The Career & Internship Services Center (CISC) assists students in preparing for graduate or professional school. If you’re interested in continuing education, check out the following information and techniques for research and applying to graduate and/or professional programs.
The CISC recommends researching programs and schools that interest you as soon as possible, ideally during your junior year. This will provide you with enough time to put together a compelling application, resume or curriculum vitae (CV), letters of recommendation, and statement of interest. With over 70,559 Doctoral and Masters programs listed on gradschools.com, researching is the first step in the process.
Is Graduate School for You?
Now or Later?
Some students choose to attend graduate school immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree, while others choose to take time off in between undergraduate and graduate school. Another option is to work full or part-time and pursue a graduate degree part-time, as many graduate programs offer courses in the late afternoon, evenings and even on weekends.
Common Reasons to attend Graduate School
- An advanced degree is helpful or may be required to find employment in your desired field.
- An advanced degree may help you to do your job more effectively.
- An advanced degree may lead to advancement in your field or entry into a new field.
- When exploring the graduate school option, have a clear idea in mind of what you want to do and make sure that you need a graduate degree to accomplish your career goals. Graduate school can be expensive and requires a serious commitment. It is not always necessary for every job, so it’s important to fully understand the commitment and whether it’s necessary for you.
- When looking into graduate school, set up informational interview with professionals in your field. Contact professionals in your chosen field to see how they got where they are, if they went to graduate school right away or if they took time off to work before getting their graduate degree.
- Some career fields don't necessarily require graduate degrees right away, so it may be possible to enter your chosen career field and then work towards a graduate degree later.
- It is very common for employers to help fund additional schooling if it is necessary for working at their company or working your way up. If you are already employed, check with your employer to see if they offer opportunities for funding graduate school.
Types of Graduate Degrees
- Master’s Degree - Most common type of graduate degree: Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S) – provides in-depth knowledge in one area or more. A master's thesis is sometimes required.
- Ph. D. (Doctor of Philosophy) - Provides understanding of how to do structured research. You will complete a dissertation and contribute new knowledge to your field of study. This degree is common for people who want to do research professionally (many people with PhDs work in academia).
- Professional Degree - Provides specialized training for employment in a specific profession (law, medicine, social work). Types of degrees are J.D. (Juris Doctor), M.D. (Medical Doctor), M.S.W. (Master of Social Work). Clinical or practicum work is often involved in such degree programs.
- Postgraduate Certificate Programs - Postgraduate certificates require less time to complete than degree programs and usually expand and document knowledge in specific areas.
- To see a full list of the different types of post-graduate degrees, click here.
Questions to Consider For Each University/Program
- What is the typical class size? Are there small seminar classes or large lectures?
- How extensive are the libraries, computer labs, and other research facilities?
- What is the average length of time for degree completion?
- Can you attend the program part-time?
- Are most of the students in the program working full-time?
- What kind of financial support is available?
- Are graduate assistantships or fellowships available?
- What percentage of recent graduates found jobs within their chosen fields? How soon after their graduation?
Graduate School Admissions Exams
Most (but not all!) graduate schools will require standardized test scores as part of your application. Here’s the rundown to help you decide which test you need to take:
- GRE (Graduate Record Exam): general standardized test for multiple majors - verbal, quantitative, and analytical sections. www.ets.org/gre
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test): for prospective business students - verbal, quantitative, and analytical sections. www.mba.com
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test): for prospective law students - reading, writing, logical reasoning sections. www.lsac.org
- MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test): for prospective medical students - verbal reasoning, physical sciences, writing sample, and biological sciences.www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat
- DAT (Dental) www.ada.org
- OAT (Optometry) www.opted.org
- PCAT (Pharmacy) www.pcatweb.info
What schools don’t require standardized test scores? Check out this list of schools that do not require the GRE!
Prepare for Standardized Tests:
- Consider taking a review course or purchasing a review book to work through prior to your exam day.
- Take practice exams to familiarize yourself with the format and the types of questions you will be asked. The Princeton Review administers the GRE and often offers free test days both in person and online.
- If you aren’t satisfied with your scores on the first exam, you may consider taking it more than once, but it is recommended that you take standardized tests no more than three times.
Funding Grad School:
- Apply for Federal financial aid (FAFSA) and scholarships (local and national).
- Explore the possibility of working as a Teacher’s Assistant or Research Assistant to help offset the cost of tuition. Some positions may offer a stipend or a reduction of tuition.
- Seek a paid internship in your field.
- Each school will have different opportunities and resources for funding education. Check with advisors and online to find scholarships.
- Research the different types of student loan options. Funding graduate school may be more difficult than funding your undergraduate degree since there are not as many options available, so understanding how student loans will work for graduate school is critical.
Graduate School Timeline
Freshman/Sophomore years through Junior Year Fall semester:
- Explore career options and goals
- Develop relationships with professors and faculty for future recommendations
- Participate in academic activities and organizations; seek internship and other career-related opportunities to strengthen your application
- Identify potential schools and requirements
Spring Semester of Junior Year:
- Start gathering recommendation letters
- Collect samples of your academic work
- Apply for scholarships and financial aid
- Register for admissions tests, and take prep courses
Summer Before Senior year
- Take admissions tests and/or prep courses
- View school catalogues and websites to determine to which schools you will apply
- Create a short list of desired schools and know the requirements and deadlines for each application
- Draft admissions essays
- Take campus tours and meet with faculty at potential schools
- Review undergraduate transcript and be sure that all information is updated and accurate
- Meet with mentors and faculty to discuss applications, personal statement, and collect any remaining letters of recommendation
- Collect all application materials and forms
- Request transcripts for early application deadlines
- Re-take, or take standardized tests
- Revise any scholarly writing or research samples that will be included in your application
- Submit early deadline applications (and those with rolling admission)
- Request transcripts from Registrar’s office - check whether the program wants Fall semester grades or not to determine when you request transcripts
- Submit applications for December/January deadlines
- Submit applications for Spring deadlines (for most schools, the latest will be March 1st)
- Contact schools to confirm that your applications were received, and to determine the status of your applications
- Expect to begin receiving letters of acceptance or waiting list placement--it is wise to wait to hear back from as many programs as possible, before accepting an offer
- Attend interviews if required (and consider attending to gain more information if they are optional)
- Fill out financial aid information (FAFSA) to apply for need-based aid--merit-based aid offers will generally come with acceptance letters.
- Make any last visits to your top choice schools or those you haven’t visited before, and schedule meetings with faculty and other individuals to get more information and ask questions
- Accept an offer! Generally, students choose and accept an offer by May 1st. Once you have accepted an offer and paid a deposit, it is generally accepted that you will not accept any other offers or consider other schools
- Notify both the accepted and rejected schools
- Update your mentors and other staff who contributed to your application (remember, they made an investment in you - it is polite to share your success and express gratefulness for their support)
- Take any classes to get a head start on coursework for grad school, or to fulfill any academic deficiencies
Additional Helpful Resources
- Graduate Guide: Graduate School Guide is a comprehensive directory of professional, graduate and doctoral degree programs located in the United States and Canada.
- Gradschools.com: Considered to be the #1 graduate school directory; more than 1,000 colleges and universities use Graduate School Guide to help their students with a genuine interest in postgraduate study.
- Grad School application tips: This website is a free resource provided by the Graduate Educational Information Service (GEIS). GEIS develops and maintains educational websites designed to enhance student outcomes and promote academic excellence.
- Graduate Information: Sponsored by Sallie Mae, this website has helpful information about the graduate school process.
- Gradview.com: This helpful website allows you to search, compare, and connect to a variety of graduate and professional schools.
- Petersons: As they proclaim, it is “everything you need to know about getting into the school you want.”