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Making Choices

Congratulations! Your efforts paid off and you got admitted.

Now is the time for you and the admission committee/the Program to switch the roles. You will be choosing and they will be telling you how good they are. Treat the process of making choices as an all-important one, the choice you make will define your life for at least next five-six years. If you have an opportunity to visit schools do so if not don't feel upset, most of the information can be found on the internet and by e-mail.

Visiting Schools

Here I will be talking about post-admission visits to universities.

Taking a trip to the schools under consideration will be a valuable experience for you. Most schools arrange such 2-4 days trips (usually from mid-March till mid-April) for all admitted students together. The school provides travel allowance of $200-500, thus it makes sense to visit 2-4 schools to cover all your travel expenses and get an idea of differences between universities and programs.

The school visit will help you to learn more about the "feel" of the school, speak with current students, meet faculty members, discuss their research and possible research projects you might get involved into.

School visits is a great way to learn more about the school. You will get a sense on how you might fit in with this program and this campus. Sitting in the library stacks, watching interactions across the quadrangle, reading the school newspaper, and overhearing student conversations are all nonobtrusive means to gauging the ephemeral "quality of social life." You should leave the school with a much better sense of the school's intellectual and social climate.

The interviews with the faculty members are optional, but I would highly advise you to go through them. You have already been admitted so you have nothing to loose. On the other hand talking with your possible prospective advisors will help you understand whether you are interested in working with them or not. During the interviews follow all those standard rules about eye contact, self-confident presentation, and so forth. Know the some specifics about the research in which you are interested and be prepared with intelligent questions to ask. These post-admission interviews are generally informal and more resemble a mutual question-and-answer session.

Comparing Programs

If you had a chance to visit schools use the insights you gained during your visit. If not ask the secretary of find on the internet e-mails of current graduate students and ask them questions. Not all them will respond but many will and this will give some interesting and valuable insider information.

When comparing different programs I would suggest you consider the following aspects:

University's and Program's rating

That is obviously important. The better the program, the better the faculty members and the higher level of the graduate students.

Faculty Members working in your chosen area

Importance of this aspect often gets underestimated. If you are unsure in what field you would like to work, then you probably do not need to bother about that. On the other hand if you have already decided that you want to work in the field of Theoretical Condensed Matter, for example, check how many professors at this university work in this field, how old they are (don't count those over 60-65), whether they take new students. Make sure that there are at least 2 professors (better 3-5) which you consider as your possible scientific advisors.

Location and Climate

This might seem of little importance at first but think of that in the example of Russia. Would you choose to study and work with the top researchers in the field at the university X in Samara or Ryazan or Novorossiisk or whatever or would you rather work with less famous people in Moscow or St. Peterburg? Although American cities does not differ in living conditions, cultural attractions, etc as much as Russian do, it is still true that live in the coastal, Mid-Western, Southern and Northern states is quite different. I have been in most states in US and my personal opinion is that the best states to live are costal. As a general rule mid-American states are more traditional, conservative and costal states are more diverse and active.

Also, do check for the climate, the month by month temperatures can be found for all major cities in US.

Financial Support

The importance of this factor tends to be overestimated by Russian students, I guess, this is mostly to our financial hardship here. Overall once you get financial support and it is said to continue during your period of studies, which is what you generally get if you get admitted, the exact amount of support does not matter that much. Universities will give you enough money to cover all your basic needs, thus I would suggest you not to prioritize this factor. You might consider whether you will receive Scholarship, TA or RA, though this is usually given only for the first year and then you will get RA. In some universities for some professors in theory (because they have less money than those in experiment) you might be required to teach (be TA) during all your period of studies, you might want to check on that with secretary or current graduate students.

Personal Considerations

You might want to consider whether some of your friends are already at this university, maybe your current lab has collaboration with the lab at the university under consideration, etc.

Being Polite

Contact Your Recommenders
The people who have recommended you would love to hear from you. Why don't you call, visit, or write them a letter? Tell them where you got admitted, which program you have finally chosen, and how the whole thing went.

Thank People who Helped you in the Application Process
Remember those people who have proofread and critiqued your application materials, those who helped you to write your statement and recommendations, those who said good word about you to the admission committee members, etc. Thank them, tell them where you got admitted, which offer you have accepted. They have been helping you and they will be pleased to hear from you.


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