Choosing the right PhD program

PhD admissions

There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re applying for a PhD program. Before you begin to fill out an application, here's some guidance that can make this big decision less overwhelming.

Think about what department you’d like to be in.

My training was always in African American history, but I came from a small state school with one professor of African American history. When I was applying for PhD programs, I looked at universities with strong African American Studies programs; I applied only to universities that had a department in the field (rather than schools that only offered a certification in African American Studies).

When you look at departments, it’s a good idea to identify several professors you might want to work with.

It can be tempting to focus on one professor, but it’s a good idea to name several professors in your personal statement. This tactic covers your bases if your primary advisor goes on leave for a year or your research interests change - you ensure that you have more than one professor to work with!

Talk to the grad students!

Talking to grad students will let you know if the cohorts support each other. Other students can be wonderful friends and sources of information. They can let you know when you should apply for fellowships or give tips on studying for comps. Ask them how their experience has been! 

Consider emailing potential supervisors.

Corresponding with professors allows you to find out if they will be on sabbatical, plan to retire or aren’t taking students for any other reason. All of these factors might impact your application. 

Alexandra holds a BA in Social Studies Education from Miami University and Master of Arts degrees in History from Miami University and University of Reading (UK), where she was a 2019/2020 Fulbright Scholar. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in History of Science from Harvard University, where she is pursuing a PhD in African American Studies.


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