Choosing a graduate programme

With thousands of academic programmes, world-class institutions and unmatched flexibility, the USA offers a breadth of higher education opportunities you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Narrowing these institutions down can be an exciting and surprising process. Many students find their perfect match at a graduate school or location they’d not previously thought of.

Follow our three-step process for choosing the best university for you!

Step 1: Think before you search

Speak to those closest to you and prioritise the most important factors for your US graduate experience. The below list is not exclusive, but lays out some things you might consider:

You should also speak to:

  • Your university careers or postgraduate education adviser
  • Anyone you know who has studied in the USA

Step 2: Do your research

Once you know what’s important to you, it’s time to do some research and put together a list of 10-20 graduate programmes that meet most or all of your criteria.

The following resources let you search for universities using many of the factors above:

Some of these resources include university rankings, but rankings in the USA are not the same as in UK. Some don’t rate the quality of teaching or graduate prospects, and some give weight to how much money a university has, or invite universities to peer rank themselves.

Rankings can be useful tools, but shouldn’t be the only method you use to choose a university. Use these search functions to look for universities that meet the factors that are important to you.

Step 3: Narrow your choices

Once you have 10-20 programmes that meet your criteria, you should narrow this list down to the ones to which you will apply. Think strategically, and spread your chances of admission.

We recommend you apply to three to five graduate programmes, in order to maximise your competitiveness:

  • One highly competitive programme to reach for
  • One to two that match your academic profile
  • One to two where your academic profile is safely higher than their average

If you require university funding, consider applying to more 'safety' than 'match' and 'reach' schools. Wherever your academic profile is higher than a graduate school's average, you will be a very competitive applicant and will stand a greater chance of gaining merit-based scholarships if they are available.

Campus visits and faculty contact

You do not need to visit a US university before you apply, and making contact with prospective faculty is not necessary.

Campuses are usually open for self-guided tours throughout the year, except federal holidays and winter closures. Please contact each university to find out their specific arrangements, and when guided tours are available.

If you can’t visit a university, consider the following:

  • Check if virtual tours are available
  • Ask the graduate school to put you in touch with a British student or alumnus
  • Follow the university and department on social media

If you are seriously interested in a particular class, or working with a particular professor, you can e-mail them. But be aware that they are very busy people, and that it's not common in the US to seek out PhD supervisors before applying.