After some deep reflection, you’ve finally decided to take the leap and apply to a doctoral program. As well as the gratifying aspects of the Ph.D. process, the reality is that it consumes a good part of your life, take years to complete and costs a substantial amount of money. However, don’t let that dissuade you! It’s just essential that, given the many differences among programs, you apply to one that is the right fit for you.
Obviously, your personal circumstances including family, professional obligations and finances will be key factors in your program search. Particularly in the time of COVID, will you choose a purely virtual program, a partial on-site delivery or one that eventually will go back to being entirely on-site? Do you have the freedom to choose between a North American-style doctoral program with its preliminary course work and plethora of qualifying exams (needed before you actually begin researching) or a European-style doctoral program with its emphasis on immediate independent research and potentially shorter residency periods?
There are several other key questions that must also be answered before you launch yourself into the intense and all-consuming process of study, research and writing that culminates in that coveted doctoral degree.
Does your potential university offer the specialized content area that you want to research and are there faculty with expertise available to supervise your project? Your graduate experience will be more satisfying and productive if it’s devoted to research that consumes your interest and allows you to make a real contribution to your subject field.
Likewise, a supportive and experienced dissertation supervisor (that you can work well with) makes the difference between a smooth ride or one that is riddled with obstacles. Ideally, your dissertation chair is truly interested in guiding you through the inevitable difficulties of your research and writing, and fosters productive communication with the other members of your doctoral committee. Unfortunately, being assigned a disinterested or overworked supervisor who is not able to provide the strategic support required will likely result in wasted time and increased stress.
Check out this article on working effectively with a dissertation supervisor: https://dissertationcompletecoaching.com/want-to-complete-your-ph-d-use-these-key-strategies-for-working-with-your-dissertation-supervisor/
Universities and programs vary in quality, of course, running the gamut from the great research institutions all the way down to the fly-by-night, for-profit mills that charge a lot and award degrees that are not recognized. You need to ensure that the school you’re considering is reputable and accredited.
(This U.S. government website lists all accredited universities: https://ope.ed.gov/dapip/#/home) Check out its statistics – which should be easily accessible. What are the graduation rates for the program you’re applying to? What is the average number of years required to complete a doctorate?
If possible, ask to speak to the program director and students who have graduated. What kind of academic and administrative support does the program have in place for students? Don’t hesitate to ask those burning questions and make sure you’re comfortable with the answers before moving forward with your application.
Consider carefully what securing your doctorate going to cost you over the 4+ years (minimum) of enrolment. Tuition fees can vary significantly between institutions and programs. What funding opportunities, scholarships and teaching assistantships are available to you? Will the degree open up new opportunities career-wise that will make recouping the costs incurred possible? Taking the time to fully review a program in relation to your own situation before submitting your application may save you a great deal of time, money and effort later.