1. Consider location
Yea sure, that school in the woods says they have an assistantship for your time but will they pay for that security detail you need when your living quarters are sandwiched between KKK grandmasters? Consider the type of area you wish to be in especially If considering a terminal degree. Spending 5-8 years in a big city when you hate hustle and bustle is counter-intuitive. If you’re like me and you hate the absolute need to have a car, you may not want to land in a town that’s set up like Little House on the Prairie just because they say “come on down the price is right”.
Graduate students are typically not as integrated into campus life as undergrads are. You absolutely will have to venture outside of campus and develop a social life beyond classmates who you might not like anyway. Consider how you like to have fun. When I went to a school close to the DC area, I got real tired of go go music real fast. All I wanted to do was wine up mi body and turn, and that desire was not reciprocated by the culture of the area. I soon realized I was either gonna twerk all night, Baltimore two step all over the place, or be forced to sulk in a corner of the club. I quickly did a lot of all three. I’m not saying choose a school based on whether the club plays Vybz Kartel or not.. but… #freediworlboss
2. Visit that Bih
It’s even more important to make visits to potential graduate schools. Undergraduate campuses have some pretty standard elements across the board. Graduate school experiences can vary soo much from each other. There are so many components that make up a graduate school experience. There’s always going to be undergraduate housing if the school has housing at all. Having housing just for graduate students, however, is just not something that’s always available.
You want to look for things like graduate study space and other special privileges on campus. For instance, being able to borrow a book from the library for the whole semester while undergrads would have to return that same book within 3 weeks. When you’re midway through writing a historiography spanning over 200 years you really don’t have time to consider whether or not this is the last time you can renew the book before you have to bring it back.
3. Reach out to current students
Nothing delights me more than my ability to allow a prospective student to know wassup. It’s totally not strange to run up in my DM with questions. I won’t speak for everyone but the majority of us are friendly enough to be that bridge for you into our programs, or, tell you to run like hell. (More on this in number 6) But it’s best to match real experiences to advertised experiences. You’ll be able to draw necessary conclusions that you can use to have ideas about what your own experience might be like.
4. Try to get your hands on syllabi
Sometimes it’s as easy as a google search. You’d be surprised what just pops up. My take on this is really about making sure they’re teaching what they say they’re teaching in terms of content. If you’re looking at Women’s Studies and there’s an introductory course on feminism, even the whitest program should AT LEAST have bell hooks, or Kimberlie Crenshaw on the syllabus, or some variation of their intellectual thought. Seriously. Bare minimum. Also, this is about making sure that those courses they boast on the website about are actually offered more than once every leap year. You don’t want to go to a school for that 2 course sequence on a topic you’re looking to delve into for your academic and professional development and then find out they have discontinued that course. Look for available info on the course schedule past semesters.
5. Find out what the financial resources are outside of tuition remission
If your tuition is free but you can’t afford food then you still have a problem. Do they provide stipends for conferences? No one wants to pay 5-700 bucks for registration fees, transportation costs, and lodging, just to present for 45 minutes for what is a social resume building activity. One of the ridiculous things about where I currently attend is that students pay for printing, per page, out of their own pockets. This is outside of the large fee we already pay for library services. Since the first day I arrived here I’ve been saying “One does not simply write a dissertation on 10 cents per page.
6. Be sure the students aren’t in the academic sunken place
There’s nothing they can do for you if they enjoying plunging in that shit. As I suggested before about getting student experiences, beware of optimism in answers from students about how goes life. “We make do” and “It’s hard BUT GOD” are not acceptable answers sis. Don’t even entertain that any further. You especially don’t wanna hear that shit when you ask people how they pay their rent and eat food. This can also apply to things like the quality of support from faculty and the ability to build your academic career. If they answer with anything that hints that the struggle lives there, just go. Don’t collect $200.
If I didn’t stop myself at 6, this post would have been a much longer shade fest (lol). But for those already in grad school: What are some things you wish you had known or considered?