In Academics, graduate school on
May 13, 2016

The Road To PhD: 5 Things I Am Looking For In My PhD Program

As some of you may know, right now I am getting my Master’s in Sociology here in Arkansas. Today on the blog I want to share the five things I am looking for in a graduate program and why I am looking for those things. This summer, among many other things my goal is to narrow down a list of schools I want to apply to this fall. On the road to my Ph.D., I will be sharing an in-depth look at a variety of different topics. If you are starting the application process for a graduate program this summer too, I’d love to hear your opinions. Also, this post was inspired by a post on Kayla Blogs titled, “SLP Grad School: Deciding Where To Apply,” She gives a lot of great advice there, and I hope this post is just as helpful for those applying to graduate schools soon.

 The Road To PhD: 5 Things I Am Looking For In My PhD Program | Picking a PhD program can be very difficult. There are a lot of questions about the program that you have to ask because you are potentially devoting years of your life to a program. Click through to find out what I am looking for in my PhD program as well as a free guide featuring 20 questions to think about when picking a graduate program.


As some of you know, I am an Arkansas native. I have lived here my entire life, and honestly, I haven’t spent that much time outside of the state. There are no Sociology PhD program in the state of Arkansas unfortunately. If I would like to continue my education in Sociology, I have to leave the state. This is rather sad for me, because my whole life is here. All of the family that I love and adore are currently living here and it’s the only home I have ever known.

Academia requires you to be able to move around though, so I understand that I will probably have to move around quite a bit to find the school I want, a school the will hire me once I get my PhD, etc. I am hoping to stay pretty close to Arkansas though. I have been looking at places like Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama for places to go to get my PhD. Although, I completely understand that that won’t be easy. I might have to look outside of my comfort zone for a place to attend if it means a greater education.


Diversity is pretty important to me. Not just diversity in skin color; but diversity in gender, religion, ideas, sexuality, etc. I want to be around a diverse group of people with lots of amazing and unique stories to tell. I also would love diversity in the professors that I am exposed to if at all possible–not just within the school itself. Not to be so weird here, but in my department of choice I have never taken a class with an African American woman as my professor in either of the schools I have attended. It would be so nice to able to have a class like that during my PhD program. It would give me so much confidence in my own teaching abilities to actually see someone like me teaching a course in a subject that I love. *I’ll stop being so emotional now.*

On a less emotional note, diversity is important to me. I want to be able to see and understand a variety of voices during my PhD years. I love having discussions with my classmates now. I learn so much from the people who are attending my master’s program with me. I can’t wait to attend a PhD program and be exposed to many more voices and opinions.

Research areas

I already know what I want to focus on in my sociological career. I have decided that race and social movements/collective behavior are two areas of sociology that I am very interested in. I am excited to find a program where I can study at least one of those (bonus points if I can study them both at the same time!)

Understanding your research area when it comes to a PhD program is especially important because this is essentially the training you get for the rest of your life so you want to make sure you love what you study. Often times during your PhD program you are getting a lot of opportunities to not only get training but to get a ton of real world experience through publishing research, teaching classes, etc so it’s important that you get your research area down so you can pick a program based on the research areas they offer.

Assistantship/funding opportunities

Graduate school is super expensive. It costs a lot of money and a PhD program can literally take years of your life. Since graduate school is so expensive it is important that my graduate school of choice has great assistantship and funding opportunities so that I can pay for my school in other ways.

Right now I am so fortunate to have a graduate assistantship during my years getting a master’s and it gives me so much great experience. I was so fortunate that I was even able to attend a class with one of my professors. I love the experience that assistantships bring and I can’t wait to continue being a graduate assistant this summer and in the fall. Check out my post all about graduate assistantships if you want more information about the process.

Extra-curricular activities

I have talked about involvement in college a lot on this blog, and I want the graduate culture at my PhD institution to be great. Since I do have to leave the state for my PhD program I really want to have other great activities to throw myself into so I don’t miss Arkansas so much in graduate school. Having great extra-curricular activities is so crucial in my opinion so that I can gain leadership opportunities, connect with new people, and more. I want to be really involved in school where I get my PhD so that I can stay sane during the years it will take me to get a PhD.

Getting involved, even as you get older, is very important. You should look for different clubs on your campus related to graduate school, your graduate school major, and anything you can do on campus to be involved like attending games or lectures. Involvement is just as important in graduate school as it is when you are a freshman in college.

I hope this information was helpful for you as you think about your graduate program. What are you looking for in your graduate program? Everyone is different and while I care about these topics you may not care about them at all. I’d love to hear what you are looking for or what you looked for in a graduate program if you are already in one!

Amanda Cross
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Amanda Cross

Amanda is the founder of The Happy Arkansan. She is a happiness enthusiast with a passion for helping others and red/purple lipstick.
Amanda Cross
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  • Meagan

    Great post! I think it’s so important to invest time and effort into decisions like these because it can greatly impact your future. I am just finishing up my masters program and I definitely had similar questions before making any decision.

    May 13, 2016 at 2:23 pm Reply
    • Amanda Cross

      Thank you so much for this comment Meagan! Applying for graduate school of any kind is definitely an important life decision. I agree that it can greatly impact your future.

      May 14, 2016 at 6:40 pm Reply
  • Georgiana Daniels

    First….how on earth do you maintain such a beautiful blog while in grad school??? Seriously applauding you!!! Recently, I’ve kicked around the idea of grad school, but unlike you, I’m not moving, lol! The school in our town is slim pickings for graduate programs 🙁

    May 13, 2016 at 4:26 pm Reply
    • Amanda Cross

      Thank you so much for your sweet comments. Getting my blog together definitely took a village. Earlier this year I hired a designer to design and set up my site and pick my colors and such. Best investment ever! I hope that you find a great graduate program Georgiana!

      May 14, 2016 at 6:49 pm Reply
  • Tiffany Griffin

    You’re doing big things Amanda. I know it’s scary moving away from your home for the first time, but it’ll all work out. Good luck on your journey!

    May 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm Reply
    • Amanda Cross

      Thank you so much for your sweet words Tiffany! I really appreciate it. 🙂

      May 14, 2016 at 6:54 pm Reply
  • Rachel | Finding the Wardrobe

    Wow, good for you! Doing this takes courage. Best of luck to you!!

    May 13, 2016 at 7:48 pm Reply
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