Choosing a Program
Factors that were important to me! Everyone ranks these decision factors differently in their own minds.
Also keep in mind that my application process was fully virtual. I drove to two schools on the east coast that were within a 7 hour drive from my undergraduate institution, but I was considering 5 programs at the end. Just keep that in mind - in person visits are so important!
This goes back to a cardinal rule of having a sufficient number of labs whose research you find interesting. If you are interested in an interdisciplinary field like epigenetics or chemical biology, does the school have centers or institutes to support those types of research programs long-term?
This factor is more important than most people initially realize. A Ph.D. takes on average 5.5 years which is a huge amount of time! Out of your options - which place do you feel happiest when you step outside? Are there hobbies for you to get into in your spare time? Do you feel safe getting around the city/town?
During your interviews and recruitment weekends, how did the current students and other interviewing students treat you? Did your peers make you feel as though you would be able to grow alongside them instead of feeling as though you would have to compete with them?
You'll be spending the next 5+ years with these people!
Cost of Living
Arguably the most important factor to me. Most biomedical Ph.D. programs in the US will give you a stipend to cover living expenses. Is it enough to pay for a reasonable place to live? How expensive is it to live in that city?
I used the MIT living wage calculator to determine how my top cities compared to one another.
Unfortunately, every program has their handful of bad apples among the faculty, and it is really difficult to not judge a whole program based on one bad interaction. Consider how the majority of faculty interacted with you - how much time did they spend trying to get to know you and your individual interests?
Things to do Outside of Lab
A mentor once told me that a Ph.D. is a marathon not a sprint. Don't put your life completely on hold to chase this degree. Does the school have organizations to join that interest you? Does the city have adventures that appeal to you?