An Ultimate Guide on How to Choose a PhD Program - 15 Factors to Consider

Find out 15 tips for how to choose the best PhD program and make the right decision for a successful career in higher education.

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A girl with checklist items pad to choose best PhD program
A girl with checklist items pad to choose best PhD program


Pursuing a PhD is an important decision that must be carefully considered. With so many options, choosing the right program can be overwhelming. But don’t worry! This article will guide you through the most important factors to consider when choosing a doctoral program.

We’ll help you make an informed decision that meets your personal and professional goals – from researching your interests to evaluating faculty, funding, and program requirements. So get started on your search for the best PhD program for you!

A PhD (doctorate) is a research-based degree that allows you to focus on a specific area and make new advances in that area. It usually takes 3-7 years to complete the degree.

You invest your young productive age and salary to advance your career in research. Therefore, choosing the right program can have a significant impact on your career prospects, your research opportunities, and your overall quality of life during your PhD. Therefore, it is very important that you choose the right degree program for you.

Overview of the Factors to Consider When Choosing a PhD Program

  • Research Interests: Make sure the program you choose aligns with your research interests.
  • Faculty and Research Opportunities: Evaluate the quality of the faculty and the research opportunities available.
  • Funding and Financial Support: Consider the availability of funding (grants) and financial support.
  • Program Requirements and Structure: Review the requirements and structure of the program to ensure it meets your needs.
  • Location and Quality of Life: Consider the location of the program and the quality of life in the area.
  • Application Process and Admissions Requirements: Understand the application process and admissions requirements to increase your chances of acceptance.

By considering these factors and doing thorough research, you can find the best PhD program for your individual needs and goals. Let’s dive into each of these factors in more detail.

#1 Research interests

I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious

Albert Einstein

Passion and curiosity are essential components of research, and finding a PhD program that aligns with your interests is critical to your success.

You should commit to your research area. Therefore, it is important to identify your research interest and find the specific topic. Here are some practical steps you can take to evaluate the fit between your interests and a program:

  • Research the Program’s Faculty
  • Attend Department Seminars and Conferences
  • Consider Program Requirements and Opportunities

#2 Faculty and Research Opportunities

Choosing the right faculty and research opportunities is critical to getting the most out of your PhD. To ensure you make an informed choice, consider these practical tips:

First, assess the quality of faculty by looking at their qualifications, experience, and expertise. Look at their research publications, professional affiliations, and teaching evaluations to assess their reputation and effectiveness.

Next, take a close look at the research opportunities within the program. Examine their quality and relevance to your interests. Examine the program’s success rate in attracting research grants and funding, as well as its collaborations with external organizations. Consider available research facilities and resources.

Engage with current and former students in online forums, social media, and at department events to get their opinions on faculty quality and research opportunities. This will help you make an informed decision about the major that best meets your needs and interests. Stay tuned to find out how to choose where to study and what funding options are available.

Faculty member and researchers on research-project discussion
Faculty member and researchers on research-project discussion. [Credit: Pixabay/Canva]

#3 Tuition Fees

One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a PhD program is the cost of tuition. Pursuing a PhD is a significant investment of time, effort, and money, so it is important to be aware of the financial commitments you will be making.

When researching PhD programs, check the tuition costs for each program on your list. Look for differences in tuition at different universities, as well as additional fees such as lab fees, technology fees, or other expenses.

Many PhD programs offer funding opportunities such as grants, fellowships, and teaching or research assistantships that can significantly offset the cost of tuition. Learn about the funding options for each program you are considering and consider these options in your decision making.

Calculate the Total Cost

It is important that you calculate the total cost of your PhD program, not only tuition, but also living expenses such as housing, meals, and transportation. This will help you determine if the program is within your budget and if you need additional funds or financial assistance.

Look for Affordable Alternatives

If the tuition for your preferred PhD program is too high, you should look for cheaper alternatives. This may mean looking at programs at public universities or considering online PhD programs, which may be less expensive than traditional on-campus programs.

By carefully weighing tuition costs and researching financing options, you can find a doctoral program that fits your budget and allows you to pursue your academic and career goals without breaking the bank.

Your savings budget for the tuition fees of the PhD program.
Your savings budget for the tuition fees of the PhD program. [Credit: Getty/Canva]

#4 Funding and Financial Support

Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life, it will improve the lives of all those around you

Robin Sharma

This quote highlights the idea that investing in oneself, including education and personal development, can have a positive impact on those around us.

Doctoral study is a significant investment in oneself, but it often requires significant financial support to make it possible. In today’s world, where advanced education and specialized skills are increasingly important in many fields, access to funding and financial support can be a critical factor in success and have a positive impact on the world.

PhD programs can be expensive, and funding and financial aid are essential factors in choosing a program. Here are some practical steps you can take to evaluate funding and support options within a program:

  • Look for fully-funded PhD programs
  • Evaluate Funding Sources
  • Estimate cost of living
  • Liaison with the financial aid office

Using these practical steps, you can evaluate funding and support options within a program and make an informed decision about which program best meets your needs and interests. Finally, we’ll address how to consider the location of your studies and other factors that may influence your decision.

#5 Location and Quality of Life

Location and quality of life should also be considered when selecting a Ph.D. program. This includes factors such as cost of living, climate, surrounding community, and availability of recreational activities. Below are some practical tips to consider when evaluating the location and quality of life of potential Ph.D. programs:

Cost of living

Find out the cost of living in the region where the program is located. Consider average rental rates, food costs, and transportation costs. This will help you determine if you can live well on the scholarship or program funding.

Use Numbeo and local Facebook groups to get an idea of how much life costs. Finally, get accurate information from people in the area, such as Lab members or people from your country who live in cities.


consider weather conditions and how they affect your overall well-being. If you prefer a warmer climate, look for programs in the southern parts of the country. If you prefer cooler temperatures, programs in the northern parts of the country may be more appropriate.

Surrounding community

Find out about the surrounding community and see if it aligns with your personal values and interests. This may include factors such as diversity, cultural events, and community involvement.

Recreational activities

Be aware of the availability of recreational activities such as parks, museums, and other cultural events. This can contribute to your overall quality of life and help you balance work and home life.

It’s important to note that location and quality of life can have a significant impact on your journey to graduation. If you’re comfortable in your environment, you can increase your productivity and have a better overall experience.

Friends spending time on outdoor recreation activities cooking and playing guitar
Friends spending time on outdoor recreation activities cooking and playing guitar. [Credit: Canva]

#6 Program Requirements and Structure

It is important to understand the requirements and structure of the program. Here are some important factors to consider:

  1. Duration of the program: doctoral programs usually last between three and six years. Find out the length of the program you are considering and consider how it will affect your personal and professional goals.
  2. Coursework: PhD programs often include a large amount of coursework in addition to research requirements. Consider the types of courses you need to take and how they align with your research interests.
  3. Research Requirements: PhD programs require a significant amount of original research, and it is important to know the requirements for conducting that research. Consider what resources are available to you for conducting research and whether the program offers opportunities for collaboration with faculty or other students.
  4. Advising and Mentoring: PhD programs require close collaboration with faculty members, so it is important to check the quality of advising and mentoring provided by the program. Look for programs with faculty members who share your research interests and who have a record of successful mentorship.
  5. Program structure: PhD programs can be structured in different ways. Some offer a more traditional, classroom-based approach, others a more flexible, independent research-based approach. Consider which structure will best support your learning and research goals.

By carefully considering these program requirements and structures, you can find a PhD program that meets your needs and goals.

#7 Application Process and Admissions Requirements

A goal without a plan is just a wish

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This quote emphasizes the importance of having a plan or strategy when pursuing a goal, such as applying to a doctoral program. Good planning and preparation can increase the likelihood of a successful application and admission to the desired program.

When it comes to applying to doctoral programs, the process can be quite daunting. Each program may have its own requirements and specific application instructions. Here are some factors to consider when applying to Ph.D. programs:

  1. Application Timeline and Deadlines: It is important to know the application deadlines for the Ph.D. programs in which you are interested. Some programs have rolling admissions, while others have specific application deadlines. Make sure you have enough time to gather all the necessary documents and submit your application before the deadline.
  2. Required Documents: Ph.D. programs may require a number of documents, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, essays, and a letter of intent. Read the application requirements and instructions carefully to ensure that you submit all required documents and information.
  3. Test scores: Many Ph.D. programs require applicants to submit test scores, such as GRE or GMAT. Find out the specific requirements for the programs you are interested in, and take enough time to study and prepare for these exams.
  4. Letters of Recommendation: Most Ph.D. programs require letters of recommendation from professors or other professionals who can comment on your academic ability and potential for success in the Ph.D. program. Choose recommenders who know you well and can provide specific examples of your strengths.
  5. Personal Statement and Statement of Purpose: These documents allow you to present your personality, interests, and goals to the admissions committee. Be sure to carefully craft your personal statement and statement of purpose carefully, highlighting why you are a good fit for the program and how you can contribute to the field.
  6. Interviews: some Ph.D. programs require an interview as part of the application process. Prepare for the interview by learning about the program and practicing your answers to frequently asked questions.
  7. Admission Criteria: Each Ph.D. program may have its own admission criteria, such as academic performance, research experience, and professional experience. Carefully read the admission criteria for the programs you are interested in and focus on highlighting your strengths in these areas.

Applying to doctoral programs can be a complex and time-consuming process, but with careful planning and attention to detail, you can increase your chances of being accepted into the program of your choice.

#8 Reputation and Ranking

A program’s reputation and ranking can affect job prospects after graduation, the quality of education, and even the amount of funding.

When evaluating the reputation and ranking of a PhD program, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Look at program rankings: There are several organizations that rank doctoral programs, such as U.S. News & World Report, QS World College Rankings, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. These rankings can give you an idea of a program’s overall reputation and academic strength.
  2. Consider faculty expertise: Find out about the research expertise of the faculty in the program you’re considering. A program with highly respected and influential researchers can enhance the reputation of the program and provide you with valuable mentoring and networking opportunities.
  3. Look at the research results of the program: Check the program’s research outputs to see how much and how well the faculty and students are doing research. High quality research findings may indicate a strong program.
  4. Evaluate program partnerships: Find out about the partnerships a program has with other academic institutions, industry, and government organizations. Strong partnerships can provide valuable opportunities for collaboration and research funding.
  5. Consider the reputation of the university: in addition to the reputation of the program itself, it’s also important to consider the general reputation of the college. A college with a good reputation may offer you better networking and collaboration opportunities, as well as greater prestige for your degree.

Considering these factors will help you better evaluate the reputation and ranking of the PhD programs you are considering.

#9 Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.

Ola Joseph

It is important to look for diversity and inclusion initiatives that value and respect people from diverse backgrounds.

  • Look for programs with a diverse faculty and student body, as well as opportunities to collaborate with underrepresented communities.
  • Check to see if the program has inclusive policies and practices, a diverse curriculum, and a commitment to equity. Degree programs that emphasize diversity often have a higher percentage of underrepresented groups, such as women and people of color.
  • Look for degree programs that offer courses on topics such as multiculturalism, social justice, and diversity in the workplace.
  • Check to see if the degree program offers mentoring and support programs for underrepresented groups and scholarships specifically for these groups.

A degree program’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can significantly impact your experience as a graduate student.

Finding a degree program that aligns with your values and provides a supportive and inclusive environment can lead to a richer and more rewarding academic experience for all involved. Embrace diversity and choose a program that values and respects your uniqueness.

Group of students from different origins sharing knowledge together
Group of students from different origins sharing knowledge together.[Credit: Pexels/Canva]

#10 Program Size and Culture

Choosing the right program size and culture is an important factor to consider when looking for the best PhD program. Program size and culture refer to the number of students in the program and the atmosphere in the academic community. Here are some things to consider when choosing program size and culture:

Program Size

In terms of program size, both small and large programs have advantages and disadvantages. Small degree programs can provide a more personalized learning experience with individual attention from faculty and a closer academic community. Large degree programs, on the other hand, can offer more resources and a broader range of research opportunities.

Program Culture

Program culture refers to the atmosphere of the academic community, including faculty-student relations, the degree of collaboration and teamwork, and the overall philosophy of the program. It’s important to find a degree program with a culture that is consistent with your own values and goals.

Here are some things to keep in mind when considering program culture:

  • Faculty-student relationships: look for a degree program where faculty are approachable, supportive, and committed to your success. You want to work with professors who will be mentors, advocates, and professional contacts.
  • Collaborative environment: look for a program where collaboration and teamwork are encouraged. This can be especially important if you want to do interdisciplinary research or work on team projects.
  • Diversity and inclusion: look for a program that values diversity and inclusion. A diverse academic community can provide different perspectives, approaches, and experiences that can enrich your learning and research.
  • Professional development: look for a degree program that offers opportunities for professional development, such as workshops, conferences, and networking events. This can help you build skills and connections that will be valuable throughout your academic and professional career.

#11 Career and Professional Development

If you’re considering a PhD program, you should think not only about the education you’ll receive, but also about the career opportunities you’ll have after completing the program. Below are some key factors to consider when evaluating a program’s potential for your career development:

  1. Faculty and Research Opportunities: Look for a program that has a strong and diverse faculty with expertise in your area of interest. Look for available research opportunities, including collaborations with industry or other universities, funding for research, and opportunities to publish and present your work.
  2. Internships and industry partnerships: Does the program offer internships or partnerships with industry? These can provide valuable hands-on experience and networking opportunities, and may even lead to job opportunities after graduation.
  3. Professional development and career services: look for programs that offer workshops, training, and other opportunities to develop your professional skills. Many programs also offer career services, including job placement assistance, networking events, and access to job postings.
  4. Alumni Success: Take a look at the career paths of former program participants. Do they hold positions that align with your career goals? Are they successful in their field?
  5. Location and industry contacts: Pay attention to the location of the degree program and its proximity to industries or organizations that align with your career goals. Look for degree programs that have established relationships with these industries or organizations.

Remember that a PhD program is a significant investment of time, money, and effort. It’s important to choose a program that not only provides a quality education, but also prepares you for success in your chosen career.

#12 Interdisciplinary Opportunities

An important factor in selecting a PhD program is the presence of interdisciplinary opportunities. Interdisciplinary research allows students to combine their expertise in different areas to solve complex problems that require a multi-faceted approach. It can also lead to innovative solutions and discoveries that might not have been possible with a purely disciplinary approach.

When evaluating PhD programs, it’s important to look for programs that foster a culture of interdisciplinary research and collaboration. This may include joint research projects with other departments or institutions, interdisciplinary seminars, and opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching.

In addition, it’s important to consider the availability of interdisciplinary resources such as specialized equipment, research facilities, and funding opportunities. These resources can greatly enhance the interdisciplinary research experience and provide students with the tools they need to conduct groundbreaking research.

By choosing a major with strong interdisciplinary opportunities, students can broaden their skills, expand their perspectives, and collaborate with experts in a variety of fields. This can significantly enhance their academic and professional development and prepare them for successful careers in academia, industry, or government.

Interdisciplinary research and collaboration mimicked by connected human heads
Interdisciplinary research and collaboration mimicked by connected human heads [Credit: Getty/Canva]

#13 International Opportunities

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

Helen Keller

If you are considering a doctoral program, consider international opportunities that could enhance your academic experience and future career prospects. Below are some factors to consider when evaluating international doctoral programs:

  1. International collaborations: Look for colleges and programs that have partnerships and collaborations with international institutions that provide opportunities for research, networking, and cross-cultural experiences.
  2. Study Abroad Opportunities: Many universities offer study abroad programs that allow you to study at institutions in other countries, participate in international research projects, and learn about other academic cultures.
  3. Funding: Find out about the availability of funding and scholarships for international study opportunities, as these can have a significant impact on your ability to pursue these experiences.
  4. Language Requirements: Check to see if language proficiency is a requirement for the program or opportunities you’re considering. If you plan to study in a non-English speaking country, you may need to demonstrate language proficiency.
  5. Immigration Requirements: Find out about immigration regulations and restrictions in the country where you plan to study, including visa requirements and any restrictions on work or internships.
  6. Career prospects: Consider how international opportunities can enhance your future job prospects, whether by developing language skills, intercultural competence, or expanding your professional network.

Based on these things, you can figure out if a PhD program’s international opportunities are right for you and find programs that fit your goals and interests.

#14 Alumni Success

When selecting a Ph.D. program, it’s important to consider the success of the program’s alumni.

You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with

Jim Rohn

Jim Rohn’s famous quote, illustrates how the people you surround yourself with can influence your success and personal development. For this reason, evaluating alumni success can be a critical factor in your decision-making process.

To evaluate alumni success, you can consult online resources, alumni networks, and career services. By researching the program’s alumni network and career paths, you can get a clear picture of what to expect from the program and how well it can prepare you for your academic and career goals. You can check the program’s website, LinkedIn, or contact the program directly to inquire about alumni success.

Also, look for programs that have a strong alumni network and support system. This can include opportunities for mentoring, networking events, and career services for alumni. A strong alumni network can provide valuable connections and serve as a source of inspiration and motivation during your doctoral studies.

Overall, evaluating alumni success can be a good indicator of the program’s reputation, the quality of education, and the resources provided by the institution. By making an informed decision about the program, you can set yourself up for success and achieve your academic and career goals.

#15 Advice from Supervisors, Peers, and Fellow Experts

Getting advice from supervisors, colleagues, and other experts is an essential aspect of choosing the right PhD program. 

Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.

Oprah Winfrey

Advice from people who have already been through the process can provide valuable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of different programs.

Your current and former supervisors can be especially helpful. They know your strengths and weaknesses and the specific skills and knowledge you need to be successful in your field. They can help you find programs that will give you the best chance to achieve your goals and provide you with the support and resources you need to succeed.

In addition to your supervisors, colleagues and other experts can provide valuable advice in finding the best program. They may have experience with programs you are considering, or they may have insights into programs you have not yet considered. By talking to a range of people in your field, you can get a comprehensive overview of the options available and make an informed decision.

One of the best ways to find potential mentors is through networking. Attend conferences, seminars, and other events in your field of study. This will allow you to connect with people who share your research interests and who have experience in your desired career path.

When talking to others about their experiences with PhD programs, be sure to ask open-ended questions and be open to their perspectives. 

Be specific about your research interests and career goals. This will help them provide you with targeted and relevant advice.

When seeking advice from peers and fellow experts, be sure to keep in mind that each of them has a different perspective. Everyone’s experience is different, and what worked for one person may not necessarily work for you. However, their advice can help you weigh your options and make an informed decision.

Take their advice and insights into consideration, but also remember to trust your own instincts and goals.

Young women getting advice from supervisor
Young women getting advice from supervisor [Credit: Getty/Canva]]

Summary and Actions

Congratulations, you have made it to the end of this guide on factors to consider when looking for the best PhD programs. By now, you should have a good understanding of the various factors that can influence your decision-making process in selecting the program that is right for you. Here is a summary of the key findings from this guide:

  1. Consider the program’s academic requirements, research opportunities, tuition fees, and funding availability before making a decision.
  2. Look for programs with experienced faculty and strong research institutions.
  3. Reputation and ranking can be a good indicator of a program’s quality, but shouldn’t be the only factor you consider.
  4. Diversity and inclusion are important aspects of any degree program and should be considered in your decision.
  5. Career and professional development opportunities should be considered when choosing a degree program.
  6. The size and culture of the program can have a significant impact on your experience, so be sure to research this aspect thoroughly.
  7. Interdisciplinary offerings can provide you with a unique learning experience and enhance your career prospects.
  8. International offerings can broaden your perspective and give you a competitive edge in the job market.
  9. The success of former students can give you an idea of the potential of the program for your future success.

Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Research programs thoroughly and make a list of programs that match your goals and preferences.
  2. Talk to faculty members or current students to learn more about the program.
  3. Attend events such as open houses or visit campus to get a better sense of the culture and community.
  4. Apply to multiple programs to increase your chances of admission.
  5. Consider all financial aspects, including tuition and living expenses, before making a final decision.

Remember, choosing a PhD program is a big decision that can have a significant impact on your future. Take the time to do your research and make an informed decision that aligns with your goals and values.

profile picture of nViews Career Editorial Team

Editorial team at nViewsCareer is made up of experts from several academic disciplines who produce blog posts about career development and organize job openings.

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