- Professors – This is your best source. Professors you know; they know which programs favor students from your school, they know the relative quality of graduate programs in their fields, and they even have personal friends at graduate programs where you might like to apply.
- Other Students and Alumni – Students and alumni have similar information. Alumni at graduate programs will give you the most honest information about the quality of the program and the faculty. They can tell you the pros and cons of specific programs and schools.
- Peterson’s Guides – These guides have every accredited program in the United States. They’re a little dense, but if you want to learn about programs there is no other complete resource. All major university libraries have a full set of Peterson’s guides.
- Specialty Guides – Find guides for your field, for example, Graduate Programs in Neurosciences, by asking professors for reference to them, by using the subject search engine at amazon.com, or by using the subject search engine on CD from Books in Print, available from your university bookstore. Some associations also print guides to graduate programs. Find out about them by looking up the association’s HQ phone number in the Encyclopedia of Associations;then just call them and ask.
- Academic Journals in Your Field – Top students should get grad school ideas directly from the academic journals. The best programs generate the best and the most articles, so look in the journals for writing and/or research that interest you. Then find out where the article writer teaches.
- Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States – This is the best source for unbiased, multivariable analysis of grad programs. It is the result of a National Research Council-funded study, limited to the top programs in 41 major subject areas. This is a much more sophisticated resource than the “beauty pageant” unilinear rankings of business magazines (see below). Check your university library for this resource.
- Educational Rankings Annual – A compendium of data from other sources. Expensive, but can be very useful. Check your library.
- The Gourman Report – Another “ranking” book with methodologies that are never fully explicated. Can be useful.
- The Business Magazine Rankings – Business magazines are in the business of selling business mags. Their editors usually know less about higher education than they know about automobiles, which is not a lot. These “rankings” are not useful per se, but you can get ideas to investigate further.
- Internet – Online dates are voluminous but shallow, and can be downright misleading (for example, some sites list schools in order of having paid a subscription fee). Use the Internet to investigate schools you’re already interested in, in this order: university-department- faculty-specific faculty member’s research interests-his or her advisees (i.e., currently enrolled grad students). Also, watch carefully for information on related labs and institutes, which might interest you more than the main department.
Some programs list important statistics such as applicants per year, number of new students accepted in past years, average GRE scores of accepted applicants, retention rate, internship/residency/post doc placement rate, and average years in program.
Adapted from Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher (Ten Speed Press, 2000)