Graduate school can help you take your career to the next level.
Graduate vs. Undergraduate
- Students complete an in-depth study of one field, so the primary means of evaluation for graduation is a research project or thesis that is judged by a faculty committee
- A minimum GPA for continuing enrollment is a 3.0.
- All courses are small, and involvement with faculty is direct and extensive.
- Students enter an extended research apprenticeship with one faculty member.
- There is usually only one year of coursework.
- Degree completion times vary between two and six years.
- Students are expected to work independently and produce high quality results, as measured by research, publication, and presentations judged by senior peers.
- Students add to the body of existing scientific and technical knowledge.
Depending on your field of study, you may have a very small or a very large number of programs from which to choose. It’s important that you like the school and program and feel that it’s a good fit for you; you’ll be spending several years there. There are several factors to consider when you begin looking at graduate programs:
Admissions requirements will vary from program to program. You should know the following requirements for each program you are considering: preferred undergraduate majors or coursework, if any; GPA; standardized tests (GRE, MCAT, etc.); academic or work skills preferred.
You’ll be spending the next several years of your life at graduate school, so it’s important to take location into account as well. Do you want to attend a large or small school? A large or small program? Are you limited to a particular geographic area or setting? What is the surrounding community like?
The reputation of the program you choose will have a lasting impact on your career. What is the reputation of the school and of the program? Is the program accredited? How selective is the program? What kinds of jobs to graduates from this program find? Is the philosophy or focus of the program compatible with your values and goals?
As a graduate student, you will have a very different relationship with faculty than you did as an undergraduate. Are faculty members accessible to graduate students? Are the faculty members well known in your field? Is there a faculty member in the department whose interests are similar to yours? This is especially important if you are conducting research.
Does the program offer the degree you want? Will the courses in the program help you meet your educational and professional goals? How long/how many credits is the program? How often are classes offered? Is a thesis or certifying exam required? Are you required to complete an internship or gain other practical experience?
What is the cost of tuition? What fees need to be paid? Are there any other hidden costs? How much does housing cost? What is the cost of living in the area? Are assistantships, loans, and fellowships available? Does the department help students find funding? Are students allowed to work part-time? Is financial aid available?
Will you qualify?
- Examine why you are interested in graduate school.
Graduate school admission is really admission into a community of scholars. These scholars are working together to create new knowledge, and to expand the boundaries of existing scientific and technical knowledge. If you are considering graduate school, you should know that it will be significantly different than your undergraduate experience.
- Do you have clear goals and objectives? Decide which area of study most interests you and whether or not you would like to further your education in that field.
- Do you enjoy that field of study so much that you can imagine yourself studying it for years to come? If you go to graduate school, you will probably be associated with a field for a significant portion of your life. It should be something you are really interested in and like.
- Do you have the traits needed to attend graduate school? In graduate school you will be asked to do a great deal of writing, reading, and synthesizing of both what you learn and the knowledge you create. Depending on your field, you may be working in a lab, outdoors, or with computers for extended periods of time. Can you do this type of work? Will you enjoy it?
- Have you talked with your professors and college advisors? These experts have been where you want to go. They can offer guidance on your graduate school decision, and provide advice about the graduate school options that interest you. They can also offer insight into application procedures, graduate schools that might meet your needs, academic programs, possible career options, and job supply and demand in your field.
- Have you investigated your career potential both with and without a graduate school degree? Ask questions such as: Do I need an advanced degree to get the job I want in my field? How will a graduate degree affect my starting salary? Will a graduate degree allow greater and faster advancement in my field of specialization?
- Have you considered if you want to work before obtaining a graduate degree?You may want a break from school. If you wait, you can get a clearer picture of what sort of work you are interested. You’ll also be older and more mature when you return. On the other hand, in the sciences, new developments happen daily. If you are in a field that is rapidly evolving, you may not want to let your undergraduate knowledge get old through disuse. Continuing on directly will keep you up to date, and reduce the amount of re-learning you have to do. Both options have benefits. Weigh the pros and cons of each to determine which will best meet your needs.
- How will you pay for school? Before making your final decision about attending graduate school or choosing which graduate school to attend, evaluate your financial situation and determine how you will fund your education. Most programs offer fellowships or assistantships that pay tuition and monthly stipends. Others may not have the resources to do so. In this case, you may be required to borrow money to attend. Find out how much your loan payments will be after you graduate and assess your possibility of making these payments.
When to Apply
Review the Graduate School Timeline. Find out the application deadlines for all graduate schools you are applying to, and allow plenty of time to prepare for the deadlines. Fall Semester admission deadlines typically range from December to February.
Apply as early as possible – the best time is the fall of the year before you plan to attend. Apply to more than one school to increase your chance of admission. Aim high, but apply to at least one school you are sure will accept you. Tips for increasing your chance of admission.
Although schools probably won’t ask for a portfolio, you should develop one if you have not already done so. Your portfolio should include samples of your academic and professional work. It will allow you to represent your strengths and skills in an interview.
Depending on your program, admissions committees may ask for a sample of your work, and if you have a portfolio, you’ll have immediate access to a variety of examples. Also, having a portfolio together can remind you of your accomplishments as you fill out applications.
Letters of Recommendation
Graduate schools will require letters of recommendation from past employers or university faculty. Choose recommenders who can accurately assess your abilities in relation to the graduate program you plan to pursue. Be considerate and give your recommenders a generous amount of time to write a recommendation and return it. Letters of recommendation can be filed using Interfolio, or sent directly.
Graduate school applications usually require a personal statement in which you describe yourself, your goals, and the reasons why you want to continue your studies in a particular program at that school. Read this article for guidance on writing your personal statement.
Timeline for Applying to Graduate School
If you are interested in graduate school, it’s never too early to get involved in research or reading professional publications in your field of interest. The formal process of admission begins after your junior year.
- Start identifying programs in your field, using websites, professional publications or journals, and faculty members as resources.
- Send for information about these programs. Take note of deadlines for financial aid and admissions applications.
- Start a list of programs you think you may be interested in. If you can, visit these campuses.
- Start preparing for standardized tests. Sign up to take the GRE or other admissions test at the end of summer/early fall.
- Begin investigating scholarships, fellowships, and other sources of funding. Start creating a financial plan for paying for graduate school.
- Talk to faculty and alumni to gather more information about programs of particular interest.
- Finalize the list of programs you are interested in. Make sure you have all application materials.
- Retake the GRE or other standardized test, if necessary.
- Start working on your personal statement.
- Complete and submit financial aid forms. Research scholarships, awards, fellowships, and other sources of funding. Apply for these awards before the deadlines.
- Begin approaching your references to ask if they are willing to write letters of recommendation.
- Complete application and personal statement.
- Make sure that all letters of recommendation have been sent.
- Request that official transcripts be sent to the schools you are applying to.
- Mail application packet before deadline. Follow up to make sure all application materials have been received.
- Attend interviews, if required.
- Develop a backup plan, in case you aren’t admitted.
- Visit schools to which you have been accepted, if possible.
- Accept or decline admissions offers. Most schools will require a firm decision by this time.
- Write a note to each of your references to let them know what your final decision was, and thanking them for their help
- Start making plans to pay for graduate school. Once you have an acceptance, information about assistantships should be available from the department.
- Resist the temptation to slack off on your current classes just because you’ve been accepted.
Tips to Increase Your Chances of Graduate School Admission
Visit some of the schools to which you’ve applied. Before your visit, schedule appointments to speak with the chairperson of the department, and any professors with interests similar to yours. Networking for graduate school admission is as effective a tool as it is in the job search.
Talk to current graduate students if you visit a campus. They have a great deal of influence on the admissions process. They also can tell you if the program is one that will suit you, and who is a good professor to work with.
Request additional information from schools and programs (press releases, biography sheets on professors, and any promotional materials published by the school that might give you a better sense of the program). Refer to any important information you find when writing your personal statement.
Read articles written by professors at each university doing research in areas that interest you. Mention these professors and their work briefly in your personal statement. Also, write these professors letters introducing yourself, explaining your interest in their field, telling them what interested you about their work, and mentioning that you will be applying to their program.
Send extra materials with your application–projects you have completed, presentations, a thesis abstract, or any publications. (Send copies, not originals!)
Be courteous and polite to all staff at every school–whether you talk to them on the phone or in person. Receptionists and secretaries can be useful resources, and may also pass along any good or bad impressions they have of you to members of a selection committee.
Graduate School Admission Exams
Graduate schools and professional programs usually require applicants to take admission exams corresponding to specific graduate programs. Some of the more common admission exams include:
- DAT: Dental Admission Test
- GMAT: Graduate Management Admission Test – Business
- GRE: Graduate Record Examination (This includes a general exam, and also subject exams)
- LSAT: Law School Admission Test
- MCAT: Medical College Admission Test
- OCAT: Optometry College Admission Test
- PCAT: Pharmacy College Admission Test
- VAT: Veterinary Aptitude Test
Take these exams as early as possible. This will allow time for a retest if necessary. It is important that you do some practice tests—don’t just try to take the test without some preparation.
Testing booklets for each of the admission exams are available at the Counseling Center Testing Office, 207 Student Services Building. These booklets include the examination registration form, fee information, examination dates and registration deadlines. The Learning Center also provides prep classes for some of these exams.