Graduate School Search

Many students grapple with the question of whether or not to pursue a graduate degree. For some programs, a graduate degree is necessary to practice in the field. For other programs, there is no right or wrong answer—it depends on the interests of the individual.

Talk with professors in your field to learn more about their personal career path, how a graduate degree could affect your competitiveness within the industry, and the different options available to you.

Questions to consider...

  • Is an advanced degree required to attain my career goals? If so, what level – professional, Master's or Ph.D.?
  • Does my career choice require professional licensing?
  • Will graduate or professional school be more valuable to me after I gain some experience in the field?
  • Will I be more competitive for top programs after gaining experience?
  • Am I ready to immerse myself in an intense study within a specific academic discipline?
  • Do I want the career that the graduate program prepares students to excel in?
  • Do I love the field enough to narrow my studies and obtain an advanced degree?

Never be afraid to ask professors, advisors, or teaching assistants these questions. They were in your shoes once, and know better than anyone what answers and advice to give. 

Here's a helpful resource you are encouraged to read:  Is Graduate School Right For You?  (published on Vault.com)


Select one of the following links, or continue reading:


Choosing a Graduate Program

When choosing a graduate school you need to learn about the importance of accreditation status, faculty research interests, degree level, and program formats. Read articles that provide helpful tips for conducting in-depth research into graduate programs. Explore opportunities offered by different types of programs and determine which features are most important to you. Find out how to establish an application timeline to keep you on track and help ensure your all the elements of your application are completed and submitted on time.


Graduate School Testing

Standardized testing is a major part of the graduate school application process and have the potential to have a huge impact on the likelihood of your being accepted into a graduate program. The GRE is the common assessment for individuals hoping to pursue a graduate degree in humanities, social, physical, and biological sciences, the GMAT is a common requirement of those who wish to pursue a business degree, the LSAT is used to assess applicants to law school, and the MCAT is a common requirement for applicants to medical schools. There are other tests admissions committees use to help them assess the abilities of their applicants including GRE subject tests, and the TOFEL. Kaplan offers a good number of Free Practice Tests -- All of their free events are listed at: http://www.kaptest.com/pages/free-events

Here are a few testing resources for the most commonly used graduate and professional school.

*Information from gradschools.com


Evaluating Programs and Schools

When evaluating a graduate or professional school program, consider these points:

  • Are faculty members conducting research in your area of interest?  (Find out by reading bios, CVs and their publications. Send an email to the specific faculty member to receive more information about the program.)
  • What is the educational infrastructure (labs, library, computers, etc.)?
  • Does the curriculum support your interests?
  • What are the degree requirements?
  • What is the average time required to complete a degree?
  • Is financial support available?

It is also important to visit the program, and consider:

  • What’s the work/study environment?
  • Are the social outlets adequate for you?
  • Do you connect with the faculty and other students in or entering the program?

Do your research before you visit so you are not asking questions answered easily on the website. Consider the programs with the best fit between your interests and the program department and faculty, not just rankings.


Applying to Graduate School

So you have decided graduate school is right for you and you have taken your standardized test. Now it is time to prepare your application. Most applications require prospective students to obtain 2-3 letters of recommendation, provide standardized testing scores and submit a personal statement. Some schools may even require applicants to send a letter of intent, and participate in an extensive interview process. Each element of your application will help tell the story of who you are, and how you will contribute to the program. 

The process of applying to a graduate program begins with developing an understanding of the graduate admissions process. You need to understand how your application will be measured against programs standards as well as how you are likely to compare to other applicants to the program. At this point in the process you will have to make final decisions on the types of programs you will apply to, which degree you want to pursue, and what actions you must take in order to enhance your chances of getting into your favorite graduate programs. Below are key elements of the application process: 

  • Essay Writing (Personal Statement and Resume/CV)- From the application process through your post-academic career, writing is an essential skill which, if practiced correctly, can give you an advantage over less well-written applicants. 

  • Graduate School Interview - Many graduate programs require an interview as part of the application process. For some, this may cause anxiety, but for the prepared applicant it is a chance to show off. 

  • Recommendation Letters -Recommendation letters are a key piece of your graduate school application. Selecting an appropriate recommender who knows you personally and will endorse your talents in a positive light may mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. 

*Information from gradschools.com


General Tips for Applying to Graduate School

  1. Talk to your professors.
    They can steer you toward schools that will be a good fit for you and your academic interests.
  2. Give yourself a range of prospective schools.
    This list should include at least one ambitious application, at least one backup application, and a few applications in your goldilocks zone.
  3. Contact potential advisors in each prospective graduate program.
    Do this before you apply! 
  4. Ask a lot of questions.
    If the department can’t offer reasonable assurances that it’s program will help you meet your career goals—and back it up with evidence—then it’s unreasonable for you to spend a few years of your life there.
  5. Perfect the written components of your applications.
    Call in every favor from every experienced writer you know: faculty, friends, family, career center, writing center, etc. 
  6. Don’t go to a school that gives you bad vibes.
    If a campus/department/advisor/etc. triggers red flags in your mind, then pay attention. There are a lot of great places to do graduate work, and one will be the right home for you! 

* Information from Craig Kinnear, Ph.D. History, University of Notre Dame, May 2015


Timeline

Six to eight months prior to application deadline

  • Write a draft statement of purpose/personal statement
  • Review guides to graduate programs, web sites, and university catalogs
  • Register for required standardized tests (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT—and take a practice test to gauge how much time you’ll need to study before you take the real test.)
  • Research financial options - many graduate programs offer fellowships or teaching or research assistantships.

Four to five months prior to application deadline

  • Meet with faculty members in your department and Career Center staff to discuss your personal statement, programs options and potential funding sources
  • Ask for letters of recommendation
  • Begin to develop your personal timeline for the application process.

Three months prior to application deadline

  • Determine the schools to which you plan to apply and request application materials
  • Finish your timeline based on each institution’s deadline and financial aid deadlines
  • Complete your personal statement, adjusting it to meet each application’s specific needs
  • Order transcripts from all post-secondary institutions
  • Re-take standardized tests if needed

Two months prior to application deadline

  • Create a draft application that you and others can review before you submit
  • After reviews, complete the formal application
  • Give your recommenders all the information that they will need to write recommendations for you for each of your application schools

At application deadline

  • Submit applications and all accompanying required documents, unless the ask for letters of recommendation to come directly from the recommender
  • It is good to get the applications submitted early. This helps you acquire financial assistance or teaching and research assistant opportunities too.

After application submission

  • Determine the schools to which you plan to apply and request application materials
  • Finish your timeline based on each institution’s deadline and financial aid deadlines
  • Complete your personal statement, adjusting it to meet each application’s specific needs
  • Order transcripts from all post-secondary institutions
  • Re-take standardized tests if needed
    • Create a draft application that you and others can review before you submit
    • After reviews, complete the formal application
    • Give your recommenders all the information that they will need to write recommendations for you for each of your application schools
    • Submit applications and all accompanying required documents, unless the ask for letters of recommendation to come directly from the recommender
    • It is good to get the applications submitted early. This helps you acquire financial assistance or teaching and research assistant opportunities too
    • Contact programs and schedule a visit to your priority programs, if possible
    • Alternatively, talk with faculty and graduate students in the program by phone or Skype  
    • If you are applying for need based financial aid programs, you may have to file a copy of your federal income tax return.

*Timeline information taken from Graduate School and You (The Council of Graduate Schools)