Applying to doctoral programs in science I

I keep giving advice over the years on how best to apply for doctoral programs. It’s time to put down at least the most central part of this advice as a service to loyal readers who, after careful consideration, have decided to go on to get their PhD in science. The advice here is somewhat localized (to use the computer software vocabulary): it applies best to my own field of neuroscience and the value of the advice probably tails off significantly as the discipline becomes further from my own. I’d also welcome comments on my advice (although, as always, I’ll moderate) because there may be valuable insights from other faculty members who are also readers of Advanced Studies.

So first piece of advice: understand that the costs of education at the doctoral level in neuroscience are counter-intuitive, especially to an undergraduate. The more established elite institutions (with the stellar undergraduate tuition costs) actually are the better economic deals for a doctoral student. That’s because they typically pay higher graduate student stipends and almost universally wave tuition. Sometimes they even subsidize housing (in expensive housing markets like Manhattan).

The result is that, in deciding where you want to apply for graduate school (in the hard sciences), don’t be scared off by what the undergraduate tuition costs may be. If admitted (with a fellowship and most folks are), you’ll be looking at probably full tuition remission and a substantial stipend. If you can get subsidized housing in addition, you’re earn your PhD with a small amount of savings and at least no debt.