I was just having lunch together with some fellow foreign graduate students from Knoesis.  Our casual remarks on how each of us will spend the upcoming winter breaks developed into an interesting discussion because one of them has a girlfriend that is coming to WSU to do a PhD, despite getting 1520 on GRE which is an extremely high score. If you’re wondering how high is high for a GRE score: she got 800 out of maximum 800 for the quantitative part and 720 out of 800 for the verbal part. Getting a perfect quantitative score is actually doable for fairly good natural science/engineering students, as long as you’re careful in understanding the questions and answering them. However, getting above 700 for a verbal score is very difficult, more so if you’re a foreign student and majoring in subjects which do not really need perfect verbal skills, e.g., natural science or engineering. Even native American English speakers would find it difficult to get such a high score. Oh by the way, the girl in question is a Chinese.

Knowing that this one fellow A whose girlfriend is in question will probably finish his PhD in the next 2.5 years, one of the other fellow remarked that she should have applied to more prestigious top-10 universities like MIT, or Stanford, or at least other universities in top-30 which, he perceives, are better than Wright State. He even told us a story of his friend who got 1380 in GRE and succeeded in getting admitted to MIT. He said that after 2.5 years, this fellow A would probably find a job and moving out of Dayton, and thus it is better if she chooses a university like MIT or Stanford, so that they could be together from then on.

I did not comment much in this occasion, but this discussion made me wondering about the reasons why one person choose a certain university X over the others for his/her graduate study. There can be many factors affecting the decisions, e.g.:

  • University X is (one of) the most prestigious and famous university in the country. This might be a typical reason that comes to mind when someone decides to go on to graduate study. The fame and prestige of having labeled “an alumnus of X” is certainly very tempting and in my experience, most often than not, it made people perceives you as better than most people, which may help you in finding a job.
  • University X has a study program of my interest which ranks as (one of) the top of the country. Although University X needs not be the most famous or prestigious, this is actually similar as above. The difference is probably in the sense that the better perception will come most likely from people whose area is closely related to that particular study program.
  • I know (possibly personally) a very good professor in my subject area who works in University X. This professor is probably a famous person in the area, and/or has published many scientific papers in the area, and/or has obtained large amount of funding from his research grants, and/or works in a lab/research group with the most modern and complete facilities. I suppose a good professor would probably has almost of all of those. He/she may be either young with a potentially exciting scientific career ahead or old with an established reputation. He/she may be a person who is not only good in doing research but also good as a mentor that enables you to reach your further goals of your scientific and professional life.
  • University X is not the best, but still good enough while also affordable with respect to my financial situation. This often happens when you’re looking for further advance study, but you have to pay the cost by yourself. For PhD student in the U.S., this is rather seldom because typically PhD student is supported through teaching or research assistantship, or other sources of funding. But such supports are not always available for students in the master’s level.
  • I am restricted to the requirements from the party that funds my study. If you’re funded through some funding agency, e.g., governmental agency or NGOs, then it may happen that the agency predetermines which universities that can be applied in order to get funded. In that case, you probably have no choice, except comply to the requirement.
  • University X is located relatively close to my home or my relative’s home. This one thing  is also considered, particularly if you get homesick easily.
  • My parents/family/boss forces me to study at University X.
  • My wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend studies at University X, and I want to be together with him/her.
  • Other reasons…

In the case of my fellow’s girlfriend, it’s probably because she knows personally a professor in our research center (she did an internship under him), aside from the fact that her boyfriend studies at WSU.

In my case, I would say that I chose WSU not because it’s a top-10 university (though it’s still one of the best in the midwest area), but more because Pascal Hitzler works here. I’ve known him (though not personally) since the time he was in Germany, and his research coincides with my interests too. Moreover, Pascal works at Amit Sheth‘s Knoesis Center, which is one of the U.S. top three research group in the Semantic Web area. Admittedly, I did put Wright State as my second choice when I applied for the Fulbright grant last year. My first choice was Carnegie-Mellon, but then CMU rejected my application. So, I guess it’s kinda fated of me to be here. :-). I certainly don’t know now whether Wright State is the right choice for me, but I believe it is.

In the end, I think, everyone differ on their consideration when choosing a university to do a graduate study. In the master’s level, I suppose, you would weigh in more on the university’s and program’s reputation and quality. But in the PhD level, relationship with your professor probably has more say in deciding your choice.  In any case, I do believe that the above reasons take precedence over other reasons (except if you’re restricted to some condition tied to your funding).