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How to Choose a PhD Program and Compare Offers

You’ve been patiently waiting for your decision letters to roll in. Now you have the results, and you couldn’t be happier — you’ve been admitted to multiple PhD programs! But with so many great options, how do you know which one to choose?

If you need some help comparing PhD offers, read below for some tips on how to select the right PhD program when you’re admitted to multiple schools.

If acceptance status isn’t the only thing standing in your way of choosing the right program, we can help. In this short video, we walk you through each step of the program search — making the whole process simple and straightforward. 

Know the Program Deadlines

Fall admission decision letters are generally issued in early spring so students have time to evaluate their offers. Many schools abide by the April 15th Resolution, which says that students aren’t obligated to respond to offers of financial support before that date. This agreement primarily applies to offers that include funding, like fellowships, scholarships, or assistantships, but some institutions may extend this deadline to all types of decisions.

What to do if you haven’t heard from all your PhD programs in time

If you’re accepted to a program without a funding offer, there’s a chance they’ll want your decision sooner. If this happens and you need to make a decision before you’ve heard back from your other schools, it may be possible to get an extension. Call the department and explain your situation — there’s no guarantee they’ll give you an extension, but it shows that you’re strongly interested in their offer.  

Whatever you do, don’t use one school’s deadline to pressure another department for a decision before they’re ready. Highly competitive programs receive hundreds of applications. They may have a more involved process that takes longer to complete. Try to be patient, but if you’re truly concerned about the timing of your decision, you can contact the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies to inquire about an approximate timeline for decisions politely.

Understanding Your Degree Funding Offers

If you’re offered funding, take time to consider the full package. Don’t just consider a program’s strengths — you should also consider the cost of living and other day-to-day expenses you might have to cover during your studies. What seems like a small stipend may be the better offer because of other benefits, while a larger stipend might not be enough if you still have to pay a high amount of tuition and fees. You’ll also want to look into what future funding opportunities might be available as you mature through the program.

Some students wonder if they should disclose the offers they’ve received from other institutions to help them possibly negotiate a better deal with their top choice school. The decision is up to you. Sharing that information might encourage a department to increase your award, but some programs may not be able to compete financially with your other offers. It doesn’t hurt to ask for more support but remember to be respectful when asking about additional funding and don’t take it personally if they cannot provide you with more assistance.

Comparing Lifestyle Compatibility

You might have a good idea of what the program and faculty are like, but what about the city you’ll be living in? 

  • Do you know if there’s accessible public transportation or if you’ll need a car? 
  • Do you enjoy the climate year round?
  • Is there an airport nearby so you can travel home on the breaks? 

This place could potentially be your home for the next several years. If you’re not from the area, do a little research to find out what you might need to prepare before moving there.  

The best way to understand what it’s like to be a student is to ask one. If the department offers a chance to visit the campus, take advantage of it if you haven’t been before. Talk to current students to learn what the graduate student community is like — they’re your best source of advice on accessible housing, how to get around and where to hang out and shop. 

If you can’t make it to campus, don’t hesitate to reach out to your department or the Graduate Admissions Office with your questions, or see if your institution has a student life website with links to local resources.

Picking a PhD Program

For those programs whose offers you are declining, pay them a courtesy by submitting your decision in the format that they’ve requested, whether it’s logging into an application portal or returning a contract by email. This gives the most accurate information to the department and lets them know they can open up your spot to another deserving student.

When you’re ready to accept the offer that best meets your needs, follow the department’s instructions and reply by the deadline to ensure your spot is secure. Then celebrate — because you’re officially a PhD student!

Still in the application process?
Check out "How to Get a PhD: A Guide to
Choosing and Applying to PhD Programs".

Read the PhD Guide


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