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Graduate School on Reddit: A Comprehensive Guide for Prospective Applicants

What is reddit and why is it relevant to graduate school.

Reddit is a popular social news aggregation and discussion website. It is home to countless subreddits dedicated to different topics, from cute animal pictures to politics, science, and education. Many graduate students and prospective applicants turn to Reddit to gain insight into the graduate school application process, find support and advice, and learn from the experiences of others.

Common Graduate School Subreddits

  • r/GradSchool: a subreddit for current and former graduate students to share their experiences, ask for advice, and offer support to one another.
  • r/GradAdmissions: a subreddit dedicated to discussions related to graduate school admissions, including application tips, interview strategies, and timelines.
  • r/AskAcademia: a subreddit for academic professionals to share advice and insight into the academic world, including graduate school and career-related topics.
  • r/PhD: a subreddit specifically for those pursuing a PhD, covering topics such as research, funding, and career prospects.
  • r/GradSchoolAdvice: a subreddit where prospective and current graduate students can ask for advice and receive guidance on all aspects of graduate school life.

Pros and Cons of Using Reddit for Graduate School

Like any online community, Reddit has its pros and cons when it comes to seeking advice and guidance on graduate school. Here are some of the main advantages and disadvantages:

  • Access to a vast network of peers and professionals who have gone through or are currently going through the graduate school experience.
  • Anonymity allows for more honest and candid feedback and advice.
  • Wide range of perspectives and experiences that can help prospective applicants make informed decisions about their academic and career paths.
  • 24/7 availability means users can receive quick responses to their questions and concerns.
  • Advice is not always reliable or accurate, and users should exercise caution and verify information before making important decisions.
  • The anonymity of Reddit can make it difficult to assess the credibility and authority of those giving advice.
  • The diversity of opinions can be overwhelming and confusing for some users, leading to more uncertainty and indecision.
  • The lack of face-to-face interaction can make it difficult to establish personal connections and find mentors.

How to Make the Most of Reddit for Your Graduate School Journey

If you decide to use Reddit as a resource for your graduate school application and experience, there are some best practices you should follow to ensure you get the most out of the platform.

1. Seek advice from multiple sources

While Reddit can be a great place to find advice and support, it is important to remember that it is just one of many resources available to you. Be sure to also seek guidance from academic advisors, professors, and mentors who can provide more personalized and informed advice.

2. Verify information before making decisions

Before making any decisions based on advice received on Reddit or any other online platform, take the time to verify the information and ensure it is accurate and reliable. This can help avoid costly mistakes and ensure you are making informed choices.

3. Engage in meaningful discussions and offer help to others

Don’t just use Reddit as a resource to receive advice; also engage in meaningful discussions with other users and offer to help those who are seeking guidance. By contributing to the community, you can establish personal connections and build a network of support that can help you throughout your graduate school journey.

4. Use filters and search tools to find relevant content

Reddit can be overwhelming due to the sheer volume of content available. To make the most of your time on the platform, use filters and search tools to find content that is relevant to your interests and needs. This can save you time and ensure you are getting the most valuable information.

5. Remember to take breaks and focus on self-care

Graduate school can be stressful and overwhelming, and spending too much time on Reddit or any other online platform can exacerbate these feelings. Remember to take breaks, focus on self-care, and seek support from trusted friends and family members when needed.

Reddit can be a valuable resource for anyone pursuing graduate school, but it is important to approach it with caution and a critical eye. By following best practices and being mindful of the pros and cons, you can make the most of your time on the platform and gain valuable insight and support from the community.


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Gre prep online guides and tips, graduate school acceptance rates: can you get in.

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Even the most qualified and confident applicants worry about getting into grad school. But don’t panic! Graduate school acceptance rates, which give the percentage of applicants that were admitted to a particular school or program in an academic year, can help you determine how likely you are to get into a given program.  But where can you find grad school admissions statistics?

In this article, we’ll first investigate the trends and factors associated with graduate school acceptance rates. Then, we’ll take a look at some of the current acceptance rates and give you expert tips on how to find acceptance rates for your programs. Finally, we’ll show you how to determine your odds of getting into grad school.

Graduate School Acceptance Rates: Factors and Trends

Grad school acceptance rates are the same as any other acceptance rate: the lower the acceptance rate, the more selective the school or program is. Similarly, the higher the acceptance rate, the less selective the school or program is. As with undergrad acceptance rates, grad school acceptance rates vary widely, from extraordinarily selective (less than 5 percent) to incredibly lenient (nearly 100 percent).

Unlike undergrad rates, though, grad school acceptance rates are usually calculated for specific programs or departments and  not for entire universities. This is because with grad school, you are essentially applying to an individual program rather than an overall institution (as you did for undergrad).

Now that we’ve covered all of the basics, let’s look at a few key trends. Our research indicates there are three major factors that help determine grad school acceptance rates:

  • School or program prestige
  • Degree type
  • Amount of funding

Let’s look at how each of these factors influences grad school acceptance rates.

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#1: School or Program Prestige

How prestigious a particular grad school or program is can affect its overall competitiveness and selectivity. In general, the more prestigious a program is, the more competitive it’ll be and thus the lower acceptance rate it’ll have.

An easy way to determine school or program prestige is to consult official rankings, such as those listed on  U.S. News . (Grad schools are typically ranked by field or program and   not by overall institution.)

For example, a 2017  U.S. News  list of the best political science grad programs  ranked Duke’s political science program at #7 and Northwestern’s at #23. Because both of the programs have fairly high rankings, it’s safe to assume they’re probably quite selective.

And this is true: in 2016,  Duke  reported a mere 10 percent acceptance rate to its political science doctoral program, while  Northwestern  reported a 12 percent acceptance rate.


#2: Degree Type

Another major factor is degree type. Generally,  doctoral programs tend to be more selective than master’s programs (though this isn’t always the case as I’ll explain in a moment). This trend is likely due to the fact that doctoral programs often look for higher-quality applicants with proven academic track records and more relevant experience in their fields.

For example, in 2016  University of Michigan’s math doctoral program  had a 17.2 percent acceptance rate, whereas its master’s program  had a much higher 31.8 percent rate. In this case, the doctoral program is clearly tougher to get into than the master’s program.

Still,   master’s programs can have lower acceptance rates than doctoral programs. If we were to take the University of Michigan’s grad programs in computer science and engineering, we’d find that the doctoral program has  a 15 percent acceptance rate  and the master’s  an even lower 8 percent acceptance rate .

Additionally, M.F.A. programs are particularly cutthroat. In 2015, the creative writing M.F.A. program at UT Austin’s James A. Michener Center for Writers only admitted 12 out of 678 applicants — that’s a mere 1.8 percent acceptance rate !

#3: Amount of Funding

Funding, too, plays a big role in how selective a grad program is.

Well-funded  programs typically receive more applications than those offering little to no aid, thereby raising their selectivity. Competition is especially fierce for fully funded programs — possibly because fewer people are willing to go into debt for grad school.

Compared to fully funded doctoral programs, fully funded master’s programs are somewhat rare and thus pretty competitive. UT Austin’s Creative Writing M.F.A. program, for instance, is not only a prestigious program but also one of the most well-funded Creative Writing M.F.A. programs in the country: it  offers full tuition remission and a $27,500 stipend per academic year . It’s no wonder, then, that its acceptance rate is below 2 percent!


What Are the Current Graduate School Acceptance Rates?

For this section, we’ve scoured the internet to bring you a robust assortment of acceptance rates for popular U.S. grad schools.

Before we dive in, note that not all institutions calculate grad school acceptance rates using the same methodologies. Some offer only a single acceptance rate for all of their grad schools put together, while others offer individual rates by school, field, or program.

Now, let’s see how selective these schools really are!

*Statistics for NYU are based on the number of enrolled students and not the number of admitted students. Therefore, expect actual acceptance rates to be slightly higher.


How to Find Graduate School Acceptance Rates: 4 Methods

Unfortunately, grad school admissions statistics tend to be more difficult to find than undergrad acceptance rates.  But there are ways to search for them — you just have to do a lot of digging and possibly a little reaching out.

Below are our top four methods for finding grad school acceptance rates for the programs you’re applying to.

#1: Consult School Websites

By far the most reliable resources for grad school admissions statistics are  school websites.

Start your search by consulting program and departmental pages, particularly admissions and FAQ pages. Look out for any statistics-related keywords or phrases, such as “admission(s) rates,” “acceptance rates,” “enrollment,” “facts and figures,” etc. Use ctrl+F to move swiftly through large chunks of text.

Not all schools publish grad admissions information online, and those that do don’t always report it in the same way as others. For example, Princeton offers a handy PDF  containing acceptance rates for all academic fields of study. On the other hand,  Notre Dame  gives separate admissions charts for each of its grad programs (which you can access by selecting a program and then clicking “Admissions Statistics”).

Additionally, many schools release admissions statistics without explicitly publishing acceptance rates.  In this case, it’s your job to take the statistics provided and use them to calculate an acceptance rate. To find the acceptance rate of a school or program, you’ll need the following information:

  • The total number of applicants in a year
  • The total number of applicants granted admission  that year

The acceptance rate equals the total number of applicants offered admission divided by the total number of applicants and then multiplied by 100, or:

$$\acceptance \rate = {\number \of \applicants \offered \admission}/{\total \number \of \applicants}100$$

Be sure to  avoid conflating the number of students who were  offered admission   with the number of students who accepted their offers of admission. These two concepts sound alike but are actually different. What you’re looking for is the first statistic — that is, the number of admitted students (regardless of whether they decided to enroll).

If you’re having trouble finding admissions statistics by browsing school websites, search on Google for “[Your School] graduate acceptance rate” and see if any relevant school pages appear. While searching for acceptance rates to use in the table above, I consistently swapped “acceptance rate” with similar phrases, such as “admission(s) rate,” “facts and figures,” “student statistics,” “admittance rates,” and “admission(s) statistics.”

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Don’t be afraid to get creative! You can also use phrases like “Ph.D. admissions statistics” or “master’s admissions statistics” to narrow your search even further. Try to think outside the box as you do your research. What are other ways people talk about acceptance rates?

#2: Check  U.S. News

If your school or program doesn’t offer any admissions statistics on its website, go to  U.S. News . This website offers official rankings of grad programs as well as lists of the most (and least) selective programs in various fields.

For example, I found a 2016 list of the most competitive online M.B.A. programs  and a 2015 list of the most competitive online graduate engineering programs .

If U.S. News doesn’t offer any relevant lists for you to use, try skimming the current grad school rankings to gauge how competitive your program is compared with others in the same field.


#3: Search Other Websites

One less reliable method for looking up grad school admissions statistics is to  look for (unofficial) websites discussing acceptance rates for your school or program.

The Grad Cafe’s  admissions results  section is a solid place to start. Here, applicants post whether they’ve been accepted, rejected, or waitlisted for grad programs.

Search for your program to get a rough feel for how many acceptances and rejections go out each year. You might notice that certain types of applicants are more active than others. Creative Writing M.F.A. applicants, for example, are prolific posters in winter and spring (during admissions season).

Occasionally, Google itself will provide you with grad school acceptance rates, but this only appears to work consistently for well-known law schools, medical schools, and business schools.

Additionally, while using Google, don’t assume that any acceptance rates that pop up are directly connected to your search terms. For example, when I searched “stanford graduate acceptance rate,” Google gave me this result:


This 4.8 percent acceptance rate is  not  the acceptance rate for Stanford’s grad programs (what I searched for) but rather the acceptance rate for undergrads. So always cross-check any statistics Google gives you.

You can also consult grad school data websites such as  Peterson’s and StartClass . Take their grad school acceptance rates with a grain of salt, though — their data isn’t always verifiable online. If possible, try to compare any data you find on these types of websites with the school websites themselves or U.S. News .

#4: Contact Schools

If the internet isn’t giving you the help you need, call or email your schools. Be polite but upfront: ask whether the school calculates acceptance rates for grad programs and where you can find this information online (if available).

If a school refuses to divulge admissions statistics or simply doesn’t report acceptance rates, see if they can give you estimates for how many applications they receive each year, or for how many acceptances they usually extend to applicants in your program.


Graduate School Acceptance: What Are Your Odds?

By this point, you might be wondering how likely it is you’ll actually get into the grad program you wish to attend. After all, acceptance rates are pretty broad — they tell you what everyone’s odds are but not your odds specifically.

Below are three easy steps for determining your odds of getting into grad school, including advice on when it’s better to go for it or choose another program.

Step 1: Check Program Requirements

First, go to your program’s website and pinpoint the admissions requirements page. Now, ask yourself:  do you meet all of the program’s basic requirements? If not, you’ll likely wind up with a rejection (and might not even be able to apply).

However, if you’re still interested in applying, contact the program and ask if they’ll make an exception for you. Your chance of getting accepted is still low, but you’ll at least have your application considered.

If your program strongly recommends qualities you lack, don’t interpret this as an automatic rejection. Sometimes, applicants can make up for deficiencies in other ways. For example, if your undergrad GPA is 3.1 and your program recommends applicants have a minimum 3.2, don’t write off the program — you might still have a shot at getting in as long as the rest of your application is solid.

On the other hand, even if you meet all of a program’s requirements, you’re not necessarily a shoo-in. Remember, all other applicants have met these requirements, too, so you’ll need to find a unique way to make your application stand out.


Step 2: Find Average GRE Scores and GPAs

Your next step is to look up your program’s average GRE scores and GPA  to see how your own scores and GPA compare with those of previously admitted applicants.

You can usually find GRE score information on admissions requirements or FAQ pages. You can also search on Google for “[Your School] [Your Program] average GRE scores.” For step-by-step instructions on how to find average GRE scores, check out  my article on average GRE scores by school .

For GPAs, you can use the same basic methodology. Check admissions requirements and FAQ pages and use ctrl+F to search for “GPA.” If GPA information is available, you’ll most likely come across minimum GPAs or average GPAs (or both). For more tips on how to find GPA information for your grad schools, read our guide .

Now, compare your own GRE scores and GPA with the averages you’ve found. Below are all possible scenarios and what they mean for you and your odds of getting into the program:

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  • Your GRE scores and GPA are both  higher than your program’s averages:  Congratulations! You have an excellent chance of getting accepted, especially if the rest of your application is equally impressive. Keep up the great work!
  • Your GRE scores and GPA are both  about the same as your program’s averages:  You’re doing pretty well! You are just the type of applicant your program is looking for. The only drawback is that you probably won’t stand out as much from other applicants who have similar GRE scores and GPAs. So take time to make your application sparkle (I’m looking at you, statement of purpose).
  • Your GRE scores and GPA are both lower than your program’s averages (or just one of the two is lower):  It ain’t over ’til it’s over! You can still make up for your deficiencies in other ways. While you can’t change your GPA, you can retake the GRE . If your GPA is low, a great strategy for combating this is to discuss it in your statement of purpose, taking care to highlight any external factors that contributed to the low GPA as well as any attributes of yours that prove you’re indeed ready for grad school.

Step 3: Decide Whether to Apply

Now, we get to the final question: do you apply to the program or not?  This is a vague question that’s difficult to answer as is. The real questions you should be asking yourself are as follows:

  • Do I meet all of the program’s basic requirements?
  • Do I meet most or all of the program’s expectations of applicants (in terms of GRE scores, GPA, etc.)?
  • Is the program’s acceptance rate extremely low?
  • Do I really like this program?

Although acceptance rates and GRE/GPA comparisons are helpful, don’t base your decision to apply solely on how difficult the program is to get into. We can’t know for sure what kind of applicant a grad program is looking for or who they’re willing to make an exception for.

Take a moment to think deeply about how interested you are in this particular program. Be realistic about your chances of getting in — but don’t cross the line into pessimism. If you don’t meet most or all of a program’s expectations and you’re not super invested in it, consider applying elsewhere.

But if you meet some, most, or all of a program’s expectations and you’re extremely interested in enrolling, give the application a go. Remember, it’s totally normal (and even encouraged) to have a few reach schools. Plus, you’ll never get in if you don’t apply!


Key Takeaways: Graduate School Acceptance Rates

Grad school acceptance rates quantify for us the selectivity of grad schools and programs. More specifically, acceptance rates tell us  what percentage of applicants were offered admission to a particular grad school or program. 

With grad school, acceptance rates are often reported for individual schools or programs,  not  entire universities. Acceptance rates can vary widely depending on program prestige, the type of degree you’re seeking, and how much (or how little) funding a program offers.

Unlike undergrad acceptance rates, grad school acceptance rates are somewhat difficult to locate online. You can look for them using any of the following four methods:

  • Peruse school websites
  • Check grad school facts and lists on  U.S. News
  • Browse other websites and forums such as The Grad Cafe
  • Call or email your schools

When trying to determine your  odds of getting into a program, look at your program’s requirements as well as the average GPA and GRE scores of previously admitted applicants to your program. If your GRE scores and GPA are comparable to those of your program, you have a decent shot at getting accepted. If one or both are lower than your program’s averages, however, you can always try to  raise your GRE score  with a retake or address your GPA in your statement of purpose.

At the end of the day, what ultimately matters isn’t that you get accepted to a highly competitive grad program but that you make the right decision for you and you alone!

What’s Next?

Need help with your grad school application?  Learn about the most common grad school requirements  and get tips on how to write a grad school CV or resume !

Is your GPA good enough for grad school ?  Read our in-depth guide to learn how you can make up for a less-than-stellar GPA and ultimately raise your chances of getting into the school of your dreams.

Do you have to take the GRE for grad school ? When are grad school deadlines ?  Check out our guides for answers to these questions and more.

Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

how to find a phd program reddit

Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel. View all posts by Hannah Muniz

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How to Get a PhD

Last Updated: January 10, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Carrie Adkins, PhD . Carrie Adkins is the cofounder of NursingClio, an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog that connects historical scholarship to current issues in gender and medicine. She completed her PhD in American History at the University of Oregon in 2013. While completing her PhD, she earned numerous competitive research grants, teaching fellowships, and writing awards. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 686,228 times.

A PhD, short for Doctor of Philosophy, may help you secure a position as a college or university professor, a researcher in a government or industrial laboratory, a consultant, or an independent practitioner. [1] X Research source If you have the curiosity to explore a subject in depth and the tenacity to do so for many years, applying for a graduate PhD program may be an excellent step in reaching your full potential. By learning the steps necessary to complete your prerequisite education, apply to graduate schools, and complete the work, you'll be well on your way.

Completing Prerequisite Education

Step 1 Complete an undergraduate degree in a broad field.

  • Generally, it's recommended that students interested in pursuing advanced degrees should develop a wide skill-base during their undergrad. In other words, while you may ultimately be interested in studying Zoology, an undergrad degree in basic Biology might provide you with a diverse base that you'll be able to narrow in your future studies.
  • Many universities offer majors designed to funnel you into an advanced degree. Pre-law majors and Pre-med majors are two notable examples of this. Talk to your academic advisor about your interest in pursuing a PhD after you graduate, if you've yet to select a major.

Step 2 Develop a close relationship with at least one faculty member.

  • A good way to develop a relationship with a professor is to take multiple classes with her and join her lab, or research team. Go to office hours, introduce yourself, and express your interest in advanced degree work. Most professors are more than happy to work with a talented student who shows a sincere interest in their work.
  • It's also a good idea to forge relationships with graduate students at your school. Speak to graduate students and faculty about their experiences at the school, even if you plan on going elsewhere for your advanced degree. Many will be happy to let you know about the advantages and disadvantages of studying for and obtaining a Ph.D. It can be a great way to get insider information and get ahead of the game.

Step 3 Obtain experience in the field with a research internship.

  • Work-study programs in your field of interest can also be extremely attractive of graduate applications. If you're studying English, try to secure employment in the Writing Lab, rather than the cafeteria to give yourself an edge and valuable experience.

Step 4 Make contacts in your field.

  • National and regional conferences, such as the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), allow dedicated undergrads the opportunity to rub elbows with experts and contribute to the discussion.

Step 5 Start researching graduate programs in your junior year.

  • Look for programs with a good reputation, but give more weight to the faculty and the research interests of the other graduate students at prospective schools. What you're looking for in an advanced degree program is camaraderie and common ground, not an arbitrary ranking on some "prestigious" list.
  • The applications are expensive--sometimes $50 or $80 dollars each--so you won't be able to apply to all programs. Try to select a range of programs to apply to: choose a few big dream schools with great facilities and prestigious faculty and lots of competition to see if you can't get in. Apply to smaller programs that you'd also be happy attending. Apply to as many as you can afford to give yourself the best chance.
  • For some fields, a master's degree will be a more appropriate subsidiary or even terminal degree. At worst, a master's degree can be an excellent primer for the graduate school life, especially if teaching assistantships or fellowships are available.

Applying to Graduate Programs

Step 1 Take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) general or subject test

  • While most Master's programs only require the general test, which is like an advanced version of the SAT, some Ph.D programs will require that you take the subject test, which is given in several sections, including biology, literature, and other fields. It's a much more difficult test than the general--the reading list for the Subject test in lit is several hundred authors from a variety of periods. Make sure you take the correct test for the program to which you're applying. [5] X Research source
  • Schedule your test early in the application season, to give yourself enough time to retake it, if necessary. The test can be somewhat expensive, more than $100, so start studying now with a good-quality commercial study guide.
  • When you arrive for the test, you can arrange to have your scores sent directly to the graduate programs you'll be applying to. This has the advantage of cutting out an extra step in your application process, but also ensures that the school will see your scores, good or bad. If you're worried about your score, arrange to have them sent to you instead.

Step 2 Secure letters of recommendation from people familiar with your work.

  • It's important to ask for these letters as early as possible, preferably at least 3 months before you need to submit your applications. Professors will be inundated with letter-writing requests at the last minute, increasing the possibility of them writing a poor evaluation. Don't be one of those students.

Carrie Adkins, PhD

Carrie Adkins, PhD

" Ask well in advance, and supply any materials that might help them ," adds Carrie Adkins, PhD in History. "Professors can only write so many thorough, detailed letters of recommendation, so if you help them out by asking a month or two before the deadline and providing them with your CV and statement of purpose, you’ll be more likely to get their best efforts ."

Step 3 Write a statement of purpose.

  • If you're planning on applying to lots of schools, it can be a time-saver to write a "form" version of your letter, allowing space to customize the letter for more specific programs. It's very important to tailor each statement of purpose to the particular program to which you're applying. This demonstrates your seriousness and interest in the school. Each letter should read as if you're only interested in studying at that school.

Step 4 Assemble your application packets and submit them by the deadline.

  • a completed application form
  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts
  • A curriculum vitae (CV) or resume
  • Recent GRE scores
  • Statement of Purpose
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (for international students)
  • 2-3 Letters of Recommendation

Step 5 Apply for teaching or research assistantships.

  • Applying for financial aid will often involve supplementary application materials, like a teaching statement, research statement, or other short writing prompts. Research the specific requirements at each university for specific instructions when applying for financial aid.
  • If full funding isn't an option, consider applying for need-based scholarships. Often, these are available to minority applicants or students in financial straits. Likewise, the application fee can often be waived. Contact individual departments when you're applying to check about need-based application waivers.

Completing Your Degree

Step 1 Choose a major professor and committee.

  • Choose people who you can work with, and who share a common research interest, as well as people you get along with personally. Personal differences often pop up during these kinds of working relationships, making it important to avoid them in the beginning.
  • Your proposed academic advisor/research supervisor should ideally be named in your statement of purpose, with the reasons you want to work with that person. Those reasons should show that you know something about that person's background and why he or she would make an effective advisor.

Step 2 Submit a plan of study.

  • The names and signatures of your committee members , the program director, and the student. You'll also need your student ID number and other personal information.
  • A brief statement of your academic and research goals . This will typically be a super-condensed version of your research question or thesis statement, probably no more than 50-100 words.
  • A list of the required courses you'll take over the next two years, listing course number, title, department, and instructor, as well as the semester you intend to take the course. Most programs require around 12 hours of required coursework for an advanced degree.
  • A list of the elective courses you'll take , with corresponding course numbers, titles, departments, and instructors, as well as the semester you intend to take the course. Most programs require somewhere between 20 and 30 elective hours for an advanced degree.
  • Dissertation hours . When you've passed your preliminary examinations, your coursework will change to independent research and dissertation work, but you'll still be registered for a course with a course number and a particular number of credit hours, with your major professor or thesis chair as the instructor. This information will also need to be included on the plan of study form.

Step 3 Complete the requisite coursework.

  • In graduate school, the course load is usually somewhat less than the undergraduate degree, because of the intensity of the coursework and other research or teaching responsibilities. A "full load" is usually considered 6 or 9 hours, though you'll be doing 20 or more hours of teaching or research in a given week. [6] X Research source
  • For a PhD student, a typical coursework semester might involve three courses: a required core class and two elective courses. Typically, elective courses will still be in the department the student is studying, if not the particular program. For example, a comparative lit PhD studying Medieval literature may take a 20th century poetry course in the English department as an elective, though probably not a biology class.

Step 4 Complete your written examination.

  • The written examination, sometimes called the "prelim," will typically be submitted to the department chair by your major professor, then administered to you toward the end of your second year of classes. When you pass the exam, you'll be considered "Post-Prelim" and may begin the process of completing your dissertation. [7] X Research source

Step 5 Begin performing research and collecting data.

  • Start with a research question. A research question is what you'll hope to answer over the course of your dissertation research. It needs to be narrow, but with broad-reaching implications. A starting research question might be something like, "How are women represented during the silver age of American comic book publishing?" or "What are the implications of spontaneous genetic mutation during breeding in drosophila, and what effect might this have on cancer research?"

Step 6 Explore the literature in your research field.

  • As you complete your coursework and add complexity to the topic in which you're interested, you'll likely change and add depth to your initial research interest. That's fine. Let the research grow your understanding of the topic, and change the way you approach it. That means you're on the right track.

Step 8 Prepare a doctoral dissertation/thesis

  • In the humanities , several semesters following your coursework and preliminary examination will be devoted to completing the research involved with your interests. During this time, you'll be expected to periodically update your committee on your progress, providing them with literature reviews and outlines, depending on your arrangement. You may also be expected to publish supplementary papers periodically in academic journals.
  • In the sciences , you'll spend your post-prelim semesters doing lab work, or other field work depending on your field of study. The time will be spent collecting data and performing experiments to move your research forward, to be collected in the dissertation, and probably published in peer-reviewed journals.

Step 9 Prepare for the oral defense of your dissertation

  • Most "defenses" are cordial affairs, not debates, though you should expect to be pressed and argued with regarding your methods, your conclusions, and other aspects of your work. The best way to prepare for your defense is to know your dissertation and your research inside and out.
  • At a successful defense, you'll need to present yourself and your work well both orally and in writing to earn recognition as a PhD candidate and a researcher. Practice delivering your main point quickly and your overall presentation or paper with confidence.

Funding Your Research

Step 1 Apply for departmental grants or additional appointments.

  • In the hard sciences , money is allocated to provide different labs, projects, and individuals money on a competitive case-by-case basis. To apply, you'll typically write a detailed proposal of your research goals and submit it to the department.
  • In the humanities , it's also common to seek subsequent teaching appointments in tangential fields: if your research involves the representation of women in comic books, and you've been teaching in the English department, why not pick up a special-topics course in Women's Studies?

Step 2 Apply for private research grants.

Surviving the Process

Step 1 Avoid petty competition and departmental rivalry.

  • Don't Try to do everything at once. Because you will spend several years to earn your doctorate, it's important to slow down and do everything with the attention to detail the process deserves. You don't want to get your dissertation hung up because of a silly documentation error you rushed through.

Step 3 Be tenacious and display initiative.

  • During the time you spend working on your doctorate, you'll face a variety of challenges. The lab's funding may be cut. You may lose grant money. Your paper may get rejected from a conference. Fail early and fail often. Create opportunities for yourself and work around the challenges.

Step 4 Stay organized.

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About This Article

Carrie Adkins, PhD

Before you can get a PhD, you'll need to complete your prerequisite education and take the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam. You will also need letters of recommendation from 1 or 2 distinguished professors in your field to submit with your application. Once you are admitted to graduate school, you should seek out funding opportunities, like grants or teaching positions. To earn your PhD, you will need to take courses, pass written and oral exams, conduct original research in your field, and write a dissertation. For more ways to get your PhD for free, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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April 15, 2023

Applying to PhD Programs: When, Where, How, and Why?

Applying to PhD Programs: When, Where, How, and Why?

The thought of pursuing a PhD can be daunting. You might ask yourself the following key questions:

  • When should I apply?
  • Where should I apply?
  • How do I get in?
  • Why do I want to go? 

Let’s consider these questions one at a time.

Question 1: “When should I apply?”

The right time to apply to graduate school is when your personal, academic, and professional experiences have aligned such that you know for certain you want to further your knowledge and skills in a specific field. Read on for some signs that these experiences are, in fact, aligned.

In your personal life

Think about when you were first introduced to your field of study. What made you want to keep learning about it? Is that drive to know more about your field of study still there? If the answer is yes, then you might be personally ready for graduate study. In addition, memorable personal experiences – and the lessons you have learned from them – can also make you personally ready for graduate study. 

For example, perhaps you were diagnosed with a condition and have spent the past decade managing it. The psychological strain of this experience has made you highly empathic toward patients suffering from chronic conditions. You’re now committed to studying the effectiveness of various approaches to promoting mental health among this population.

Or maybe one of your fondest childhood memories is birdwatching with your dad, who taught you all about various species and their migration patterns. This experience led you to pursue ornithology, and it still makes you excited to learn about birds.

Something doesn’t have to be deeply profound to others for it to be deeply meaningful to you.

In your academic life

You’ve demonstrated – via high grades or assignments on which you went above and beyond the basic requirements – that you have a strong grasp of the technical aspects of your intended field. You’ve done more than memorize core concepts and theories; you’ve contemplated how they relate to the broader aims of the field. You’ve taken more advanced classwork, completed an independent project, or did professional work that involved innovation and research. And you now want to apply those theories and concepts in graduate school and your career.

Let’s say you majored in civil engineering. You’ve excelled in all your engineering courses, as well as in chemistry, math, and physics. In the process, you’ve learned how to apply the core principles of each field to design resilient infrastructure that does not fail in extraordinary events and is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable.

In your professional life

Whether you’ve worked/volunteered in a relevant setting for six months or six years, you’ve learned about and contributed to the rigorous research process. Ideally, you’ve taken on multiple roles, each one more demanding than the previous one. But at every stage, you’ve taken your responsibilities seriously because you understand that each task, no matter how seemingly trivial, must be performed diligently, lest you risk compromising the data and ultimately the findings of the entire study.

As an undergraduate research assistant, you might have begun with basic responsibilities such as data entry and cleaning in Excel. After you demonstrated that you are reliable and diligent, you were able to help conduct studies and maybe even run some of your own analyses using the data.

Then, by the time you entered your current role (the one you’re in when you apply to PhD programs), . You can not only evaluate all the variables being assessed but also identify other variables that aren’t being measured and articulate why they should be included in future research. At this point, you’re able to generate your own research questions, formulate testable hypotheses, and even design a hypothetical study in which the findings are interesting regardless of whether your hypotheses are supported.

When you’ve identified these signs in your personal, academic, and professional experiences, you’re ready to apply.

Question 2: “Where should I apply?”

To identify the right program(s) to apply to, it is crucial to look at more than just the ranking or reputation of the university . The “2022-2023 Best National University Rankings” by U.S. News & World Report should not be your primary source for one simple reason: PhD programs are very idiosyncratic. Even if you have chosen a field of study (ideally the field in which you received your undergraduate and/or master’s degree), there are likely many research areas within that field and even more specific topics within each area. The right research area for you will depend on your previous research experience, as well as on the specific topic(s) you want to investigate.

For example, within the field of psychology , there are many areas, including clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, health psychology, evolutionary psychology, personality psychology, and social psychology. Then within, say, social psychology, there’s a vast array of specific topics, such as attitudes, aggression, decision-making, emotion, prejudice, and prosocial behavior, to name a few. As you can imagine, these topics are not mutually exclusive. In fact, combining topics can generate unique findings. Therefore, when thinking about where to apply, you might prioritize programs where the faculty are studying combinations of topics you find particularly interesting.

Another factor to consider is that programs differ as a function of the research methods they employ. Thus, when thinking about where to apply, in addition to identifying programs where the faculty are researching the specific topics in which you are most interested, it’s necessary to consider whether those faculty members are using methods that you would like to apply in your future career. Do you want to master advanced statistical techniques? Do you want to work with state-of-the-art technologies? Do you want to interact with people? Do you want to observe phenomena in the “real world” or in experimental settings? It’s not only about what you’re researching; it’s also about how you’re researching it.

Once you’ve identified programs based on those considerations, it’s time to identify prospective faculty advisors within your chosen programs . After all, you’re not just applying to PhD programs; you’re applying to work with specific faculty members, and they are the ones who will be reviewing your application and deciding whether to accept you. Based on the faculty members’ professional biographies (which you can usually find on the program’s website), you’ll probably be able to identify the professors whose interests are most similar to your own.

But it is not enough to be confident that you want to work with a given faculty member. Next, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with that professor’s recent work by reading research papers they’ve published in the past couple years. As you’re reading, ask yourself whether this faculty member writes and thinks clearly and presents arguments and evidence in a compelling manner. You will be mentored by this person for five years (or more!), so it’s crucial that you find someone you admire and are motivated to learn from.

In sum, the steps in deciding where to apply for PhD study are as follows:

  • Choose your field of study.
  • Identify your area(s) within that field.
  • Discover the specific topics you find most fascinating.
  • Consider what methods you want to employ.
  • Evaluate the merits of prospective faculty advisors.

Question 3: “How do I get in?”

Once you’ve determined that you’re ready to apply, and you know where you want to apply , the focus shifts to whether you’ll be accepted. Getting into a PhD program is largely a matter of fit . The faculty members who evaluate your application want to know what insights you can offer to their current and future research studies, how your interpersonal style will contribute to their lab or research hub dynamics, and whether you are committed to extending their research in a meaningful way after you obtain your doctorate. You can convey all this crucial information in your statement of purpose.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of your statement of purpose. You might have an exceptional CV, but if your statement of purpose is lackluster and fails to convey to your prospective faculty advisor that you are the right fit, then you are unlikely to be accepted. Conversely, you might have a modest CV, or even a weakness such as a low GPA, but nevertheless be accepted if you convey in your statement that (1) you have taken (and will continue to take) concrete steps to become more prepared for PhD training, and (2) you possess unique skills and knowledge that are highly relevant to your prospective advisor’s research area but that might not be reflected in traditional metrics of achievement (e.g., your CV, GPA).

To write a compelling statement of purpose , you need to articulate everything relevant to Question 1: “When should I apply?” You have already reflected on how your personal, academic, and professional experiences have aligned such that you know that you are ready to apply. But it is not enough for you to know that you are ready. You need to convince your prospective advisor that you are. 

This is where Accepted comes in . The most valuable service we offer is essay consulting. We can teach you how to craft a narrative about your journey that is coherent, authentic, and distinctive. During each consultation, we will challenge you to think more deeply and clearly than you ever have about where you’ve been and where you’re going. You will learn how to identify and effectively convey the reasons your prospective advisor should accept you.

Question 4: “Why do I want to go?”

A PhD is an academic degree that prepares you to conduct original research, perform advanced statistical analyses, interpret empirical results, and evaluate competing theories. You will be trained to become an academic – that is, a university professor who directs a research lab and teaches students the nuances of a specific field. The skills you acquire during your doctoral training can be applied to industry, governmental, and nonprofit settings; however, doing so should not be your primary goal. Your prospective advisor will want to know that you are committed to the work of an academic. It is great if your research has important implications for those other sectors, so long as you are still committed first and foremost to the production and dissemination of knowledge in your field. The thought of conducting original research in a university setting should make you excited to get started.

Thus, the best reasons to pursue a PhD are intrinsic. After all, a PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy . You get a PhD because you are passionately drawn to the philosophy of your chosen field. You can’t help but think about it in your everyday life because you see it everywhere. It is a lens through which life makes sense. Discovering its guiding principles, subject matter, and potential applications allows you to identify patterns in the world around you – and sometimes within yourself as well. So why should you pursue a PhD? Because you can’t not .

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Vanessa Febo has ten years of experience teaching academic and professional writing at UCLA, with a special certification in teaching writing techniques. She has drawn on this expertise to guide clients to placements at top institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, and USC. Before joining Accepted, Vanessa coached UCLA students through the application process for graduate programs, major grants, fellowships, and scholarships, including the Fulbright, Stanford Knight-Hennessey, and the Ford Foundation Fellowship. Additionally, Vanessa has extensive experience successfully guiding clients through applications for a diverse range of programs, including those in business, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. Want Vanessa to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

Related Resources:

  • Five Tips for Applying for Stanford’s Knight-Hennessy Scholarship
  • How Do You Choose the Right Graduate School?
  • It’s All About Authenticity and Community in Graduate Admissions , podcast Episode 518
  • An Admitted Johns Hopkins MD/PhD Candidate Reflects on His Journey
  • What to Know About Applying for a PhD in STEM , podcast Episode 410
  • How to Ace Your PhD Interview: Prepare to Discuss These 10 Topics

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Is an MD/PhD program right for me? Advice on becoming a physician–scientist

We are living in a golden age of biomedical research in which it is increasingly feasible to translate fundamental discoveries into new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to human illnesses. Inherited diseases are being cured with gene therapy. Cancer cells are being eliminated with less toxic small molecule inhibitors and reengineered T-cells. Direct connections are being made between the central nervous system and prosthetic devices. These efforts are being led by scientists and engineers, some of whom are also physicians. This article is intended to help anyone considering a career as a physician–scientist, but unsure about how best to begin. It is also intended for faculty, staff, and parents who are on the front lines of advising talented students about the options that they have for their future. With this in mind, I have tried to answer common questions about MD/PhD programs, but I have also included information about other paths to becoming a physician who does research.


Because this is a perspectives piece, I will begin it with a confession: I have been a physician–scientist for more than 30 years and I like what I do. I am also a graduate of one of the earliest MD/PhD programs and have been director of the University of Pennsylvania’s MD/PhD program for 20 years. Being a physician who is also a scientist already makes me atypical. According to the American Medical Association, only 14,000 U.S. physicians (out of nearly 1 million) consider research to be their major job, and a search of National Institutes of Health (NIH) databases in 2012 turned up only 8200 physicians who were principal investigators on NIH research grants ( Ginsburg et al. , 2014 ). To put that number in context, there were 28,000 total investigators with NIH grants in 2012. In other words, most NIH principal investigators are PhD scientists, not physician–scientists (MD or MD/PhD).

My primary day (and sometimes night and weekend) job as a card-carrying physician–scientist is overseeing an NIH-funded research team. My clinical responsibilities include taking care of patients with the kinds of bleeding and blood clotting disorders that we study in the lab. Some of these patients have medical problems that are common in the United States. Some of them are true “zebras,” the kinds of patients who get referred to a well-respected academic medical center because physicians are unsure how best to proceed or lack the resources to manage the patient’s problem. I also teach medical students and graduate students, and I direct a very large MD/PhD program. In my spare time, I talk to lots of undergraduates and recent college graduates who are thinking about becoming physician–scientists and wondering whether they should be applying to MD/PhD programs. I meet them at Penn, but also on visits to other colleges and universities. This article is a distillation of some answers to questions that I am commonly asked. If you are an undergraduate trying to decide whether to go to medical school, graduate school, or both, this article may help you. Whatever you decide, I wish you success.


MD/PhD programs were established in the 1950s to combine training in medicine and research. They were specifically designed for men and women who wanted to become research physicians, also known as physician–investigators or physician–scientists. Most of the graduates of MD/PhD programs in the 60-plus years since then have become faculty members at medical schools and universities, investigators at research institutes such as the NIH, or leaders in in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries ( Brass et al. , 2010 ). Regardless of where they eventually end up, MD/PhD trainees are being prepared for careers in which they will spend most of their time doing research or translating that research into new therapeutic and diagnostic approaches. It is a busy, challenging, and hugely rewarding career. A study of what has happened to MD/PhD program graduates from 24 schools appeared in Academic Medicine in 2010 and is worth reading not only for the data set, but also for the discussion of what the data mean ( Brass et al. , 2010 ). An even larger outcomes study that includes data on over 10,000 MD/PhD program graduates is scheduled for publication as a AAMC report in April 2018 ( Akabas et al. , 2018 ).


When I was an undergraduate and trying to decide what to do with my life, my mentors told me that I could become a doctor or a scientist, but that trying to combine two busy professions was futile. Many years later, I know that many current undergraduates are being told the same thing. However well-meant, that advice misses the point. The goal of MD/PhD program training is not to prepare you for two unrelated full time jobs. Instead, you should think of physician–scientists as chimeras—blends of a physician and a scientist with the two parts fitting closely together. A more relevant question is: if you are going to become a physician–scientist, do you have to go through an MD/PhD program? I will try to answer that one a bit later in this article. First, I’ll provide some definitions.


None. Programs designed to train physician–scientists go by all of these names. For the most part, the terms are interchangeable, although at some schools “combined degree” programs can include MD/JD and MD/masters programs as well—also VMD/PhD programs, which train veterinary physician–scientists. A list of MD/PhD programs can be found at . The NIH uses the term MSTP (short for “medical scientist training program”) to refer to programs at schools that have been competitively awarded special training funds to help support MD/PhD candidates. There are currently 46 MD/PhD programs that receive support from the National Institute of General Medical Studies. A list can be found at .

When they first started, there were only a handful of MD/PhD programs. I can clearly remember reading a small booklet about applying to medical school that had a single page at the back about MD/PhD programs. Over time, the number of programs has grown. Now there are ∼90 active MD/PhD programs that admit anywhere from a few students per year to 25 or more. The average size of an MD/PhD program in 2017 was ∼90 students in all stages of training. Compared with the many thousands who apply to medical school in each year, only 1900 (∼3%) apply to MD/PhD programs. About one-third of the applicants are accepted, which is similar to the acceptance rate for medical school. 1 When I began medical school, there were very few MD/PhD trainees—I was one of two in my entering class. That has changed considerably. There are currently ∼5500 men and women in training in MD/PhD programs.

Most MD/PhD programs provide tuition waivers for both medical school and graduate school plus a stipend to help cover living expenses. Such fellowships are exceedingly valuable for trainees and very expensive for medical schools and the NIH, so admissions committees work hard to pick the right students for their programs. Despite the high training costs, when I visit other MD/PhD programs to conduct reviews, it is not uncommon to hear deans refer to their MD/PhD program as “the jewel in the crown.” One can easily argue that the existence of MD/PhD programs is evidence of the high value that our society places on physician–scientists.


The answer varies from school to school. Not all schools offer PhD programs in all disciplines. The majority of MD/PhD students receive their PhD in biomedical laboratory disciplines such as cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology, pharmacology, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering. The names of departments and graduate programs vary from school to school. At some schools, MD/PhD trainees do their graduate work outside of the laboratory disciplines, in fields such as economics, epidemiology, health care economics, sociology, medical anthropology, or the history of science. This is not an exhaustive list, and you should check before you apply to see what is actually offered at any particular school.

Although there is no fully up-to-date and reliable list of which MD/PhD programs offer training in which graduate disciplines, a place to start is at the Website of the AAMC MD/PhD section (which is a good source for other types of information as well). 2


Yes. Definitely. MD/PhD programs are a great choice for people who decide early that that they want to be physician–scientists and have built the necessary track record of academic success and research experience before they apply. Not everyone does this, however, either because he or she did not learn about the option early enough, he or she did not make a decision in time, or he or she does not have an academic and research experience record that supports an application. Not finding out early enough turns out to be a common problem. In my experience, college prehealth advisors know much less about MD/PhD training than MD training—not surprisingly, since only 3% of medical school applicants in the United States every year apply for MD/PhD training. As a result, some people choose (or are obliged) to do MD/PhD training in series, rather than parallel—finishing one degree and then starting the other. The disadvantages of this approach include taking longer to finish training and the likely need to cover the cost of medical school on your own.

I am frequently asked about the strategy of starting medical school and then applying to graduate school as a medical student. Some schools will consider you for transfer into their MD/PhD programs after you have completed a year or two of medical school or graduate school at the same university. Although it is very rare that an MD/PhD program will consider accepting a medical or graduate student from a different school, it does occasionally happen when faculty move from one institution to another and want to bring their students with them. The rules and requirements vary from school to school.

Other programs worth checking out include the NIH MD/PhD program that provides support for the PhD phase at the NIH campus or in Oxford/Cambridge, with the MD training taking place at one of the participating MSTP-designated programs. Note that not all of the MSTP programs have chosen to participate, so if you have your heart set on a specific medical school, you should be sure to ask. 3

Another option is to complete medical school and residency training before doing an extended period of supervised research. A number of Nobel Prize–winning physician–scientists did just that. However, with the increase in the number of MD/PhD training programs nationwide, most people who make the decision to become physician–­scientists while still in college should think hard about doing both degrees together in an integrated MD/PhD program that combines graduate school and medical school into a joint program that currently takes 8 years on average to complete ( Akabas et al. , 2018 ).


The answer to the first of these questions is “Clearly not.” However, while medical school will put you firmly on the path to becoming an accomplished clinician, it does not provide training in how to do research. At some point you will benefit from that additional piece of your education if you intend to become a physician–scientist.

As noted above, in years past it was not uncommon to learn how to do research by doing an extended postdoctoral fellowship after (or instead of) a clinical residency. I am often asked whether it is possible to save time on the path to becoming a physician–scientist by skipping graduate school and just going to medical school. The available data suggest that the answer to this one is “No.” Physician–scientists get their first jobs in academia and their first independent NIH grants at approximately the same age regardless of whether they completed an MD/PhD program or went solely to medical school and then did a more extended postdoc ( Ginsburg et al. , 2014 ). As a result, I normally tell undergraduates that if they are ready to make the commitment before starting medical school, MD/PhD programs offer many advantages, including integrated training, mentored research training, and medical school tuition waivers. On the other hand, if you are sure you want to be a doctor, but less sure about being a scientist, then my advice is to go to medical school and figure out the rest of what you need when you know more about the opportunities that being a physician provides.


The answer varies from school to school, but historically students begin with 2 years of medical school, switch to graduate school in the third year of the program, and then return to finish medical school after completing (and defending) a thesis research project. When I was an MD/PhD student in the 1970s, there was little, if any, communication between the medical and graduate phases of the program. That has changed considerably. Now most programs emphasize integration of the MD and PhD parts of the training, with graduate school courses during years 1 and 2 and clinical experiences during graduate school. Some programs allow completion of 3–12 months of clinical training before the start of full-time graduate training. Be sure to ask how things are organized at schools that you are considering. In programs leading to a PhD in laboratory science, MD/PhD trainees usually spend the summer between the first and second years of medical school working in the laboratory of the faculty member they are considering as a potential thesis advisor. Some programs also ask students to do one of these “lab rotations” in the summer before starting medical school classes as well. Depending on the number of clinical months completed before starting the thesis research, students returning to medical school will need 1–2 years to finish their training and meet the requirements for medical licensure. The stated goal is to complete an MD/PhD program in 7 or 8 years. However, numbers from across the country show that some students finish in 6 years, while others take 10 years (or more). The average currently is 8 years ( Akabas et al. , 2018 ). Note that medical education in the United States continues to evolve. One trend is away from the classic two years of preclinical education followed by 2 years of clinical education. The earlier start in clinical training made possible by shortening preclinical time enables some MD/PhD programs to offer full-time clinical experiences before the start of graduate school. However, some schools are choosing not to do this. The only way to find out what is being done is to ask, if it is not evident from the program’s Website.


Corny as this may sound, the process is never really finished. Your education will continue throughout your career. A more pragmatic answer is that training will extend beyond medical school and graduate school as you complete your post graduate education. Here are some typical numbers: MD/PhD program, 8 years. Residency, 3–6 years. Postdoctoral fellowship, 3–6 years. For most people the term “postdoctoral fellowship” includes another year or two of clinical training, followed by a return to research for 2 or more years ( Figure 1 ). For example, I completed an MD/PhD program in 6 years, followed by a residency in internal medicine (3 years) and a fellowship in clinical hemato­logy and oncology that was combined with postdoctoral training back in a lab (3 years). After that I became an assistant professor and started my own lab. That timing was fairly typical when I did it. Now it would be considered fast. On the other hand, my job description when I finished included running a research team, looking after postdocs and graduate students, and taking care of sick people with complicated medical problems, so maybe all of that training time was necessary.

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Paths to becoming a physician who is also a scientist. Integrated MD/PhD training programs that combine research and medical training are not the only path to becoming a physician–scientist. Alternatives begin with doing a research year in medical school (MD+ in the figure) or just doing the standard four-year medical school education. These save time at the start, but usually require a longer period of postgraduate clinical and research training to reach the point where a job as a physician–scientist in academia becomes feasible. As a result, physician–scientists often arrive at the “get a job” point at about the same age whether they began as medical students, MD+ students, or MD/PhD students, although usually with greater student debt if they have not been in an MD/PhD program. See the text for details.


Short-term, nearly all do additional clinical training. Those who do not are usually headed toward careers at research institutes or outside clinical medicine entirely. Those who do apply for residencies often find that their MD/PhD training makes them particularly appealing to residency programs at top institutions. Long-term, most program graduates end up with careers in which they combine patient care and research. The research may be lab-based, translational, or clinical. Most (75–80%) end up at academic medical centers, at research institutions such as the NIH, or in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry ( Figure 2 ; Brass et al. , 2010 ; Akabas et al. , 2018 ). A much higher percentage of MD/PhD program graduates have ended up in academia than of medical school graduates in general ( Brass et al. , 2010 ). Those who build research careers and apply for NIH research grants find that having the PhD in addition to the MD improves their chances of obtaining funding ( Ginsburg et al. , 2014 ).

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Where are they working? Data from 2202 MD/PhD program alumni who have completed all phases of postgraduate clinical and research training. Adapted from Brass et al. (2010) . Industry includes the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Pvt Practice refers to full-time clinical practice outside of an academic medical center.


The process of application varies from school to school. Some schools have an MD/PhD-focused committee that will screen your application and coordinate the interview and admission process. Other schools consider MD/PhD applicants only after a decision has been made about MD admissions. Finally, some schools consider students for the MD/PhD program only after they have completed a year or more of medical school. Schools that subscribe to AMCAS will ask you to indicate your interest in an MD/PhD program and then to provide additional information as part of a secondary application.


Most people apply after finishing their junior year in college, but a growing number of applicants finish college and work for a year or more before applying. Some people use the time after college to take courses needed for medical school admission or to gain more full-time laboratory research experience. Some people simply were not ready to make decisions about their future careers and postponed choosing beyond the finish of college. It is a mistake to assume that MD/PhD programs are interested only in applicants who have worked in a lab for a year or more after college. That is clearly not the case, and some of us who direct MD/PhD programs are concerned about the growing percentage of applicants who have waited to apply after they graduate in the mistaken impression that it will improve their resumes. My advice is that for a training path that lasts as long as this one does, it is best to get started as soon as possible.


The answer clearly varies from school to school, but some basic principles apply. In general, admissions committees will look for evidence of academic success, extended research experience, letters of recommendation from people who know you well, and your plans for the future.

  • Evidence of academic success. This includes your GPA and MCAT scores, but is not limited to them. Admission committees use a holistic approach and will undoubtedly consider where you went to college and what types of courses you took. They will not necessarily be dismayed if you got off to a slow start, as long as you did well later. They will place the greatest emphasis on courses that are relevant to your chosen area of graduate school training. I have not encountered a program director who seriously believed that the MCAT tests your ability to be a physician–scientist. Nonetheless programs use MCAT scores in a variety of ways, including seeing how you compare with the national pool of applicants and predicting how you will do on the numerous standardized tests that all of us have to take in medical school and beyond.
  • Extensive research experience. If you plan to get a PhD in one of the laboratory sciences, then prior laboratory experience counts heavily, particularly if you spent a year or more in the same laboratory. Summer laboratory experience can be helpful because they are usually opportunities to do research full time, but summers are short. Whenever possible, you should try to do research during the academic year, or at least spend multiple summers in the same lab. If you are planning a PhD outside of the laboratory sciences, seek equivalent experiences. The idea is to be sure you like the experience and to create a track record upon which your past performance can be judged and your future success predicted.
  • Letters of recommendation. The most important letter(s) are from the faculty members or other senior investigators with whom you worked. The letters should ideally comment on your talents, skills, and potential for success as an independent investigator. If you are working with a senior faculty member, it is very helpful if he or she can compare you with other students with whom he or she has worked. Note that such a letter is not necessarily the most appropriate for an MD-only application. MD/PhD program admissions committees are usually most interested in your talent and ability as a physician–scientist, although they will definitely also consider whether you are likely to become a successful and caring physician. Fortunately, medical schools allow you to submit more than one letter of recommendation.
  • Your plans for the future. Because training to be a physician–­investigator is so costly in terms of your time and the school’s resources, your career goals should be compatible with MD/PhD training. Becoming a full-time practitioner is a laudable goal, but does not require a PhD in addition to an MD. Your goal as a trained physician–investigator should be to spend at least 75% of your time on research. You do not need to know the specific problem you want to work on at this point (many do not, and it is likely to change), or with whom you would like to train, but your commitment to becoming an investigator should be clearly communicated in your essays and interviews, and you should have given thought to what will be required.


Some applicants have decided that they want to work in a particular field or with a particular faculty member. For them, choosing where to apply is defined by where that faculty member works or where the field is best represented. Most applicants have only a general idea of what they might want to work on in the future and know that their interests are likely to evolve as they are exposed to new things. For them, choice will be defined by issues such as the reputation of the school (hopefully not based solely on U.S. News and World Report rankings!), the success of the graduates of the program (be sure to ask!), and geography. Schools vary in the difficulty of gaining admission. The directors and nonfaculty administrators of MD/PhD programs nationwide are a large pool of resources that you can tap. Most of us get e-mail from future applicants all the time. Take advantage of our willingness to talk with you. Ask questions about the things that are important to you.


I began this perspective with the confession that I am a physician–scientist and I like what I do. It is not unusual these days to encounter articles and opinion pieces that lament the difficulty of becoming and remaining a physician–scientist. I will not cite them here—you can find them on your own. Fortunately, our society is still willing to make a large investment in biomedical research through the NIH and through numerous foundations. If you want to become a physician who discovers the new stuff, there are jobs waiting to be filled. However, you will need good training and great mentorship as you learn the skills needed to be a physician and a research team leader. Good luck with your decision.


My thanks to my colleagues who direct MD/PhD programs, the NIH for supporting physician–scientist training (including my own), and the hundreds of MD/PhD candidates and alumni who have taught me so much over the past 20 years.

Abbreviations used:

DOI: 10.1091/mbc.E17-12-0721

1 .

2 .

3 .

  • Akabas MH, Tartakovsky I, Brass LF. (2018). The National MD–PhD Program Outcomes Study. American Association of Medical Colleges Reports.
  • Brass LF, Akabas MH, Burnley LD, Engman DM, Wiley CA, Andersen OS. (2010). Are MD–PhD programs meeting their goals? An analysis of career choices made by graduates of 24 MD–PhD programs . Acad Med , 692–701. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Ginsburg D, Shurin SB, Mills S. (2014). NIH Physician–Scientist Workforce (PSW) Working Group Report. [ Google Scholar ]
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Best 5 PHD Reddit Posts Everyone Should Read

Getting a PHD is a big decision. This article lists the top Reddit posts regarding getting a PHD.

Sep 10, 2021

As a current or prospective PhD student, Reddit can be an excellent place to share your experience and learn from the experience of others. It's also a good way to get advice if you're not sure whether a PhD program is right for you. 

The good news is that there are already plenty of PhD Reddit posts that provide a wealth of information about the process and what to consider before you pull the trigger on a doctorate program.

Here are five of those posts and how they can help you make the best decision about your education.

1. There's no guarantee that a PhD will improve your career path

Many people pursue a PhD program in order to increase their chances of getting a good job or earn more money. According to data gathered by  Michigan State University , the expected lifetime earnings for someone with a PhD is $3.3 million, compared to $2.7 million for Master's degree holders and $2.3 million for graduates with a bachelor's degree.

But just because the averages work in favor of getting a PhD — some career paths offer more potential than others — that doesn't mean it's going to work for you.

In one  post , user AltAcAcct shared their regret of going through a PhD program. Despite attending a prestigious "public ivy" school and having many other impressive experiences, AltAcAcct was in their second year of trying to find a job with no luck.

They implored readers to reconsider why they want to obtain a PhD and think about the potential downsides. While they had more pointed advice leaning toward not pursuing a PhD at all, it's important to decide for yourself if it's worth it to you.

The important thing is that you take the time to research your options — including ways to excel in your field without a PhD — and determine whether the potential risk of not getting a return on your investment of time and money is worth it to you.

2. Have a plan B

Going along with the idea that a PhD program doesn't guarantee future success, user acapncuster shared a tip in response to a  PhD Reddit post  asking for advice: "Have a plan B."

Some other commenters agreed, with one going so far as to say: "Have a plan B, then make that your plan A." Another user recommended having a plan C as well, just to be safe.

The idea that you should expect your first plan to fall through — and possibly even your second — may be enough to turn some off to a PhD program completely. 

But that's not to say you should ditch the idea. After all, many PhD graduates find success in their field, so it can pay off. The worst thing that can happen, though, is if you go through the program and spend the time and money earning your PhD, only to not have a backup plan when you don't accomplish your original goal.

Take some time to consider alternate plans before you commit to a PhD program. Think about asking others who have pursued your particular field of study and learn some potential options that you can pursue in the event that your plan A doesn't work out.

3. Understand the importance of time management

A PhD program can be time-consuming, with one Redditor saying they spend roughly 50 to 60 hours a week keeping up with coursework and doing additional research. But user SnowblindAlbino, who is now a professor, mentions in their  comment  that a lot of that time is unstructured.

In other words, time management is crucial to a successful PhD experience, not only in how much time you spend but how you separate that time into different activities.

Another commenter on that post, user cosmospring, wrote that their time spent on their program varied wildly depending on whether or not they had a deadline:

"Not really average days/weeks. More like 'average days when staring down the barrel of a deadline' and 'average days when not staring down a deadline.' The former: 10-12h at the keyboard. The latter: 6-8h at the keyboard and 2-4h doing something else academic (teaching, reading, navigating bureaucracy...). Once or twice/week cut those by 50-75% (the days off) and do laundry/something fun, unless there's a looming deadline."

Every program is different, so it's important that you approach your time management based on what works best for you and your program.

4. Seek balance

A PhD program can be grueling, so it's crucial that you find balance, according to user Theblackswapper1. On one  post  where another Redditor asked for advice, Theblackswapper1 commented that students owe it to themselves to have a workout routine and to take breaks when needed — though not as an avoidance activity.

More importantly, don't neglect your mental health and get help if you need it, they wrote: "Most colleges and universities have free counseling services for students. Now everyone's path is unique, and everyone's story is different, but I know that I regret not reaching out for help earlier."

5. Consider the opportunity cost

While there's no guarantee that a PhD program will improve your career path, you can still use average figures to try to find out what the return on investment of a doctoral degree can be. 

As part of that formula, user buspsych comments on one  post , recommending that you consider the opportunity cost of pursuing a PhD. Even if you get free tuition, you're missing out on income you could be earning with a full-time job. Depending on how much the degree increases your salary, divide that by the opportunity cost to find out how long it'll take to make the degree worth it.

You'll also want to consider how pursuing a PhD program may delay your retirement savings and other important financial goals.

Ultimately, there's no right or wrong answer to whether a PhD program is worth pursuing, so it's crucial that you run the numbers for your situation to decide if it's right for you.

how to find a phd program reddit

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Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer based in Salt Lake City, UT. He loves helping people better understand their finances. When he's not traveling, Ben enjoys spending time with his kids, hiking, and watching films. His work has been featured in U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, MarketWatch, Fox Business, and many other publications.

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Friday, April 5, 2024 • 2:30 pm Amherst Room, 10th Floor, UMass Campus Center Reception to immediately follow

" A Study on Telemedicine Adoption, with Implications for Healthcare, Telecommunications and Land use - Transportation Planning "  Research with PhD Student Angela Haddad

Abstract: Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth, is the practice of using information-communication technology (ICT) to receive medical care or advice remotely from clinicians, either in real-time or asynchronously. In this study, using multivariate econometric models, we identify determinants of telemedicine use in the “after-COVID” period. In addition to investigating telemedicine adoption tendencies, we investigate the underlying reasons for both adopting and not adopting telemedicine in the after-COVID period. The primary data used in this study is obtained from the COVID Future Survey administered to a stratified random sample of households across the U.S. during the period spanning from October to November of 2021. The results contribute significantly to our understanding of telemedicine adoption and its implications, and provide important insights for multiple sectors, including healthcare, telecommunication, and land use-transportation planning.


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  1. How To Get Into A PhD Program?

    how to find a phd program reddit

  2. How To Find A PhD Program That YOU Will Love

    how to find a phd program reddit

  3. Deciding where to apply for a PhD?

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  4. How to get a PhD: Steps and Requirements Explained

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  5. How Do I Get Into a PhD Program? A Guide for Aspiring PhDs

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    how to find a phd program reddit


  1. What Purpose does Spiritual Knowledge Serve?

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  1. Guide: How To Find Programs That Fit Your Interests

    University of Arizona. Arizona State University. etc. etc. etc. Click into each of their websites, look at their graduate programs, and see if they have any programs that match your interests. I legitimately looked through the entire list of programs at each university, and opened a new tab for each program that matched my interests (I research ...

  2. How to find PhD programs in desired field? : r/PhD

    The best ranking system I could find was USNews Top Graduate Schools in Political Science. As you mentioned, the Ivy's, Stanford, Berkeley, Chicago, Georgetown, etc. are the main ones. There some amazing Big Ten schools too, like Michigan (which competes with the Ivy's actually), Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State (where I did my masters ...

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    Discussion forum for current, past, and future students of any discipline completing post-graduate studies - taught or research. Members Online Electrical-Shallot-2

  4. Best advice when choosing between PhD offers? : r/GradSchool

    School 1 - Ivy League, humanities PhD - most prestigious. School 2 - public Ivy, humanities PhD. School 3 - top 10 US school, humanities PhD (awaiting decision after interview) School 4 - top 5-10 UK school, science PhD - best PI. School 5 - specialist school in the UK, lower ranking but great for its specialism, social sciences PhD (awaiting ...

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    From the 4 "trial" applications I've made (to phd programs in Germany )- I've gotten 3 rejections and been through the interview process at one place (still waiting for the results on that). I'm planning to take a break after my contract ends in June and spend the majority of 2024 just applying to labs -

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    Here are some methods to supercharge your group projects: Ground Rules Rock: At the outset, establish clear ground rules. Discuss communication preferences (email, text, etc.), deadlines for individual tasks, and expectations for participation. Clear communication prevents confusion and resentment later.

  7. How to look for a PhD program? : r/PhD

    Find the sweet spots. 6. Make a list of targeted countries/areas. Different areas = different rules = different cultures. Even when these areas are close to each other, the culture, the scholarship terms, and the experience can be totally different. As an illustration, my PhD program does not involve any courses.

  8. How to navigate a PhD in a different field? : r/PhD

    Hi everyone! So long story short, my first PhD year will be over in a few days and I feel really lost. My background is in Biology but the project I'm working on has a lot of Chemistry, besides Biology. Unfortunately, by accepting my studentship I could only choose this project or another.

  9. Applying for a Ph.D.? These 10 tips can help you succeed

    To get a sense of your chances, check out the CVs of current Ph.D. students in the programs or try to find information from professional societies. The American Psychological Association, for example, publishes the average GPA and standardized test scores of most psychology programs' incoming graduate students.

  10. How to Choose the Right PhD Programme

    6. Think about your research environment. We could have called this step 'choose the right university' but what really makes a university a good choice for a PhD is the environment it provides for doctoral research in your field. You can get some sense of this from traditional measurements of university 'quality'.

  11. Graduate School on Reddit: A Comprehensive Guide for Prospective

    5. Remember to take breaks and focus on self-care. Graduate school can be stressful and overwhelming, and spending too much time on Reddit or any other online platform can exacerbate these feelings. Remember to take breaks, focus on self-care, and seek support from trusted friends and family members when needed.

  12. Graduate School Acceptance Rates: Can You Get In?

    #1: School or Program Prestige. How prestigious a particular grad school or program is can affect its overall competitiveness and selectivity. In general, the more prestigious a program is, the more competitive it'll be and thus the lower acceptance rate it'll have. An easy way to determine school or program prestige is to consult official rankings, such as those listed on U.S. News.

  13. Grad School Search

    If you are looking for a grad school that suits your academic and career goals, you can use The Princeton Review's grad school search tool to find and compare hundreds of programs across various fields and locations. You can also access helpful resources on grad school rankings, admissions, testing, and financing from The Princeton Review's website.

  14. Has anyone here been accepted into a PhD program without significant

    If the experience was high quality, I don't think this should be an absolute barrier to you. I assume you aren't looking at extremely research-heavy programs anyways - that is where you may run into issues in that regard. Even my clinical science program routinely accepted some outstanding candidates who didn't have any posters/pubs.

  15. How to find the right place for your Ph.D. or postdoc

    There is a lot at stake when choosing where to do your postdoc or Ph.D. Choosing a lab that is excellent scientifically should allow you to do excellent research, publish in excellent journals, and network with other excellent researchers. At the same time, doing research is a very intense personal experience that involves working closely with ...

  16. I am currently debating whether to leave my PhD program- any advice?

    Many graduate students go to graduate school as a family tradition. Their parents/relatives are academics. They were raised to be academics. Most (if not all) graduate students have trouble with their course/research works in school one time or another. Many graduate students lose their interests in the school. Some quit. Some stay.

  17. PhD Search

    If you would like to receive the latest information on postgraduate studentships and PhD opportunities direct to your inbox, please click the button below to sign up, and also find out more about our £5,000 postgraduate scholarship. Find out more. Find a PhD is a comprehensive guide to PhD studentships and postgraduate research degrees.

  18. How to Get a PhD (with Pictures)

    Completing Prerequisite Education. Download Article. 1. Complete an undergraduate degree in a broad field. To qualify for a PhD program, you will need a solid record of undergraduate coursework from a reputable university. [2] This degree should demonstrate your potential for both advanced coursework and independent research.

  19. graduate admissions

    0. Roughly: good grades (3.8+ GPA) in difficult courses, good test scores (80+ percentile on math GRE subject test [not the regular GRE math, which you should get a ~perfect score on without studying]), strong research background and good letters corresponding to it. That will get you into schools in the top ~30.

  20. Applying to PhD Programs: When, Where, How, and Why?

    In sum, the steps in deciding where to apply for PhD study are as follows: Choose your field of study. Identify your area (s) within that field. Discover the specific topics you find most fascinating. Consider what methods you want to employ. Evaluate the merits of prospective faculty advisors.

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  22. Is an MD/PhD program right for me? Advice on becoming a physician

    Now there are ∼90 active MD/PhD programs that admit anywhere from a few students per year to 25 or more. The average size of an MD/PhD program in 2017 was ∼90 students in all stages of training. Compared with the many thousands who apply to medical school in each year, only 1900 (∼3%) apply to MD/PhD programs.

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  24. This is an entry-level position : r/jobs

    Yeah academic training really isn't the same thing as real world experience. The only exception is having a PhD. That typically counts as 2-4 years of experience because a PhD often involves practical real world experience in the form of research. Depends on the industry though.

  25. Best 5 PHD Reddit Posts Everyone Should Read

    Here are five of those posts and how they can help you make the best decision about your education. 1. There's no guarantee that a PhD will improve your career path. Many people pursue a PhD program in order to increase their chances of getting a good job or earn more money.

  26. William W. Boyer Lecture : College of Engineering

    The results contribute significantly to our understanding of telemedicine adoption and its implications, and provide important insights for multiple sectors, including healthcare, telecommunication, and land use-transportation planning. Professor William W. Boyer was instrumental in the development of the UMass Transportation Program in the ...