Questions to Think About/Ask

My friend once asked me to write a list of things she should consider when she visited schools. I ended up writing quite a list and I thought it would help some other people for me to share it. Some of these questions are more important than others. Some of these questions are things that are important to me, but probably not to other people.

Funding questions you can ask staff, students, or faculty:

  1. What's the funding situation? Are you on stipend? Is it guaranteed for the entire time you're there?
  2. What are the requirements of the program? I.e. quals, comps, being a TA, being a RA (do the last two affect your stipend?). Are you ok with these requirements?
  3. Is your stipend or other funding (for equipment, travel, etc) tied to your advisor? If it is, what are the implications?
  4. Are there other sources of funding available provided by the school?

Things to ask Professors or ask their students, but definitely things to consider about potential advisors:

  1. What are they researching now? It's amazing how many web sites don't get updated with this information.
  2. Are they taking any more students in the Fall? I'm assuming you start in the fall.
  3. How many students do they currently have. If a professor already has 7 students and says they're taking more then they probably don't spend much time with each of them.
  4. Do they travel a lot? Are they dependable or do they cancel a lot of meetings because of this?
  5. Do their students pump out papers? Are the quality of the papers/conferences any good or are they just trying to publish as much as possible? -- this one is tougher to answer and only something I realized to think about once I got here.
  6. What's their advising style and are you ok with that? I meet with my advisors weekly to make sure I'm on track.
  7. Are they going to retire anytime soon? If they're young, is there a good chance that they'll move to a different school?

Things to ask students:

  1. I asked every student I met with what was something they didn't like about the school. It's amazing how honest some people were and I think it's an important question to ask.
  2. What are classes like? Do you get grades or pass/fail? How many do you need to take and when do people take them? In my program people generally complete their courses within the first 3 years and take 1-2 classes/semester. We're supposed to do 1/2 time courses and 1/2 time research for the first few years.
  3. Do you have time to explore different research areas? I needed this, but maybe you don't.
  4. How are the classes structured? More hw and test based or more project based?
  5. Do students work together ever/often?
  6. What do they do for fun? Do you see yourself hanging out with these people?
  7. What groups are they involved with? Is there a Graduate Student Assembly for the entire University? Is there a smaller social group for the department? What activities are there?
  8. Are the students mostly older/younger? right out of school? in your position?
  9. Do you see the same faces at every social event? Where are all the other students in the department?
  10. Do they travel a lot to conferences?
  11. How do you like the program so far? Take note of what year they are... generally the further along the less happy they are.
  12. What's a normal student's schedule? Are they sleeping in their office?
  13. What's the ratio of men:women and are you ok with this? Do they have female support groups?
  14. Are you interested in outreach? Does the department have anything with this?
  15. What schools were you deciding between and what made you pick this one?
  16. What's your favorite thing about the school/program?
  17. What are you working on? Did you pick that or did your advisor? How long have you been working on it?


  1. How's housing? Will they be showing you any apartments? Is there graduate housing or do you have to find something off campus? What are people paying for rent and utilities? Do people mostly find their own stuff (and how.. craigslist, through the schools, etc) or do they share with other people?
  2. Do you need a car? bike? bus? If you use the bus, does the school pay for it? How is the public transportation system?
  3. How safe are the neighborhoods? In which neighborhoods do most students live?
  4. Where do most people work? From their office, home, local coffee shop, etc. If it's the local coffee-shop how late are they open and do they have free internet.
  5. What's the culture like? How about diversity?
  6. How's the food (important to me - it keeps me happy)? How are the grocery stores? Are there asian markets?
  7. What's the cost of living?