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Search for Ph.D. Programs: Find the Best Option for You

By Brendan Conway updated on Friday, September 27, 2013

Earning a Ph.D. degree is an admirable, worthwhile goal. It's also quite liable to drive you to places of hair-pulling madness at times. Don't fret too much, though; be confident in yourself and your abilities, and you'll get there soon enough, with the help of a good Ph.D. program.

"Aye, but there's the rub," you're saying, in your best Melvillian accent. "A good Ph.D. program? Whar be they?"

It's a good thing you asked.

If you're looking for a few quick and easy search categories, here are some popular searches for Ph.D. programs that you might want to review:


If you're looking for a more in depth take on some of the things you'll want to consider when exploring Ph.D. programs, then read on.

How Should I Search for Ph.D. Programs?

Finding a good Ph.D. program isn't as hard as you might think. On the most basic level, you need to figure out what factors are most important for you and then determine what doctoral programs best fit in with them. Sounds simple, right?

So, first, you've got to make a list of the most important criteria for you. You probably already have a good idea of some of these, just because it's more likely than not that you've already been through this process once before for undergraduate institutions. Location, cost, opportunities, and quality of education are all pretty important basic criteria that you can take into account. But these factors are going to have a different meaning for you now, as you pursue a Ph.D. degree, than they would have had in your undergraduate college search.

Location! Location! Location of Ph.D. Programs(!)

Location is going to be important to any doctoral program you choose because, well, you're going to have to go to that place to attend its programs. If you can't stand being out in the middle of nowhere, then a rural location is probably going to rub you the wrong way. If you can't stand cities, then you might not want to look at programs in New York City. Simple enough.

This, of course, is assuming you're looking at brick and mortar Ph.D. programs, as opposed to distance learning Ph.D. programs. The latter option might very well allow you to pursue a Ph.D. degree without having to relocate at all. If that sounds appealing, then you should definitely consider distance learning Ph.D. programs. 

There are a couple of other considerations to keep in mind with reference to location. First of all, a Ph.D. program is going to be significantly more time-consuming and involving than an undergraduate education, simply by nature. Whereas most undergraduate programs take somewhere between 2 and 4 years of study, a Ph.D. program can require all the way up to a decade of your time, though this will vary from program to program. Keep that in mind when looking at locations. Could you imagine yourself living, comfortably (or at least without misery) in this place for 10 years? If the answer's no, that's something you should take into account.

What's more, location may ultimately not play as much of an important role in making a decision about a Ph.D. program as might something like the actual quality of the education in question. While you don't want to spend 10 years in a place you're going to loathe, at the same time, a doctoral degree is important enough that you should at least consider the possibility of living somewhere not quite suited to your tastes in favor of getting prestigious degree that will take you far in years to come.

Cost of Ph.D. Programs

The cost of the Ph.D. programs you look at is going to be terribly important. Again, Ph.D. programs are likely to last a good, long time, and the whole while you're going to have to be paying those bills, along with other costs like, say, food and rent. You're going to have to think about getting some kind of income to afford those costs. So make certain that you take into account the costs of the Ph.D. programs you look at, particularly with reference to any available scholarships, financial aid opportunities, or part-time jobs you might find there.

If you want to learn more about taking the value of Ph.D. programs into account, follow the link.

Opportunities in Ph.D. Programs

You should look at doctoral programs with an eye to the extras, the other pieces that they offer up. What internships do they offer to interested students? How about opportunities to work with luminaries in the field? What about an alumni network that can help you get a job once you get out of the program? Or even more simply, how many extras does the Ph.D. program offer through its campus and through events that may happen there?

It's a lot of little pieces to consider, but each has its place. This may also be one of the more difficult categories to get a good bead on in terms of actually assessing the Ph.D. programs, but that doesn't change its importance. You probably don't want to go to a Ph.D. program that's not going to offer you only a degree at the end of a long road of hard work, without any other tools to help you get a job once you've got the degree in hand. Although, maybe you do, if the degree is highly-credited. Which leads us to...

Quality of Education in Ph.D. Programs

Let's face it: this is the main point of seeking out Ph.D. programs. You want to look at Ph.D. programs that will give you a good education, making sure you know what you need to know to progress and advance in your chosen field. You want to make sure that the Ph.D. programs you look at are accepted as worthwhile programs, so that your education will help you get further jobs. And you most certainly want to make sure that you are getting the best possible education for your money and time.

When trying to determine the quality of the education you'll receive, you'll probably want to learn about: the faculty members involved in the Ph.D. programs you're considering, to determine if they are experts as well as good teachers; the special research programs and opportunities that might be available in the Ph.D. programs in question; the quality of the facilities you'd be using; and any options for publication of research. Faculty especially will be very important, particularly for working on your doctoral thesis.

You'll also want to get an understanding of the structure of the program. If you want to see an example of the basic structure of education in a Ph.D. program, follow the link.

The attempt to find a Ph.D. program with a good quality of education can, and by some accounts should, be the only one of great significance when you're doing a search for Ph.D. programs. It may override any of the concerns listed above. That being said, keeping those concerns in mind when looking at the quality of the education you'll receive is the ideal way to make sure that you find the best option possible for yourself and your goals.

Get Searching for Ph.D. Programs!

The best way to search for Ph.D. programs is, of course, just to start looking. Keep the above concerns in mind, but read a few profiles, take in some of the facts and information, and start comparing. In no time, you'll start getting a better understanding of what's most important to you in your Ph.D. program search, and you'll be able to find a Ph.D. program that suits you very well.

See Schools that Offer PhD Programs
About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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