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Postgraduate Degrees: shopping for programs

28 FEB 2022

Once you’ve chosen what type of postgraduate degree to pursue, the next step is to assemble a list of programs to which you’d like to apply. But what really sets one postgraduate program apart from another offering the same degree certificate? This blog will walk you through some of the factors that make each program unique, offering you a roadmap to the information that you ought to consider when shopping for your ideal postgraduate program.


From an academic perspective, a department’s faculty members are perhaps the  most important resource that distinguishes one postgraduate program from another. Before applying to any department, you should go through the faculty’s web pages and read a couple publications by any individual who you think might make a good advisor. Chances are, you’ll come across at least a few professors from whom you’ve already learned, through their talks and papers. If it is your dream to work with a particular professor, consider asking your undergraduate faculty mentor if they have worked together and if they might introduce you over email. If you do not correspond with any potential advisors before application season, there’s no need to worry—most students do not—and you should still apply to any school with faculty whom you admire in your field.

Organize your thoughts

Once you’ve done your initial survey of the faculty in each department, adopt a more logistical perspective on the programs in which you are interested. There should be a page on each department’s website identifying the average duration of the program, its cost, its stipend (if there is any), its teaching work, its dissertation expectations, its exam schedule, and its study / research abroad opportunities. I recommend making a spreadsheet of all this information, so that you can compare schools side by side. Crimson’s graduate advisers have a plethora of templates students can use to organize this information.

Plus, pro tip: add an additional column to that spreadsheet for scholarships, in which you can keep track of program-specific and university-specific funding opportunities.

Social and academic agendas

After you’ve set yourself up with a table of each program’s logistics as well as a list of potential advisors, you’ve attained all the basic facts that you need to begin comparing departments in earnest. Now, it’s time to consider each program’s and each university’s vibe—that is, their social climates and academic agendas. Take stock: what kinds of research, in general, does each program seem to be prioritizing on its webpage? What projects are graduate students undertaking? Are they involved in public-facing work, or is it mostly academic? And do the undergraduates and graduates seem happy on social media - not just the program’s social media page, but the student’s personal pages. A program’s research priorities and social vibe can be just as important in shaping your experience there as any individual advisor. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to describe what makes a university’s vibe “good,” so try to find a climate that fits your own social preferences and research preferences.

Reach out to current students & graduates

One of the best ways to see if a program is right for you is to speak with a current student or graduate. Reach out on social media, or email the program’s advisors and ask to be connected with an alum. Once in contact, ask this student about a day in their life. What did they enjoy most about the program? What was challenging? What advice do they have? Do they recommend the program? Why? What would they have done differently?

All in all, use the information above to assemble a list of seven to ten potential programs if you’re set on being admitted to at least a couple. Stay tuned for a blog coming soon on how to find and apply for academic funding for your dream program.