Applying to Graduate School
Advanced degrees are generally classified as professional degree programs, which essentially prepare you for a specific career (i.e., medicine, law, business administration) and research degree programs, which allow you to specialize in an academic area (i.e., English, biology), and emphasize research and teaching. In most cases, in research degree programs, earning a master’s degree prepares you to earn a doctorate, the most advanced degree. In general, master’s degree programs take 1-3 years (full-time) to complete and doctoral programs may take 3-6 years to complete. Getting your graduate degree on a part-time basis may be an option for individuals who need to work full-time while pursuing graduate studies.
To Go or Not to Go
- Why are you considering graduate school?
Application essays will almost always ask you for a personal statement describing why you want to pursue graduate study. It is important to know what you want to study as well as how graduate school fits into your career plans. If part of your desire to go to graduate school comes from wanting to wait out a tough job market or postpone making decisions about you career goals, consider the costs, in terms of time, money and energy, of your decision.
- Does it make sense to go to graduate school now or to wait? There are pros and cons to going to graduate school immediately after completion of your undergraduate degree vs. working for a few years. Many graduate school programs prefer that applicants have at least one to two years of work experience.
Weighing the benefits of each
|Immediately following undergraduate degree
||Waiting a few years (or more)
|Still in “student mode”
||Clearer career path/goals
|Already have strong study skills
||Financial resources are stronger
||Employer may pay for school
|Some professions require advanced degree, even for entry-level
||May improve chances of getting into a competitive school
The decision you make about when to apply to graduate school will depend on a number of factors, including the program you choose and your professional goals.
- Can you afford graduate school now? Consider the cost of getting a graduate degree. Just as there is financial aid for undergraduate programs, there are loans and fellowships for graduate work. Many graduate students work as Graduate Assistants (or Research Assistants or Teaching Assistants), and receive a stipend in addition to reduced tuition fees in exchange for their work.
Researching Graduate Schools
Speak with alumni, professors, Career Development
Talk to individuals you know who have attended graduate school. You may receive valuable information about the process of applying to graduate school, the programs, and the culture and expectations of graduate schools.
Use graduate school guides and catalogs
Use graduate school guides and catalogs on the web and in the Career Development Office. Free websites include www.gradschools.com, www.petersons.com, and www.MastersDegreeOnline.org that include directories of graduate programs. Select schools that interest you, and then visit those schools’ websites to find out program specifics, admission deadlines and requirements and information on financial aid. Consider on-line or hybrid programs that combine classroom and on-line classes.
Visit schools if possible
You may want to schedule a meeting with a director or chairperson of the academic department, as well as with the admissions office of the school. In many cases when you visit schools, you can visit classes and meet students currently enrolled in the graduate program. In graduate school, you will work more closely with professors and fellow students than you did during your undergraduate program. It is important that the department you choose is a good fit for you interests and goals and it is advantageous to develop a relationship with individuals at the schools to which you are applying.
The Application Process
Download or request application materials from schools
Review admission requirements and deadlines. School deadlines vary.
Schedule and prepare for entrance exams
The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is the major entrance exam for graduate school. Some schools will also accept the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) in lieu of the GRE. The GRE has two types of tests—the General Test and Subject Tests. For many programs, only the General Test is required. Check individual programs for their requirements. For MBA (Master in Business Administration) programs, you will likely take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Exam), although many MBA programs will now accept either the GMAT or the GRE General Test. Medical schools require the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), and law schools require the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). The GRE General Test and GMAT are offered throughout the year, while the LSAT, MCAT, and GRE Subject Tests are offered on a few specific dates. Books, classes, and web sites are available to help you prepare (refer to Graduate School Resources). Test scores may also be used in determining your eligibility for fellowships.
Get your recommendations in order and request transcripts
Developing relationships with your professors beginning in your freshman year will enhance your ability to receive excellent recommendations. Be polite in your requests and give professors, internship supervisors and others you are asking time to prepare. Last minute requests are generally not well received. You will need to provide official transcripts from any schools you have attended.
Prepare your essays
Applications to graduate schools will ask you to complete one or more essay questions. Most applications will ask you for a personal statement or statement of purpose (your reason for wanting to pursue graduate education). Allow yourself ample time to prepare these, as they are very important in the admission process. Essays are evidence of your ability to write well, so proofread them carefully and get feedback from someone you trust before you submit them.
Organize and keep copies of your application materials
If you are applying to more than one or two schools, you may want to consider using a service like Interfolio (www.interfolio.com) to manage your materials. There is a fee for this service so you may prefer to use Excel spreadsheets to track items.
Confirm receipt of all of your materials
To ensure that your application is complete, contact each school well before the application deadline to make sure that all of your application materials have been received.
Graduate School Resources
Information on taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is available on this site. The GRE offers a general test and a subject test. Many programs require the general test only, but some graduate programs, particularly the sciences, may also require the subject test.
Information on the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), which is accepted by some schools in lieu of the GRE, is available here. A candidate information booklet, practice test and resource guide are available on the web site.
Find information on taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as well as other resources for applying to law schools, including school rankings and links to schools.
If you are considering getting an MBA, this site has information on taking the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), as well as resources for applying to MBA programs.
Click on “MCAT” for information on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This site includes additional information for students, including advice on applying to medical school, careers in medicine, and other resources.
Please note that the sites listed above have some free test prep help, including sample tests and questions and free software. The sites below involve paying a fee for assistance.
Kaplan Test (fee)
Princeton Review (fee)
General Graduate School Information
Search for graduate schools by program, metro area, or other criteria, testing information, financing options and advice.
This site provides a comprehensive list of on-line Master’s programs across the United States.
The Peterson’s site is particularly good for researching schools with specific programs.
This site includes rankings of graduate programs.
PsychGrad is a site for those interested in earning a graduate degree in Psychology.
Vault (click on the Education tab), has excellent advice on applying to graduate programs (particularly law school and business school), as well as great information on careers and industries.
General Timeline for Graduate School
First Year and Sophomore Year
- Grade Point Average: Begin building a strong GPA. Graduate schools primarily look at your sophomore and junior years. Your first year is viewed as a transition period, but it is important to do your best.
- Coursework: Map out coursework with faculty and an academic advisor. Pick courses that will benefit you and strengthen your transcript. If you are interested in applying to Ph.D. programs, enroll in laboratory, research, and statistics classes.
- Letters of Recommendation: Develop relationships with faculty members; this will be important for letters of recommendation.
- Activities/Volunteering: Admissions committees like to see well-rounded applicants. Get involved on-and-off campus. Volunteer, intern, and/or work in your field of interest.
- Career Development: Meet with the Director of Career Development to prepare for furthering your education and career. Create or revise your resume, and learn effective job and internship search skills.
- GPA: Maintain and/or improve your GPA.
- Research Graduate Programs: Make a list of graduate programs that interest you.
- Career Development: The Director of Career Development will provide guidance and resources for part-time jobs and internships, resume and cover letter writing, and networking and interviewing techniques.
- List of Application Materials: Compile a list of required materials, including a number of letters of recommendation, entrance exams, requirements, and deadlines.
- Letters of Recommendation: Determine who you would like to ask for recommendations, usually between 3-4 individuals, and at least 2 should be from professors or professionals such as internship supervisors who can speak about your abilities.
- Entrance Exams: If any entrance exams are required, determine when you will take it and how much time you will need to study beforehand. Most graduate schools prefer you take it only once.
Summer Entering Senior Year
- Study/Take Entrance Exams: Study for entrance exams, and/or take exams.
- Application Materials: Update resume, and start drafting personal statement/letter of intent and/or other admissions essays and writing samples.
- Contact Alumni: Contact PMC alumni who are current graduate students or have recently graduated from the school you wish to attend. Career Development can assist with alumni contacts.
- Visit Campuses: Schedule a campus tour and/or informal meet and greet with faculty and students.
Fall Semester of Senior Year
- Take Entrance Exams: Consider that each school may have different deadlines and it may take 4-5 weeks to process scores.
- Letters of Recommendation: Ask for letters of recommendation. Give recommenders plenty of time to complete (4-5 weeks), so ask early! Send thank you letters and keep them informed of your progress.
- Applications: Start filling out applications and revise letter of intent and any additional essays/writing samples required. Meet with advisors/faculty/Career Development to review.
- Official Transcripts: Request official transcripts from all postsecondary institutions attended; allow up to 3 weeks for processing.
- Financial Aid: Research financial aid options, including filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).