Next step, graduate school

 

First things first: Is graduate school the right move?

Graduate school can be an exciting venture - an opportunity to focus your academic studies on a particular interest, meet other people with similar goals and ideas, and develop the skills and credentials needed for the field you want to pursue in the future. Because grad school can be expensive and stressful, it isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. There are a few questions you should ask yourself when deciding if graduate school is right for you:

  • What am I interested in and do I want to study it further?
  • Do I need a graduate degree to get a job in the field I'm planning to pursue? If so, do I need a master's or a Ph.D.?
  • Am I ready mentally and financially to commit more time to school at this point in my life?
  • Would my application be stronger if I worked in the field for a few years?
  • What is the average age of students in the program?

What to consider when choosing a program

Program requirements

Does the program require test scores including GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, GRE General, or GRE Subject Tests? Does it require that you've completed specific coursework? These are things you'll want to know in advance since they require a bit of planning even before you start the application process. Check the admissions website for this information. Also be sure to read the program description carefully on the department website. Does the coursework look interesting to you? Unlike most undergraduate curricula, you'll likely focus specifically on one area in graduate school. Be sure that the courses sound interesting and thought provoking. Find out if practicums, internships, or field experience are required.

Faculty

Developing relationships with faculty is a vital part of being a graduate student. It's a good idea to do some research on the faculty at the programs you're considering. Check to see if they have bios on the department website, or do a search on the internet to look for publications, presentations, and other information. The faculty should have diverse experience that should parallel your own interests or spark new ones. Having a faculty member as a mentor before applying can be an important asset to your application.

Location

When choosing a graduate program, consider the surrounding area and its resources. You will likely be doing research and spending a lot of time reading and writing. Are the campus and surrounding area conducive to that kind of work? Are there places nearby where you can study? Do you need access to cultural resources such as libraries and museums? Will you be distracted by too many tempting activities? Is there enough to do so that when you need a break, you can have some fun?

Alumni

Frequently the Admissions page of a school provides the percentage of their graduate students who are employed after finishing coursework and what fields they go into. This can be important information in deciding if a particular program is likely to lead you to the career path in which you're interested.

Searching for a graduate school

Graduate Guide
Search for a graduate school by location and major.

School Guides
Search graduate schools based upon location, major, tuition, and enrollment size.

Gradschools.com
Search for graduate programs by subject or subjects by graduate schools.

Grad school exams

Prepare for graduate school entrance exams

Planning for grad school

Do you remember what it was like applying to college? Chances are you did a little research, discussed it with family or friends or maybe a school guidance counselor, filled out the applications and were on your way. Applying to graduate school requires a lot more work; be prepared to spend both time and money. Application fees can be up to $100; the GRE, other required tests and official transcripts also cost money. Some schools do offer reduced application fees if you qualify; check the admissions websites for guidelines. 

OK, let's do this

The worst thing you can do when applying is procrastinate. Below is a suggested timeline for stress-free application to graduate school beginning one year before the time you want to start a program:

August

  • Send an email to the admissions office or departmental secretary at the schools you're interested in. They may be able to put you in contact with a current student so you can ask questions and get first-hand information.
  • Request materials from the schools, particularly course catalogues and applications.
  • Ask at least two professors and one professional reference to write recommendation letters. People like to have at least a month to write a letter. Asking too far in advance can lead to forgetful behavior on everyone's part.
  • Check the GRE website www.gre.org for a schedule of any upcoming tests you might need to take.

September

  • Look over the admissions materials to identify the specific items you might need to collect for your application packet such as test scores or writing samples.
  • Begin drafting a personal statement. You'll most likely need this for any progam you're applying to. Check with Career Services for advice on what you've got so far.
  • Request official transcripts (some grad programs ask for 2 copies from each school you've attended). Have the transcripts sent directly to the schools to which you're applying or have a package of them sent to you so you can include them in your application envelopes.
  • Make arrangements to visit schools in which you're interested. Call the admissions office to set up a tour of the campus. It's also a good idea to call the academic department to meet with the program director or faculty members.

October

  • Take the GRE or any other required exams. This gives you enough time to take the test again should you wish to improve your scores.
  • Have a professor or professional in your anticipated field look over a draft of your personal statement. If a program requests a writing sample, start deciding what piece of work you'd like to submit. Your writing sample should meet the length and content guidelines indicated in the application. If there are no guidelines, send 5-10 pages of college-level work, clean of professor comments, relevant to the field to which you're applying.
  • Follow-up with the professors you've asked to write letters of support. Ask for them to be sent directly to the schools to which you're applying or have a package of them sent to you so you can include them in your application envelopes.
  • Bring your resume to Career Services. Whether you are a current student or an alumna, we can help you create a great resume that can be included in your grad school application packets.

November

  • Complete all paper and online applications and the final draft of your personal statement.
  • Mail packets including all required elements. Some schools require two application packets - one to the graduate studies office and one to the department office. Be sure you send the required elements to the right personnel.

April

  • You should begin to hear from progams during the month of March, depending on the application due date. If you have still not heard from a program by April, email the admissions office to make sure they have received everything they need to complete your application.
  • If you are rejected from a school and plan to reapply the following year, there's nothing wrong with contacting them and asking why you were denied admission. Sometimes they will send you a detailed reply so you know how you can improve your application the following year.

(Timeline compiled from Barnard University.)