Preparing for Graduate School

What is graduate school?

After completing an undergraduate degree, a student may choose to attend graduate school to obtain an advanced degree in his/her discipline. Degrees range from master’s degrees (M.A., M.S./M.Sc., M.Ed., etc.), doctorate (Ph.D., Ed.D., D.A., D.Sc., D.M.A., Th.D., etc.) or other postgraduate qualification (MBA), such as a graduate certificate, as well as some professional degrees.

Is graduate school right for me?

That depends on your long-term career plans. If you use graduate school to delay the inevitable job search, then attending graduate school would be a poor choice. If you want to begin a career in a specific field that requires an advanced degree (e.g. college and university teaching and research, law, medicine, dentistry) then graduate school may be the right choice.

Do I go to graduate school now or later?

That depends on your answers to the following questions. How sure am I of my career goals? Is there a possibility that I may change my mind after obtaining some real life experience? Is an advanced degree required for the career path I’ve chosen? Would I have difficulty adjusting to life as a student after having taken a break? What are all the costs involved with graduate school (e.g. program, books, living expenses, loss of income while in school)? Is it possible a future employer might pay my graduate tuition? Would I be able to handle working and going to graduate school at the same time? Honest answers to these questions should assist you in your decisions regarding graduate school.

What do you need to know and do to prepare for graduate school?

Graduate programs will vary in their specific requirements. Most programs require at least one statistics course from an undergraduate program. Volunteer work and outside experience can carry great weight on your application. Depending on the area of study, internships may be required. Most graduate study programs also require certain GPA levels.

When completing applications, be certain to meet both your program’s deadlines along with any deadlines set by the graduate school. Make sure you send all application materials to the correct addresses. Some institutions require paperwork to go directly to the program while others hire outside businesses to process and prioritize their paperwork. Failure to follow directions will create a poor impression. This process is about putting your best foot forward every step of the way!

If your application is selected for further review, your chosen program might call you in for an interview. This interview process is much the same as a job interview. The interviewers wish to see if you are a good fit for their program. When asked for references, have a predetermined list of contacts for the interview. Include undergraduate professors who can vouch for your undergraduate academic work.

When do I start looking for graduate schools to attend?

As a general rule of thumb, begin looking for graduate schools one year before you plan on actually attending. Application deadlines vary from August 1 (before your senior year) to July 1 (after your senior year for schools with rolling admissions). Admissions and financial aid decisions are often made in advance of stated deadlines. Programs with high demands for entrance may close their application process as early as October. Nearly one-half of all graduate school applicants apply during the final month of the application process. It is advantageous to apply early, as this can set you apart from the competition. Programs that handle admissions on a “rolling” basis accept qualified applicants as they apply.

How many programs do I apply to?

That depends on what field you hope to enter. If you want to enter a highly competitive area, you should consider applying to a number of different schools to increase your chances of being accepted. If your area of study is not as broad, you may not have as many choices. As a general rule of thumb, apply to two or three departments that match your interests. Select one highly prestigious, highly competitive research university, one major university with a fairly large graduate program that might accept you, and one institution that you feel confident will accept you.

What are the costs involved with the application process?

The costs involved vary from institution to institution. Most application processing costs range from $20 – $100. Check with your individual programs for exact expenses involved. Other potential areas of financial concern vary by the requirements of the program. Most departments require at least a GRE score, which is not only additional time but additional expense as well.

What other assessments are used?
  • GRE  – Graduate Record Exam
  • GMAT  – Graduate Management Admissions Test
  • MCAT  – Medical College Admissions Test
  • LSAC  – Law School Admissions Service
  • Praxis  – Teaching licensing & certification process
  • CLEP  – College-level Examination Program
How do I afford graduate school?

There are a number of options available for funding graduate school. The broadest of these options is taking out a student or personal loan. In order to be eligible to receive a student loan through your school’s institutional financial aid program you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Other options for funding graduate school are Teaching Assistantships, which have minimum hours requirements, often offer a stipend, and many times subsidize graduate school tuition; and Graduate Assistantships, which also have a minimum number of hours requirement, frequently offer a stipend, and many times also offer some form of graduate school tuition reimbursement. If you are interested in pursuing either a Teaching Assistantship or a Graduate Assistantship be sure to meet the assistantship application deadlines at your selected program’s institutions.

See also, a financial aid non-profit, the Higher Education Guaranty Corporation and the IRS for information on possible tax benefits.

Graduate/Professional School Preparation Timetable

Junior Year
  • Research graduate programs; identify appropriate institutions through the use of the internet, application materials and catalogs.
  • Talk to faculty members in your field of interest about your graduate study goals. Meet with professors you’ll request letters of recommendations from.
  • Talk do Career Services and your professors about application requirements.
  • Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admissions tests.
  • Investigate national scholarships and graduate assistantships in the universities in which you are applying.
Summer before Senior Year
  • Request school catalogs and application materials from the graduate programs you are interested in attending.
  • Develop a checklist on each program including the entrance requirements and deadlines.
  • Take practice exams and or test preparation courses for required admissions tests.
  • Register for fall exams.
  • Begin collecting financial aid, fellowship, and scholarship information.
Senior Year, Fall
  • Send application materials no later than mid-December (make copies of all materials for your records).
  • Arrange for official transcripts to be mailed.
  • Take required graduate admissions exams. Send scores to all appropriate schools.
  • Write your personal statement. Have your advisor, professor, or Career Services proofread it.
  • Ask faculty to write letters of recommendations.
  • As appropriate, complete financial aid paperwork.
Senior Year, Spring
  • Send thank-you letters to people who wrote your recommendation letters.
  • Check with universities before the deadlines to make sure that all your materials have arrived.
  • Develop “plan B” in case you are not admitted to your program of choice.
  • Visit universities that accept you.
  • If you plan to live in university housing, apply for space.
  • Send a deposit to the university of choice.
  • Notify other universities that have accepted you of your decision to attend another institution.

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