Graduate School Information
Deciding whether to go to graduate or professional school is an important and often difficult decision to make. Pursuing graduate study affords you the opportunity to delve more deeply into a subject area than you were able to in your undergraduate education. In most cases, you will also be able to work closely with professors and conduct research of your own.
A demanding schedule with work, teaching, research, and classes will require you to develop personal motivation as much of your work will be independent (particularly true for Ph.D. programs). Because of the demands, as well as the rewards, not to mention the costs, it is important that you give this decision much thought.
At the Career and Professional Development Office we would like to assist you in making the best decision for your educational future.
Making the Decision
Questions to Ask Yourself
What would you like to be doing five to ten years from now, and will graduate study assist you in getting there? Take the time to ask yourself some difficult questions. Think about what you want to learn and accomplish from graduate study, and whether it would be better to go immediately after finishing your undergraduate degree or waiting two to five years to begin.
Ask for Advice
Talk to faculty members, alumni who have volunteered to talk with you about their employment experiences, and our specialists at the Career and Professional Development Office as you explore your decision and ask about graduate programs that could match your interests and educational goals. You should also read graduate school catalogs and general directories on areas of study, such as Graduate Study in Psychology and Guide to Graduate Management Education.
Research Graduate Programs
If after much consideration and soul-searching, you decide that graduate school is for you, the next step is to conduct research to find a program that might meet your needs and interests. Check out these websites:
- Peterson's Guides
- College Source
- Law School Admission Council Online
- Kaplan Online
- The Princeton Review
- Association of American Medical Colleges
- Law School Directory
- America's Best Colleges
Choosing the Right School
Write to the Graduate Division of the potential institutions or contact them via the Internet for application materials, information on financial aid, a catalog, and information on a particular program or department. (This later information you may have to obtain from the department itself.)
Establish which criteria are important to you in the selection of a university or college. Factors you might consider include the following list:
Research recent faculty publications to see whether the faculty members’ interests are similar to your own interests. In many cases, what professors publish is what they spend the most of their time talking about, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Try to ascertain how accessible faculty members are to graduate students. For example, are there several notable professors on the faculty? If so, ask the students how often they actually see or talk with these faculty members, and how likely it would be to work with them on a research project or see them in a class.
Are there a variety of points-of-view in the department, or are most of the faculty members' approaches to their discipline rather single-minded? Consider whether you would rather be a disciple or develop your own approach to the field.
Consider how many faculty members are in the department, and whether the department's reputation rests heavily upon the shoulders of just one or two professors. What if they should go elsewhere?
Three-to-Five Year Outlook
Inquire about the kinds of employment that are most frequently accepted by graduates of the program you are considering. Visit the institutions and ask near-graduates what they expect to be doing after they graduate.
Try to learn the percentage of graduates and degree candidates for which the department succeeds in finding employment, and to what extent the department is helpful in enabling the graduate to find suitable work.
How many Ph.D.'s has this department produced yearly? What is the average length of time it takes to complete the degree? Is the master's a terminal degree in the program? If not, as a master's student, how much attention will you get from professors or do they devote their time to working with Ph.D. candidates?
Internships and Assistantships
Ask about opportunities for internships, assistantships, and any planned practical experiences.
Fellowships and Funds
Find out how much fellowship money is available, how many students receive fellowships, and how these decisions might be determined.
The Application Process
Use this guide to learn how the graduate school application works and what you can to do to create a successful application.
Most applications consist of six sections:
- Application form
- Personal statement/autobiography/essays/portfolio
- Transcripts of past academic work
- Letters of recommendation
- Test scores (GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT)
- Financial aid forms
Many schools have application deadlines well in advance of the entrance date. Be sure to check the particular department in which you are applying for the application deadline dates. You also need to be aware that financial aid deadlines are often different (and sometimes earlier) than the regular application dates. Be sure to register for the appropriate test well in advance of when the institutions need your scores. Begin the application process early. It often takes more time than you realize to complete the forms and to send the letters of recommendation and transcripts.
Filling Out Your Application Form
In completing the application form and personal statement, make sure you follow directions on formatting and length. It should state who you are, your goals, and why you want to attend that particular institution in clear and concise language.
For many schools, the written essay plays an extremely important role in the selection process. Have someone review your personal statement or essay and check for clarity and proper grammar. The tutors and staff in the Writing Center are happy to review personal statements.
If you are applying to more than one institution, it is important to record all activity related to the application process to stay organized.
You made be required to take an entrance exam in order to apply to your potential graduate program. Learn more about entrance exams for graduate programs with these online resources:
- DAT (Dental Admission Test). Required for dental school admission. It measures knowledge in natural science, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Required by business schools to evaluate potential for advanced study in business and management. It measures verbal, quantitative, and writing skills.
- GRE (Graduate Records Examination). Required for a wide variety of graduate programs. It has three sections, measuring your verbal skills, quantitative abilities, and analytical writing. It also offers subject tests.
- LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). Required for law school admission. It tests logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension.
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Required for medical school admission. It assesses problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing, as well as knowledge of scientific concepts and principles.
- OATP (Optometry Admission Testing Program). Required for optometry program admission. It evaluates general academic ability and comprehension of scientific information in four sections: natural sciences, reading comprehension, physics and quantitative reasoning.
- PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test). Required for pharmacy school admission. It evaluates general academic ability and scientific knowledge necessary for pharmaceutical education
Letters of Reference
Most graduate schools require two or three letters of reference. Some schools may simply ask that you supply names and addresses, others will provide you with forms that you must give to the recommenders, and still others will request letters but have no specified form. Remember that for very competitive program, a letter on departmental stationary directed to that particular program may give a better impression of you. Contact your references to see if they are willing to compose individual letters. References may use the same letter for all institutions but individualize it with a school’s address.
To assist in facilitating your reference requests:
- Provide each recommender with information about your interests, classes you have taken, activities you have been involved in, and why you want to attend graduate school.
- Include information about the particular graduate school(s) that you are considering.
- Indicate the deadline. Make sure to give the recommender at least a month before the deadline date. Conduct a follow-up contact with recommender to ensure the letters have been sent on time.
- Give the recommenders pre-addressed, stamped envelopes, if applicable.
- Send a thank you note.
Ensure Your Materials Are Complete
Make sure that you have completed all of the necessary forms and that the appropriate office has received them. You should conduct follow-up telephone calls to confirm that the graduate school has received your materials. Never assume that because you have not heard from an office, your application is complete.
In graduate school, you will be working closely with your advisor, so you should conduct research on the individuals who most closely match your interests. The graduate catalog often lists the research interests of the faculty. Check in the college for publications written by these faculties. Are they conducting research or writing in areas of interest to you? Write or call the faculty member who interests you. Inform the person that you have applied to the program, what your interests are, and how your interests relate to the faculty member’s research. If possible, schedule a time to meet, or at least talk on the phone. This way, when your application comes across the faculty member’s desk, it will be more memorable.
Visit the School
A visit to the university or college can be particularly enlightening. Sit in on the classes, talk with students currently in the program, talk with faculty, check out the physical and social environment of the campus and community.
Consider whether this is a place where you will feel comfortable living/working/studying for the next few years. If you cannot visit the school, ask for names of alumni in your area with whom you can discuss the program in greater detail.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy your free time. Form a group of friends who can provide you with support once you start receiving responses from the institutions. And, feel free to contact us at the Career Professional Development Office at any time during your graduate school decision-making and application process for assistance or information.
Financing Graduate School
You should apply for financial aid even if you think you are not eligible as some grants are not based on need. Sources of financial aid include the university or college, federal government, state government, private foundations, and commercial institutions.
Be sure to contact the financial aid office of the graduate schools for which you will be applying and request information on every possible kind of aid. Make your request early, as there are often deadlines. Also, if you are currently a high need student, you may be eligible for a fee waiver for graduate school applications and the GRE.
Consider your long-range goals. If you think you might want to teach or conduct research in your field, experience as a teaching assistant or research assistant can be invaluable.
If you are thinking about graduate school, there are general dates to keep in mind. Application deadlines may range from August (before your senior year) for early decision programs of medical schools using the American Medical College Application Service to late spring or summer (after your senior year) for a few programs with rolling admissions.
Most deadlines for the entering class in the fall are between January and March. You should plan to meet formal deadlines in all cases; beyond this, be aware of the fact that many institutions with rolling admissions encourage and act upon early applications.
Applying early to an institution is usually advantageous, as it demonstrates your enthusiasm for the program and gives admissions committees more time to evaluate the subjective components of your application, rather than just the numbers. Applicants are not rejected early unless they are clearly below an institution's standards. Additionally, applying early will allow you more opportunities to pursue graduate assistantships.
The timetable that appears below represents the ideal for most students who wish to enter graduate school upon graduation.
- Research areas of interest, institutions and programs
- Talk with advisors about application requirements.
- Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admission tests.
- Investigate national scholarships.
- If appropriate, obtain letters of recommendation.
- Take required graduate admission tests.
- Write for application materials.
- Visit institutions of interest, if possible.
- Compose your application essay/personal statement.
- Check on application deadlines and rolling admissions policies.
- For medical, dental, osteopathy, podiatry, or law school, you may need to register for the national application or data assembly service most programs use.
- Complete resume, letter of application, and personal statement.
- Obtain letters of recommendation.
- Take graduate admission tests, if you have not already done so.
- Send in completed applications.
- Get ready to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), if required.
- Check with all institutions before the deadline to ensure your file is complete.
- Visit institutions that accept you.
- Send a deposit to your institution of choice.
- Notify other colleges and universities that have accepted you of your decision so they may admit students on their waiting list.
- Send thank you notes to people who wrote your recommendation letters, informing them of your success.
You may not be able to adhere to this timetable if your application deadlines are very early, as is the case with medical school, or if you decide to attend graduate school at the last minute. In any case, keep in mind the various application requirements and be sure to meet all deadlines. If deadlines are impossible to meet, call the institution to see if a late application will be considered. Decisions are often made by April, but this varies with each institution. Decisions can be made as late as June.