April 05, 2007
By David Darlington
When looking for a graduate school, many sources should be considered and factors weighed. Faculty advisors, the history department (faculty and fellow students), parents, the U.S. News rankings, and the AHA’s Directory of History Departments should all be consulted. Important questions should be asked, like: Is this school strong in my field? Does it have the faculty I need to complete my work? Do program graduates have an easy time getting jobs? What’s the school’s academic reputation? Is the school somewhere I want to live for the next few years? Will I get funding?
PhDs.org’s Graduate School Guide, now in public beta, promises to be a useful tool in deciding on a graduate program. The site ranks 5,894 graduate programs in all fields, at 418 universities, using data culled from the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and the National Center for Education Statistics. Although it includes history in the “Social and Behavioral Sciences” rather than “Arts and Humanities” (except for art history, which is placed properly), the depth and flexibility of the search engine make the site worth a look.
After selecting their discipline, site users get to refine their search by ranking factors under the broader categories of “Educational Quality and Outcomes,” “Faculty Reputation and Activity,” “Tuition and Expenses,” “Funding and Student Support,” “Student Demographics,” “Program Size,” and “Undergraduate Selectivity.” Each category has 3-6 factors underneath it, which users then rank as to how important that factor is to them on a scale of 0-5 (zero indicating that the factor will not be included in ranking the schools). Under “Educational Quality and Outcomes,” for example, users rank how important they regard the factors of time to degree, placement rate (overall placement, also broken down to placement in a postdoc or in the academy), and how well the program is regarded at other institutions. Under “Student Demographics,” users can rank schools based on the numbers of women, minorities, foreign students, and part-timers in their program.
After the user has ranked the 28 factors (or as many as they wish), the search displays how the history programs in the database stack up. There are 154 history programs in the database, though unfortunately the program mixes history programs at seminaries with those in regular academia. Still, the raw data output is comparable to U.S. News, and, as an added benefit, users can re-rank their factors right on the output page rather than completing the survey again. Clicking on the school’s name brings up more data about that program.
The raw data can be overwhelming, but when combined with the AHA’s Directory and consultation with an academic advisor, the site can contribute to making an informed decision on graduate school.