bed about to fall asleep, I am sometimes ruminating about aspects of my experiment I could modify or what information I could do a literature search on to gain new insights. A PhD program is quite the commitment and rarely lives up to expectations – but it is well worth the time and effort you will spend for something that truly excites you.

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Andy Greenspon

Andy Greenspon

Andy Greenspon is a first-year PhD student in Applied Physics in the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences . Prior to that, he worked in the Space Research and Exploration group at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) for a year. He grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and received a BA in physics from Amherst College .

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How to Choose the Right Graduate School

Two students discussing

Are you trying to decide whether graduate school is the right choice for you? Or which graduate program is the best fit? This section provides information and advice on choosing the right graduate school and program for you.

1. Decide whether you want to pursue a master’s or a Ph.D.

Master’s and Ph.D. programs vary greatly in their areas of focus, the amount of financial support, and the time commitment. Choosing the right program means finding the right balance between career plans, monetary cost, and opportunity cost. Here is some guidance to help you make that decision. 

2. Identify what to look for in a graduate program

Once you know which degree you want to pursue, you should draw up a list of key criteria for the kind of program you are looking for. This includes obvious factors such as an institution’s reputation, the academic rigor of the curriculum, and the quality of the faculty. You should, however, also look at factors such as how well the program fits your goals, the culture of the department and campus, and the vibe of the surrounding community. We have compiled a list of things to consider when evaluating a graduate program. 

3. Collect information about the programs you are interested in

Once you know what to look for, start collecting information. Common sources include your undergraduate faculty, current students and faculty in the programs of interest, as well as online sources. Check out our list of resources to consult and a spreadsheet we have created to help you take notes.

4. Prepare a strong graduate school application

Once you have narrowed your list of programs, it’s time to make your application as good as it can be. Think carefully about how to present yourself in your personal statement and whom to request recommendations from. You will also need to prepare for the admissions interview, if there is one. Check out our guide and a list of tips from Duke graduate students and faculty.

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Advice on Applying to Graduate School

Tips and insights from Duke graduate students and faculty on what to do and what to avoid.

Things to Consider

A checklist of various factors in evaluating a graduate program's fit for you. Download the table (Word) and use it to take notes as you do your research.

Questions to Ask

Some questions you should ask about student support and funding during your campus visit or interview.

How to Choose a Graduate Program

Choosing a graduate program can be daunting. This guide will provide insight on how to get started.

Lian Parsons

The first step is deciding to pursue a graduate degree. The second step is choosing one. This process can be intimidating, but this guide will walk you through how to choose a graduate program and how to set yourself up for success.

Taking the next step in your education journey means making a commitment to yourself and to your future. With so many graduate schools to choose from, it can be difficult to know what the best option is for you. 

Deciding whether or not to go to graduate school in the first place can be challenging to figure out. Graduate certificates are also an option for those who want to hone a specific skill set and — in many cases — can be completed along the way to a master’s degree. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics , enrollment in master’s and doctoral programs is on the rise and is projected to be 6 percent higher in 2030 than in 2020 (3.3 million vs. 3.1 million students, respectively).

This blog post will offer a few tips on how to choose a graduate program that fits both your goals and your lifestyle, as well as what will help set you on the pathway to success.

Why pursue a graduate degree?

Before beginning the process of applying to graduate school, take some time to figure out what you want to get out of the graduate school experience. 

Whether you’re looking to open up your career prospects, gain new professional skills and connections, or return to academia to develop yourself personally, having a solid “why” in mind can help you clarify your next steps.

“While a new career path may reveal itself as a result of graduate study, don’t rely on it if you’re unsure about what you want to do next in life or you aren’t happy in your current job,” says Kimberly Parke, executive director of pre-degree advising, recruitment, and admissions at Harvard Extension School. “Instead, spend time in self-reflection, and engage in research about all possible options, including informal interviews with people in jobs and fields that seem interesting to you.”

Once you do figure out that “why,” the value a graduate degree can bring can go far beyond the individual.

“The difference you’ll be able to make in your community with your new skills and connections, the impact you’ll have on your friends and family through modeling the discipline and responsibility it takes to complete a program, and the confidence you’ll gain for all those same reasons and more are invaluable,” adds Parke.

What factors should you consider when choosing a graduate program?

When thinking about how to choose a graduate program, there are multiple elements to consider, according to Amanda Peters, director of Harvard Extension School career advising and programming.

“Each person really needs to prioritize what matters to them and what will allow them to be successful. Find what holds the most value and what is the priority and all the rest of the evaluation is going to be based on that,” says Peters. “You want to make sure you’re going to be able to commit to following through on the program.”

The most personal part of choosing a graduate school is taking stock of what’s most important to you. These priorities can be broken down into a few main categories. 

Career Goals and Personal Interests 

Consider whether or not the program will help you advance in your career. Additionally, reflect on your personal passion for your chosen industry and whether or not you see yourself in this field long term.

Lifestyle and Program Format 

Most adults who are working full time in addition to balancing family responsibilities likely do not have time to take two to three years off to complete a graduate degree program. You may find online classes or alternate class schedules work best for you. 

Program Qualifications and Requirements 

Once you’ve identified some graduate programs that interest you, you’ll need to research whether you meet the qualifications for admissions. You’ll also want to know exactly what requirements you’ll need to meet to graduate.

Some programs, for example, may require you to take an entrance exam; others, like Harvard Extension School , may require that you successfully complete a course or two.

Most graduate programs will have both admissions qualifications and graduation requirements listed on their websites. You can also contact each school’s graduate admissions office directly for more clarity. 

Having a range of options when applying can also be beneficial in providing you greater choice later on in the process. 

Resources for Support 

Reach out to the individual graduate schools for more information about resources such as internship and research opportunities, academic support and tutoring, networking outlets, career services , and childcare options if you’re a parent.

Location and Cost of Living 

If you’re not able to move to attend school in person, or if the location is simply financially inaccessible, find out if the graduate program offers online degrees. 

Some online graduate programs may require that you take some percentage of your courses on campus. Be sure to verify whether there is a residency requirement and, if there is, whether you will realistically be able to complete it.

Tuition and Financial Aid Options 

Graduate school is a hefty investment, so take your time to understand the full cost of the program and how it fits into your budget. You’ll want to find program options that are comfortable for you.

As Julie Lonergan, associate director of pre-degree advising and admissions of Harvard Extension School advises, “Research your options for financial aid, grants and loans, and ask your employer about tuition reimbursement opportunities. Be creative when you search for scholarships and fellowships, as you may find ones associated with your field of study, your geographic location, your industry, and more.” 

Educating yourself about financial aid options is also an important piece of the puzzle.

Explore Graduate Degrees at Harvard Extension School.

How do you determine the quality of a good graduate program?

Deciding what to prioritize when selecting a graduate school is a process that is individual to each graduate student, but there are several common factors to take into account. 

Quality of Faculty and Instructors 

“Whatever your ultimate goal may be, learning from faculty at the top of their fields or with extensive academic and research experience will help set you up for success,” says Lonergan.

Graduate faculty and instructors should teach a curriculum that is up-to-date and provides you with the knowledge you need to be successful on your next steps.

Students Access to Faculty/Resources 

Contact graduate schools to find information about the average class size, as well as information on what resources each grad school provides to help graduate students succeed, such as career support, mentorship opportunities, professional development, and advising. Most graduate schools will also have this information posted on their websites.

On-Campus Facilities   

For answers about facilities, reach out to those who had the opportunities to use them the most: current graduate students or recent alumni.

Social media groups are also a good source for honest insights into campus life and facilities, such as libraries, research labs, classrooms, and online spaces.

Social Environment 

Look up the demographics of the graduate student population, faculty members, and administration, which can often be found on school websites. Speaking with current grad students or alumni is also an opportunity to find out what kind of student tends to be attracted to each particular graduate school or program.

Alumni Career Paths 

Peters suggests finding alumni via platforms like LinkedIn to find out their trajectories post-graduation. If their stories inspire you, that’s a positive sign the graduate program may be a good fit for you as well. 

School websites will also often include profiles on current grad students and alumni , which can give you a sense of their academic experiences and career outcomes. 

Many alums are eager to share their experiences. Don’t hesitate to reach out to alumni in your prospective field as part of your research into a specific graduate program.

Is support available to help students choose the right graduate program?

One thing prospective graduate students should know is they are not alone. There is a large range of sources from which to gain insight into how to choose a graduate program and help you narrow down your search. 

Professional associations, alumni associations, current students and faculty, school admissions offices, and industry newsletters are all great resources to find out more about the programs you’re researching.  

Enrollment coaches are also specifically and uniquely positioned to help throughout the journey of how to choose a graduate program and to ensure that you get the most out of your experience.

“Learning is about inquiry, in all its forms, so as a student whose job it is to learn, seek answers and ask for help,” says Parke. “If there’s one place where you’re expected to do that, it’s at a school!”

How do I know if grad school is right for me?

Pursuing a graduate degree program is an incredible undertaking, but one that has the potential to launch a new career trajectory, connect you with fellow like-minded students, faculty, and alumni who are rooting for your success, and help you discover who you are — and who you’re going to be.

Explore all undergraduate and graduate programs at Harvard Extension School.

About the Author

Lian Parsons is a Boston-based writer and journalist. She is currently a digital content producer at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education. Her bylines can be found at the Harvard Gazette, Boston Art Review, Radcliffe Magazine, Experience Magazine, and iPondr.

Preparing for Graduate School: Advice for Incoming Student Success

The idea of going back to graduate school as a working adult presents both opportunities and challenges. Here are a few tips for setting yourself up for success in graduate school and beyond.

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How to Choose a PhD Program: 3 Tips

How to Choose a PhD Program: 3 Tips

After careful consideration of your strengths and weaknesses and your professional goals, you’ve decided to get a PhD. Now what? Here are three pieces of advice on how to choose a PhD program based on your interests.

Choose PhD programs based on what you want to study.

Which programs are right for you depends on what you want to study. It’s important to give careful consideration to your discipline and specific research interests before moving forward. You should narrow programs down according to your interests. At the same time, it’s a good idea to  apply to multiple graduate programs (about a dozen or so).

Therefore, thoroughly researching which PhD programs are worth your time will help you to get into the right program.

See how PhD programs in your discipline are ranked.

A program’s ranking shouldn’t be the only criteria by which you make your decision, but it should still be a strong consideration. You can find the most recent rankings by searching for your subject of study here .

Get acquainted with the scholars in your field.

Just as important as a program’s rankings is whether its professors are working on similar projects or using similar methodologies to your own. 

Do some research to find out which professors work with graduate students in the programs you’ve selected. You can even reach out to them to see if they’re interested in your potential research before applying. Finally, look at the program’s job placement page to see if the program (and the faculty) have a good track record for helping students get jobs.

Once you’ve zeroed in on a research topic or question, researched program rankings, and found some scholars with which you’d like to work, you can finally start putting together your application materials .

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PhD in Psychology


  • PhD in Psychology

Expand your opportunities for making a difference in people’s lives with a PhD in Psychology from Capella. Build expertise that matches your interests to help you prepare for the next phase of your career.

Build professional skills that fit your career goals with a PhD in Psychology

Expand your opportunities for making a difference in people’s lives with an online PhD in Psychology. Our four specializations provide tools you can use to advance as a leader or consultant in areas like psychology, mental health, education, business or public policy.

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

PhD in Psychology program overview

The PhD in Psychology program is designed to help you master psychology theory and practice, contribute original research and strengthen your ability to consult, teach or lead in diverse professional settings.

Courses that help build essential skills for psychology professionals

As a PhD in Psychology student, you’ll begin with core courses that lay the foundation for your program and develop skills in key areas of the field. From there, you’ll move into coursework and residencies for your chosen specialization to grow your expertise and advance toward your dissertation.

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Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Accreditation and recognitions provide assurance that we meet standards for quality of faculty, curriculum, learner services, and fiscal stability. See all our accreditations and recognitions .  

PhD in Psychology admission requirements

Applicants to the PhD in Psychology program must provide the following information for admission:

  • A master’s degree from an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or from an internationally recognized institution
  • Your official master’s transcripts, with a minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale
  • A valid, government-issued form of photo identification

GRE and GMAT are not required for admission.

International applicants will be subject to additional admission requirements.

View full admission requirements for PhD in Psychology specializations: General Psychology , Behavior Analysis , Developmental Psychology , Educational Psychology , Industrial/Organizational Psychology

International student requirements

If you completed your most recent academic coursework, degree, or credential at an institution outside the United States, regardless of your citizenship or where you currently live, you are considered an international applicant.

In addition to the above admission requirements, you will need to submit these materials:

  • Minimum score on acceptable test for proof of English proficiency
  • Transcript evaluation

Learn more about international student admissions .

PhD in Psychology program costs

The total cost of your PhD in Psychology program will depend on your specialization, scholarships and finances, transfer credits, academic performance and other factors. 

Find detailed tuition information and cost scenarios for PhD in Psychology specializations:  General Psychology ,  Behavior Analysis ,  Developmental Psychology ,  Educational Psychology ,  Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Choosing a PhD in Psychology specialization

Every doctoral journey is different. Your chosen specialization can help you leverage your unique passions and interests to advance your psychology expertise for the next phases of your career.*

  • Learning outcomes
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General Psychology

  • Think critically in response to psychological challenges
  • Design, plan and conduct appropriate research in the field of psychology

Learn more »

Developmental Psychology

  • Apply critical thinking skills in response to challenges in developmental psychology
  • Design, plan and conduct research and/or evaluation to advance knowledge and practice in developmental psychology

Educational Psychology

  • Design, plan and conduct research and evaluation to advance knowledge and practice in educational psychology
  • Discern how humans learn, process and communicate information to create knowledge

Industrial/Organizational Psychology

  • Evaluate and apply critical thinking in response to behavior in the workplace
  • Synthesize theoretical and research findings from the discipline of I/O psychology
  • This program can help you prepare to work in diverse settings, such as academia, social services and health care
  • Explore roles such as full-time psychology faculty and program administrator
  • Skills taught in this program can help you prepare for leadership in diverse areas, from higher education to advocacy
  • Explore job titles such as developmental psychologist and program administrator
  • This degree can help you prepare for opportunities in areas like higher education and corporate training
  • Explore professional roles such as psychometrician, test administrator and curriculum manager
  • Skills taught in this program can apply in corporate, health care, military and  industrial settings
  • Explore job titles such as director of labor relations, and director of training and development 

*Capella cannot guarantee any specific job, promotion, salary increase or other career outcomes. You will need to conduct your own research to understand what opportunities may be available to you. Note that some career paths may prefer or even require previous experience, licensure, certifications or other designations along with a degree.


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how to find a good phd program

June 29, 2020

How to Be a Competitive PhD Applicant and Apply to the Best Programs for You

How to Be a Competitive PhD Applicant and Apply to the Best Programs for You

What are your goals?

If you’re considering applying for admission to a PhD program, you should start thinking about where you want to apply. Your criteria for selecting target programs will depend on your goals and circumstances, but here are a few things to think about.

Getting started: Ask yourself these goal-oriented questions

Let’s jump right into the introspective phase of mining your goals:

  • First (and most importantly), what is your goal?
  • What are your primary research interests? 
  • Do you want to pursue an academic career?
  • Or do you plan to work in another sector?

How will your goals influence your career?

If you’re primarily interested in research, your priority should be finding a program that will give you the research training to launch your career. Follow these steps:

  • Try to identify scholars who are working in the areas that interest you.
  • Review the literature in your field, network at conferences, and review CVs on departmental websites. In short, do your research.
  • If you have an undergrad mentor in your field, consult them for advice about departments where exciting research is going on.
  • Ask yourself: who would be a good mentor , and who would I be interested in working with for the next several years?
  • Consider the rankings of your target school and/or department. In many fields (see below), top programs are a MUST for securing a job in the field post-graduation. On the other hand, go beyond the rankings to explore the real dynamism of, and specialities in, a department (particularly once you’re talking about the specific subfields PhD students are concerned with). Even among the top schools, Princeton and Harvard are very different places!

Outside academia

If your goals lie outside of academia, work on identifying programs that will help you reach your goals . For you, these questions will be most relevant:

  • What industry are you interested in? 
  • Does the university you’re considering have research ties with that industry? 
  • Does the department offer opportunities for professional development (fieldwork, internships, etc.)? 
  • Whether you are primarily interested in industry or academia (or if you are undecided), the following question is important: What other resources does the university offer to support graduate students (career development, professional groups, alumni working in the field, etc.)?

Do your research to find the best programs for your interests and goals. You might begin by searching for “PhD in X” online, searching by specific universities, and considering the different departments in which your field of interest could be placed. For example, a doctoral candidate studying religion could, depending on the specialty, be getting her PhD in a religion, history, or literature dept.

Are you a competitive PhD applicant?

Once you’ve established your goals, it’s time to evaluate your credentials and consider where you will be a competitive candidate.

Answering the following questions will help you honestly size up your profile:

Keep in mind: most PhD programs are extremely competitive, and admissions can seem downright capricious. That’s the inevitable result of admitting only a handful of applicants each year.

Are you PhD material at this time?

Have you discussed grad school with any mentors—and do they think you’re capable of grad-level work? Here are some other questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you done research as an undergrad or master’s level student?  Perhaps you helped a professor work on a book; done lab work for a researcher; done an independent study (these are particularly great for revealing a student’s deeper research interests, and for cultivating significant student-faculty relationships); or participating in summer or yearly academic programming, such as language courses or research work . If not, consider gaining more research experience before applying.
  • Are your GPA and test scores competitive? Most programs (not all) publicize their average admitted GPA and GRE info. Bear in mind that at some schools, your application will be processed first by the university’s graduate school, which may impose a minimum GPA or GRE requirement. If you’re concerned about meeting minimum standards, check the department’s requirements carefully. BUT REMEMBER: Top programs want very high GPAs. And, GRE matters less (compared to SAT or to one’s GPA) for many programs, especially in humanities. Look at each school’s site. It is also crucial to demonstrate that you’ve done relevant coursework, to show you have a real background in your field. For example, was it your major? Did you do a postbac?
  • Do you meet the prereqs for admission? This might seem like a no-brainer. But many of the competitive/highly ranked programs (in a variety of fields) have minimum requirements that far surpass the requirements you met as an undergrad. For example, to enter many English departments, you’ll need to demonstrate fluency in two or more foreign languages. Do your research.
  • Is there a professor in your specialty at the program you’re targeting, and (important!) are they accepting students? Look at faculty pages for your department at each target school and note the interests, publications, and bios of profs you’d want to work with. Reach out to them directly ; offer to meet with them in person (though probably not during COVID) or arrange a Zoom call. You could be a superstar and still not be accepted if the program doesn’t think they can fit your needs .
  • Don’t only target the very top-ranked programs in your field. Because PhD admission is so competitive, it is important to do a broad-ranging, well-researched search. HOWEVER: This is not always true. In certain fields, many would argue that it is only worthwhile to target the very top programs because otherwise you don’t have a chance of getting a job in the field afterwards. It is best not only to ask current doctoral students, but also senior professors who might be on the hiring end of the profession. You can also look at professors’ online bios to see where they got their degrees- if everyone, even those at “less-than-top-tier” universities, all have degrees from Harvard, it probably means there are few jobs to go around and so only those coming out of the very best schools are securing them.

More criteria to consider when selecting a PhD program

I’ve discussed some important criteria for helping you to select a grad program: your goals/research interests, and evaluating whether you’ll be a competitive applicant. Those are big ones. But as a classic PhD Comic reminds us , you’re not just a “brain on a stick”—you have concerns and needs outside of your research. You also need to find a program where you’re going to fit and thrive as a human being for the next several years. A few things to consider are location, finances , and departmental culture.

Your PhD program won’t exist in a vacuum! Where you’ll be spending your next few years matters. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a part of the country you want to live in? 
  • Are you constrained geographically by family needs, or by a career you’re pursuing already? 

it’s a good idea to investigate funding opportunities when you research admission information. 

  • Will you need to submit additional applications? 
  • What type of funding is available to grad students in your target department? 
  • Is funding guaranteed for the duration of your program? 
  • Is funding available during the summer?

Departmental culture

This is largely an issue of “fit” —but you can find out a fair amount about how a department treats its students by talking to people. 

  • When you visit, do people seem at ease? 
  • If you sit in on a seminar, do you sense a collegial environment? 

Also, contact the department registrar to get in touch with current doctoral students to ask for some of these details, and for their experience in the program: working with certain profs, living in the area, etc. Consider COVID limitations and their impact on in-person visits, of course; consider asking permission to sit in on a Zoom class!

The grad program you select will be a major part of your life for the next several years, so you want a good fit on a personal level.

Remember, make sure the school where you are going to spend several years pursuing your PhD fits your needs, and not just the other way around. Your target PhD program should help you reach your goals, and it should enable you to work with professors you admire. Think deeply about the people you’d like as your mentors, and consult with their current advisees: Do they treat their students well? Be sure to find out how they interact with students, and consider writing out for your own self-understanding what the ideal advisor-advisee relationship would look like. Is your dream advisor hands-off? Hands-on? Is he/she warm, or distant? Do you want an ongoing mentorship with this person, or simply someone to look over your work when required and help sign the papers to get you over the finish line?

Also, your target program should be in a location and price bracket that you can manage. Don’t underestimate the value of fit in these ways, as well as school culture—these will strongly contribute not just to whether or not you get accepted, but how well you fare and how happy you’ll be over the course of your PhD experience.

Do you need help choosing the best PhD programs for you? Do you need help with any other elements of the application process? Explore our Graduate School Admissions Consulting & Editing Services and work one-on-one with an expert consultant who will help you GET ACCEPTED!  

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Related Resources:

  • Plotting Your Way to a PhD , a free guide
  • Focus on Fit , a podcast episode
  • 4 Tips for Securing Effective Recommendation Letters for PhD Admissions at Top Programs

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how to find a good phd program

  • Find Your Perfect PhD
  • Finding a PhD

Find Your PhD, Fast Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest. Search Now

  • When looking for PhD research projects, a great place to start is with our comprehensive and up-to-date database .
  • Speak with lecturers within your area of interest about potential PhD opportunities they may have.
  • Attend Postgraduate Events . Whilst there, speak to current PhD students and career advisors to get an awareness of what PhD projects are on offer.
  • Visit the postgraduate section of university websites and the PhD Research Council section of the GOV.UK website

Finding A PhD

Searching for PhD research projects can sometimes feel like daunting process. Often, it’s difficult to know where to find a PhD position or where to even start.

To make this searching process as easy as possible for you, we’ve curated a collection of the best places to search for PhD projects. By using our recommended collection, you should hopefully gain a greater insight into where your interests lie and which programme is best suited for you.

Our Comprehensive and Up-To-Date Directory

We can’t create a list of great resources and not include ourselves! At DiscoverPhDs, our primary aim is to connect great students to great PhD projects. To enable this, we provide a comprehensive database of PhD projects offered from universities all across the UK.

We regularly add to our database to ensure you’re getting the latest opportunities and the most relevant information and programme details. On top of this, we’ve created our database to be as easy to use as possible; all our PhD listings provide a direct ‘apply’ link or contact email address of the lead supervisor. This enables you to:

  • Request further information about any aspect of the position,
  • Enquire about the specific applications process,
  • Connect directly with the supervisor

Universities Websites

Search on the website of the universities you are interested in as some many only be listing PhD research projects internally or may link you to other opportunities such as Professional Doctorate Programmes. As examples, have a look at the research pages of The University of Cambridge , Cardiff University , University of Leicester , Sheffield University and The University of Glasgow .

Your Current Supervisor

If you’re currently undertaking a research project or dissertation as part of your undergraduate or master’s degree, it would be a good idea to speak to your current supervisor. Not only would you have already built a good rapport with them, but having worked with you they will have a good idea on what PhD positions would utilise your strengths or best interest you. In fact, a noticeable percentage of past and current PhD students came into their PhD programme because of being recommended by their undergraduate supervisor. Your supervisor will be well-connected – make sure you take advantage of these opportunities.

Tip: Don’t just limit your discussion to your own personal supervisor. All supervisors are within their field of work because they have a natural passion for research and teaching. As such, most supervisors will be more than happy to help any student who wishes to follow in their footsteps and make their own impact.

Postgraduate Events

Nearly all universities hold regular Postgraduate Fairs and Open Days. As part of these events, current postgraduate students may be on hand to share their experiences of their projects and university. This is a fantastic opportunity to not only find out what PhDs the university is offering but to find out more about their facilities, research labs and library collection, etc. Given that you will be heavily relying on these resources during your PhD, it’s important that you know what’s provided by each university. Hearing student stories about what PhD life is really like, what to expect from supervisors and some of the challenges that current students have encountered can be really useful in your decision making process.

Besides the above, career advisers may also be available at these events. Speaking to them will help you understand what you can do with a PhD, whether a PhD is right for you, what degree class you’re expected to hold and how best to prepare for research projects. Seeing as they would have helped many PhD candidates through the decision-making process before, they will provide you with some invaluable insight that you would otherwise be oblivious to.

To help bring all Postgraduate Fairs and Open Days offered across all universities together, we’ve created a helpful Postgraduate Events page which we highly recommend you check out.

Research Councils

Research councils are nationally funded agencies which offer sponsored PhD research projects (also known as a PhD studentship). Different research councils cover different areas of research, these include:

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC),
  • The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC),
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC),
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC),
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The GOV.UK website has a full list of nationally-funded research councils available online. You can find further details on these councils on the GOV.UK website.

Although our database includes PhD programmes offered by these research councils, it would be a good idea to regularly browse the website of the ones you are particularly interested in case they list some internal only. These councils play an important role in supporting and encouraging doctoral researchers and they regularly hold calls for applications for PhD funding. If you or your potential supervisor have a PhD project proposal defined but need funding, then applying to these calls may become a key first milestone in your postgraduate research journey.

For example, the EPSRC offers a Doctoral Training Partnership programme in which a research student is given funding to pursue postgraduate study with a research question that aligns with the Councils core engineering and physical sciences themes. These awards often have eligibility criteria linked to them, impacting which postgraduate research students can apply; an international student, for example, may not be able to apply to a certain UK based scholarship scheme but there are several other options that can still help you fund your doctoral research; this may involve taking out a postgraduate loan (or more specifically a postgraduate doctoral loan).

To make this searching process as easy as possible for you, we’ve curated a collection of the best places to search for a PhD. By using our recommended collection, you should hopefully gain a greater insight into where your interests lie and which programme is best suited for you.

Further Resources

As you continue your search of PhD research projects, be sure to check our our PhD advice articles, including how to prepare for your PhD application, and interviews with current and past doctoral students. Many of the people we’ve interviewed have completed degrees within a STEM discipline; they offer a wide range of advice on their individual approaches to applied research and independent study, as well as sharing some the impact their work has had. Many have continued the research of their projects within academia after finishing, whilst some have developed successful careers in industry and business sectors.

It’s worth noting that when you apply to undertake doctoral study, you may first be registered as an MPhil researcher, depending on the specific doctoral programme you apply for, officially become a full PhD student after passing an upgrade viva. At the upgrade stage, some students do decide to graduate with an MPhil research degree rather than pursuing further PhD study however this is less common.

We hope the above list will help you find the perfect PhD position and earn your doctoral degree.

If you have any recommendations besides these resources, please let us know at [email protected] so we can look to add it.

If you’re ready to start your search for your PhD, start now with our  PhD database .

Browse PhDs Now

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Join thousands of other students and stay up to date with the latest PhD programmes, funding opportunities and advice.

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How to Get a PhD

Last Updated: May 4, 2023 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Carrie Adkins, PhD . Carrie Adkins is the cofounder of NursingClio, an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog that connects historical scholarship to current issues in gender and medicine. She completed her PhD in American History at the University of Oregon in 2013. While completing her PhD, she earned numerous competitive research grants, teaching fellowships, and writing awards. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 12 testimonials and 98% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 671,702 times.

A PhD, short for Doctor of Philosophy, may help you secure a position as a college or university professor, a researcher in a government or industrial laboratory, a consultant, or an independent practitioner. [1] X Research source If you have the curiosity to explore a subject in depth and the tenacity to do so for many years, applying for a graduate PhD program may be an excellent step in reaching your full potential. By learning the steps necessary to complete your prerequisite education, apply to graduate schools, and complete the work, you'll be well on your way.

Completing Prerequisite Education

Image titled Get a PhD Step 1

  • Generally, it's recommended that students interested in pursuing advanced degrees should develop a wide skill-base during their undergrad. In other words, while you may ultimately be interested in studying Zoology, an undergrad degree in basic Biology might provide you with a diverse base that you'll be able to narrow in your future studies.
  • Many universities offer majors designed to funnel you into an advanced degree. Pre-law majors and Pre-med majors are two notable examples of this. Talk to your academic advisor about your interest in pursuing a PhD after you graduate, if you've yet to select a major.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 2

  • A good way to develop a relationship with a professor is to take multiple classes with her and join her lab, or research team. Go to office hours, introduce yourself, and express your interest in advanced degree work. Most professors are more than happy to work with a talented student who shows a sincere interest in their work.
  • It's also a good idea to forge relationships with graduate students at your school. Speak to graduate students and faculty about their experiences at the school, even if you plan on going elsewhere for your advanced degree. Many will be happy to let you know about the advantages and disadvantages of studying for and obtaining a Ph.D. It can be a great way to get insider information and get ahead of the game.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 3

  • Work-study programs in your field of interest can also be extremely attractive of graduate applications. If you're studying English, try to secure employment in the Writing Lab, rather than the cafeteria to give yourself an edge and valuable experience.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 4

  • National and regional conferences, such as the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), allow dedicated undergrads the opportunity to rub elbows with experts and contribute to the discussion.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 5

  • Look for programs with a good reputation, but give more weight to the faculty and the research interests of the other graduate students at prospective schools. What you're looking for in an advanced degree program is camaraderie and common ground, not an arbitrary ranking on some "prestigious" list.
  • The applications are expensive--sometimes $50 or $80 dollars each--so you won't be able to apply to all programs. Try to select a range of programs to apply to: choose a few big dream schools with great facilities and prestigious faculty and lots of competition to see if you can't get in. Apply to smaller programs that you'd also be happy attending. Apply to as many as you can afford to give yourself the best chance.
  • For some fields, a master's degree will be a more appropriate subsidiary or even terminal degree. At worst, a master's degree can be an excellent primer for the graduate school life, especially if teaching assistantships or fellowships are available.

Applying to Graduate Programs

Image titled Get a PhD Step 6

  • While most Master's programs only require the general test, which is like an advanced version of the SAT, some Ph.D programs will require that you take the subject test, which is given in several sections, including biology, literature, and other fields. It's a much more difficult test than the general--the reading list for the Subject test in lit is several hundred authors from a variety of periods. Make sure you take the correct test for the program to which you're applying. [5] X Research source
  • Schedule your test early in the application season, to give yourself enough time to retake it, if necessary. The test can be somewhat expensive, more than $100, so start studying now with a good-quality commercial study guide.
  • When you arrive for the test, you can arrange to have your scores sent directly to the graduate programs you'll be applying to. This has the advantage of cutting out an extra step in your application process, but also ensures that the school will see your scores, good or bad. If you're worried about your score, arrange to have them sent to you instead.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 7

  • It's important to ask for these letters as early as possible, preferably at least 3 months before you need to submit your applications. Professors will be inundated with letter-writing requests at the last minute, increasing the possibility of them writing a poor evaluation. Don't be one of those students.

Carrie Adkins, PhD

Carrie Adkins, PhD

" Ask well in advance, and supply any materials that might help them ," adds Carrie Adkins, PhD in History. "Professors can only write so many thorough, detailed letters of recommendation, so if you help them out by asking a month or two before the deadline and providing them with your CV and statement of purpose, you’ll be more likely to get their best efforts ."

Image titled Get a PhD Step 8

  • If you're planning on applying to lots of schools, it can be a time-saver to write a "form" version of your letter, allowing space to customize the letter for more specific programs. It's very important to tailor each statement of purpose to the particular program to which you're applying. This demonstrates your seriousness and interest in the school. Each letter should read as if you're only interested in studying at that school.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 9

  • a completed application form
  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
  • A curriculum vitae (CV) or resume
  • Recent GRE scores
  • Statement of Purpose
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (for international students)
  • 2-3 Letters of Recommendation

Image titled Get a PhD Step 10

  • Applying for financial aid will often involve supplementary application materials, like a teaching statement, research statement, or other short writing prompts. Research the specific requirements at each university for specific instructions when applying for financial aid.
  • If full funding isn't an option, consider applying for need-based scholarships. Often, these are available to minority applicants or students in financial straits. Likewise, the application fee can often be waived. Contact individual departments when you're applying to check about need-based application waivers.

Completing Your Degree

Image titled Get a PhD Step 11

  • Choose people who you can work with, and who share a common research interest, as well as people you get along with personally. Personal differences often pop up during these kinds of working relationships, making it important to avoid them in the beginning.
  • Your proposed academic advisor/research supervisor should ideally be named in your statement of purpose, with the reasons you want to work with that person. Those reasons should show that you know something about that person's background and why he or she would make an effective advisor.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 12

  • The names and signatures of your committee members , the program director, and the student. You'll also need your student ID number and other personal information.
  • A brief statement of your academic and research goals . This will typically be a super-condensed version of your research question or thesis statement, probably no more than 50-100 words.
  • A list of the required courses you'll take over the next two years, listing course number, title, department, and instructor, as well as the semester you intend to take the course. Most programs require around 12 hours of required coursework for an advanced degree.
  • A list of the elective courses you'll take , with corresponding course numbers, titles, departments, and instructors, as well as the semester you intend to take the course. Most programs require somewhere between 20 and 30 elective hours for an advanced degree.
  • Dissertation hours . When you've passed your preliminary examinations, your coursework will change to independent research and dissertation work, but you'll still be registered for a course with a course number and a particular number of credit hours, with your major professor or thesis chair as the instructor. This information will also need to be included on the plan of study form.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 13

  • In graduate school, the course load is usually somewhat less than the undergraduate degree, because of the intensity of the coursework and other research or teaching responsibilities. A "full load" is usually considered 6 or 9 hours, though you'll be doing 20 or more hours of teaching or research in a given week. [6] X Research source
  • For a PhD student, a typical coursework semester might involve three courses: a required core class and two elective courses. Typically, elective courses will still be in the department the student is studying, if not the particular program. For example, a comparative lit PhD studying Medieval literature may take a 20th century poetry course in the English department as an elective, though probably not a biology class.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 14

  • The written examination, sometimes called the "prelim," will typically be submitted to the department chair by your major professor, then administered to you toward the end of your second year of classes. When you pass the exam, you'll be considered "Post-Prelim" and may begin the process of completing your dissertation. [7] X Research source

Image titled Get a PhD Step 15

  • Start with a research question. A research question is what you'll hope to answer over the course of your dissertation research. It needs to be narrow, but with broad-reaching implications. A starting research question might be something like, "How are women represented during the silver age of American comic book publishing?" or "What are the implications of spontaneous genetic mutation during breeding in drosophila, and what effect might this have on cancer research?"

Image titled Get a PhD Step 16

  • As you complete your coursework and add complexity to the topic in which you're interested, you'll likely change and add depth to your initial research interest. That's fine. Let the research grow your understanding of the topic, and change the way you approach it. That means you're on the right track.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 18

  • In the humanities , several semesters following your coursework and preliminary examination will be devoted to completing the research involved with your interests. During this time, you'll be expected to periodically update your committee on your progress, providing them with literature reviews and outlines, depending on your arrangement. You may also be expected to publish supplementary papers periodically in academic journals.
  • In the sciences , you'll spend your post-prelim semesters doing lab work, or other field work depending on your field of study. The time will be spent collecting data and performing experiments to move your research forward, to be collected in the dissertation, and probably published in peer-reviewed journals.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 19

  • Most "defenses" are cordial affairs, not debates, though you should expect to be pressed and argued with regarding your methods, your conclusions, and other aspects of your work. The best way to prepare for your defense is to know your dissertation and your research inside and out.
  • At a successful defense, you'll need to present yourself and your work well both orally and in writing to earn recognition as a PhD candidate and a researcher. Practice delivering your main point quickly and your overall presentation or paper with confidence.

Funding Your Research

Image titled Get a PhD Step 20

  • In the hard sciences , money is allocated to provide different labs, projects, and individuals money on a competitive case-by-case basis. To apply, you'll typically write a detailed proposal of your research goals and submit it to the department.
  • In the humanities , it's also common to seek subsequent teaching appointments in tangential fields: if your research involves the representation of women in comic books, and you've been teaching in the English department, why not pick up a special-topics course in Women's Studies?

Image titled Get a PhD Step 21

Surviving the Process

Image titled Get a PhD Step 24

  • Don't Try to do everything at once. Because you will spend several years to earn your doctorate, it's important to slow down and do everything with the attention to detail the process deserves. You don't want to get your dissertation hung up because of a silly documentation error you rushed through.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 26

  • During the time you spend working on your doctorate, you'll face a variety of challenges. The lab's funding may be cut. You may lose grant money. Your paper may get rejected from a conference. Fail early and fail often. Create opportunities for yourself and work around the challenges.

Image titled Get a PhD Step 27

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About This Article

Carrie Adkins, PhD

Before you can get a PhD, you'll need to complete your prerequisite education and take the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam. You will also need letters of recommendation from 1 or 2 distinguished professors in your field to submit with your application. Once you are admitted to graduate school, you should seek out funding opportunities, like grants or teaching positions. To earn your PhD, you will need to take courses, pass written and oral exams, conduct original research in your field, and write a dissertation. For more ways to get your PhD for free, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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The 8 Best PhD Programs To Pursue In 2021

The # Best PHD Programs To Pursue In 2021

Pursuing a PhD is a major life choice for most people, but one that nearly always pays off in the form of better career opportunities. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, some choose to continue on to a PhD program to broaden their knowledge, earn a higher salary, and/or work in a more specific niche.

There are various reasons for getting a PhD. Some people might want to work in research or academia, where a PhD is required, and others simply enjoy learning a subject in depth. Whatever the reason is, getting a PhD is sure to open a lot of doors. 

There are some areas of study where a PhD is more expected than others. It’s good to get a general idea of the most common PhD programs to understand if you’ll need to take one and if it’s right for you. Keep reading to learn more about PhDs, if you should take one, and what are the best programs. 

Students studying in university library

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

What is a PhD?

PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy. 

Essentially, a PhD is the highest level of schooling and degree a student can get, so after completing a PhD, you’re often considered a top expert in your field.

Most of the time, this degree qualifies someone to teach the subject they studied at a university level, so if you want to work as a professor, then you’ll need to earn a PhD. 

Most PhD programs last three to four years, but this can vary depending on where you’re studying and the topic and scope of your research. 

At the end of the degree, you’ll often have to present original research or a dissertation that you conducted in the duration of your studies. Some places require you to defend your research in an oral defense in order to receive your doctorate degree. 

Why Should You Get a PhD?

Many people wonder whether or not a PhD is right for them . The truth is, there are a lot of reasons people opt to continue their education with a PhD. Working in academia is just one reason to do a PhD, but there are a number of other things to take into consideration when choosing to do a doctorate degree, like gaining a huge advantage in the job market.  

PhD students often have large aspirations to do work that allows them to achieve significant breakthroughs. Especially in the fields of science and technology, a PhD gives you the tools to understand your field on a deeper level, which can help push your research to new levels.

It’s also common for PhD students to be interested in discovery. During your PhD, you work closely with other experts, so the chances of discovering or learning something totally new are much higher than in your bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

Overall, PhD students have an insatiable sense of curiosity that drives them to pursue the highest levels of education.

Woman studying for her PhD

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Best PhD Programs

There are many different PhD programs out there, and the one you choose will depend on the degrees you’ve earned up until now as well as your personal preferences. 

Here are just a few of the best PhD programs you can study to increase your employability and deepen your knowledge and expertise.

Accounting and Finance

With a PhD in Accounting and Finance, you’ll be able to get more knowledge in financial research methods and theory. During your PhD studies, you’ll acquire both critical and analytical skills and you’ll learn how to assemble high-level financial reports. 

With this degree, you’ll be able to work in any financial institution or corporate environment. Some of the positions you can get include account manager or chief financial officer.

Applied Mathematics

Since math applies to so many things, with this degree, you’ll be able to work in a number of fields, including technology, engineering, business, and more. With a PhD in Applied Mathematics, you’ll acquire a more fine-tuned understanding of topics and concepts like problem-solving, communication skills, analytical thinking and reasoning, and a lot more. 

This degree is ideal if numbers and equations are your passion and you want to work with them on a high level of research. 

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical Engineering is becoming an increasingly popular area of study since it’s such an important part of modern medicine and science. In this degree, you’ll research topics in fields such as computer engineering, life sciences, mathematics, and more. 

The goal of this program is to understand how to use modern technology in practice and in research. Common jobs after graduation include becoming a research scientist or biomedical engineer. 

Business Administration

As one of the most popular degrees at any level, a PhD in this field will be sure to land you a job in a business leadership position. During your degree, you’ll enhance your analytical and reasoning skills in order to understand how to make better business decisions. You’ll also improve your management skills, paving the way for a role in leading companies of any size. 

Typically, graduates with a PhD in Business Administration can expect to work as a Chief Executive Officer, business professor, or operations manager.

With a PhD in Statistics, you’ll likely end up working as a statistician. In this position, you can work with various businesses to help them analyze data and solve issues. During your studies, you’ll further your collaborative skills and study advanced methods of computation, formulations, as well as advanced equations, and how to solve problems. 

Many industries hire statisticians, such as governments, healthcare, financial institutions, as well as scientific institutions. 

Computer Science

In a PhD in Computer Science , you’ll work on mastering a specific area of computer science and developing and designing creative projects that are relevant to your subject. You’ll likely work on an independent project as part of your studies. 

Graduates from this degree don’t only work in academic settings, but they’re also likely to become computer research scientists. Other possible roles with this PhD degree include computer hardware engineer, robotics, programming, and more. 

If you’re looking to conduct studies or research in this field, then you’ll need a PhD in Economics. As part of this degree, you’ll conduct a research project and you’ll learn how to conduct advanced scholarly research. 

Many people who graduate with a PhD in Economics go on to work as economics professors, economists, work with governments, or as other types of specialists in this field.

Organic Chemistry

It’s common for people who pursue a higher degree in organic chemistry to have a background in chemical engineering, so if this sounds like you, then this PhD can be a good option. During your PhD, you’ll conduct research and work with other experts. 

Most graduates with a degree in organic chemistry find jobs teaching at the university level or leading advanced research and study teams.

Should You Get a PhD Online?

As studying online becomes more popular, it’s not uncommon for students to seek out online PhD programs. Since a lot of the work in a PhD is independent study and research anyways, it’s not difficult to make the jump to an online program. 

With an online PhD program, you’ll get flexibility in terms of when you want to do your coursework, you’ll find it convenient to study from anywhere, and the online PhD programs are usually more affordable since you don’t need to factor in moving or being on campus to complete your degree. 

Best Online PhD Programs

While the offered PhD programs will depend on the university, here’s a short list of great schools in the US to consider for an online PhD. These schools are affordable and offer online courses, seminars, exam preparation, and more. 

  • Concordia University-Chicago , River Forest, IL
  • University of the Cumberlands , Williamsburg, KY
  • Winona State University , Winona, MN
  • Otterbein University , Westerville, OH
  • Union University , Jackson, TN 
  • University of South Dakota , Vermillion, SD
  • Texas Tech University , Lubbock, TX
  • Clemson University, Clemson, SC
  • University of Florida , Gainesville, FL
  • Endicott College , Beverly, MA

Choosing to get a PhD is not a decision most make lightly, so it’s important to get a good idea of the different PhD programs out there and find one that really fits your academic and professional goals. 

If you’re still in the earlier stages of your higher education, you might want to consider taking your undergraduate or graduate degree online as well. University of the People offers multiple great online BA and MA programs in majors like computer science , health science , and business administration . The best part? All the programs are tuition-free. 

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Best Universities Announces 2024 Most Affordable Online Ph.D. in Psychology Programs

Best Universities, a trusted source for educational program rankings and resources, is pleased to unveil its latest rankings for the "Most Affordable Online Ph.D. in Psychology" programs for 2024. These rankings provide valuable insights into the top institutions offering cost-effective online doctoral degrees in psychology, empowering aspiring professionals to advance their careers affordably. A doctorate in psychology is the key to unlocking numerous opportunities within the field, such as general psychology, human psychology, and addiction psychology. Online doctorate programs serve as stepping stones for individuals aiming to excel in these diverse career paths. Pursuing such a prestigious degree demands dedication and hard work. Best Universities has compiled a list of the top 5 most affordable universities offering online Ph.D. programs in psychology, where students can acquire critical skills essential for their future careers. These programs also offer hands-on experience through doctoral program internships, ensuring graduates are well-prepared for their professional journeys. To earn their degrees, students must conduct in-depth research and compose a thesis, acquiring a wealth of professional psychology skills through rigorous work. Most Affordable Online Ph.D. in Psychology Programs for 2024 Regent University Online Capella University Touro University Worldwide Ashford University Liberty University See the full rankings and details at . These rankings are based on data collected from regionally or nationally accredited institutions offering fully online Ph.D. programs in psychology with minimal in-person requirements. Earning a doctorate in psychology is a significant achievement, and these rankings assist prospective students in making informed decisions about their educational journey. Each of these universities stands out for its commitment to providing quality education and affordable options in psychology. For more information about these rankings and other educational resources, please visit . About Best Universities: Best Universities is a trusted source for independent ranking assessments of various educational programs, including research, student guides, and resources. Our dedicated team of writers and researchers regularly updates the site to help prospective and current college students choose, finance, and succeed at the college of their choice.

Media Contact Company Name: Best Universities Contact Person: J. Stevens Email: Send Email Phone: +1 (707) 595-0736 City: Herriman State: UT Country: United States Website:

Press Release Distributed by To view the original version on ABNewswire visit: Best Universities Announces 2024 Most Affordable Online Ph.D. in Psychology Programs

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  1. Are You Ready to Apply to PhD Programs?

    how to find a good phd program

  2. Choosing a PhD Program

    how to find a good phd program

  3. How To Get Into A PhD Program?

    how to find a good phd program

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    how to find a good phd program

  5. PhD Program

    how to find a good phd program

  6. Choosing the Right PhD Program

    how to find a good phd program


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  6. How to apply for Fully Funded PHD Program in UK


  1. Grad School Search

    St Thomas University. View our grad school rankings & resources to find the best grad school for you. Easily compare grad schools by program, location & more at The Princeton Review.

  2. How to Pick the Right PhD Program

    UL Grad School -- 06/05/2021 Picking the right PhD program isn't like choosing between pour-over or latte, paper or plastic, half-and-half or heavy cream. It's a major investment, a significant period of time, and a major career direction. How do you know you're picking the right PhD program?

  3. How to Prepare a Strong PhD Application

    It allows your letter of recommendation writers enough time in advance to thoughtfully prepare a letter that speaks to who you are as a PhD candidate. It gives you more time to review your materials, fix any errors, and proofread, proofread, proofread. Finally, it means a lot less stress when the deadline starts rapidly approaching.

  4. Finding the Right PhD

    2. Decide what kind of doctorate you're looking for Before you can find the right doctorate, you need to know what kind of doctorate is right for you. Broadly speaking, doctorates come in three general formats: Advertised projects - these are common in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine ('STEM') subjects.

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    To get a sense of your chances, check out the CVs of current Ph.D. students in the programs or try to find information from professional societies. The American Psychological Association, for example, publishes the average GPA and standardized test scores of most psychology programs' incoming graduate students.

  6. 2023 University Rankings for PhD Study

    As you can see in the table below, there's quite a high correlation between an institution's research output and their overall ranking. Top Research Universities - 2023 THE World University Rankings. Rank. University. Overall rank. 1. University of Oxford. 1.

  7. How to Choose a PhD Program

    Watch on First, a basic description of a doctoral program: As a doctoral student, you will spend the first two years of your program exploring areas of interest through coursework.

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  10. 9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD

    9. There are no real breaks. In a stereotypical "9-to-5" job, when the workday is over or the weekend arrives, you can generally forget about your work. And a vacation provides an even longer respite. But in a PhD program, your schedule becomes "whenever you find time to get your work done."

  11. How to Choose the Right Graduate School

    1. Decide whether you want to pursue a master's or a Ph.D. Master's and Ph.D. programs vary greatly in their areas of focus, the amount of financial support, and the time commitment. Choosing the right program means finding the right balance between career plans, monetary cost, and opportunity cost.

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  13. How to Choose a PhD Program: 3 Tips for Success

    How to Choose a PhD Program: 3 Tips By Bill Glod Oct 11, 2016 After careful consideration of your strengths and weaknesses and your professional goals, you've decided to get a PhD. Now what? Here are three pieces of advice on how to choose a PhD program based on your interests. Choose PhD programs based on what you want to study.

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    Expand your opportunities for making a difference in people's lives with an online PhD in Psychology. Our four specializations provide tools you can use to advance as a leader or consultant in areas like psychology, mental health, education, business or public policy. PhD. General Psychology. Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology.

  15. How to Find a Graduate Program That's Right For You

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  16. How to Be a Competitive PhD Applicant and Apply to the Best Programs

    Follow these steps: Try to identify scholars who are working in the areas that interest you. Review the literature in your field, network at conferences, and review CVs on departmental websites. In short, do your research. If you have an undergrad mentor in your field, consult them for advice about departments where exciting research is going on.

  17. Find Your Perfect PhD

    Search on the website of the universities you are interested in as some many only be listing PhD research projects internally or may link you to other opportunities such as Professional Doctorate Programmes.

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    Completing Prerequisite Education. Complete an undergraduate degree in a broad field. To qualify for a PhD program, you will need a solid record of undergraduate coursework from a reputable university. [2] This degree should demonstrate your potential for both advanced coursework and independent research.

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    Ph.D. Position in AI Accountability Project at the University of Houston. University of Houston Computer Science. The Computational Biomedicine Lab at the University of Houston is offering a Ph.D. position in AI Accountability as part of the Community Responsive Algorithms for Social Accountability (CRASA) project.

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  23. How to Choose a PhD Research Topic

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    Best Online PhD Programs. While the offered PhD programs will depend on the university, here's a short list of great schools in the US to consider for an online PhD. These schools are affordable and offer online courses, seminars, exam preparation, and more. Concordia University-Chicago, River Forest, IL.

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