Graduate School

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Graduate school is an intensive, deep-dive into a specialized field of study. It may seem automatic to think you will go on to graduate school immediately after your undergraduate studies at Notre Dame, but this is not necessarily the case. Make sure your graduate or professional school decision is intentional, well-thought out with a plan for financing, and leads to careers you are confident you will enjoy. 

Advanced Degree Options

Master’s Degree

These are one or two-year graduate programs covering literally hundreds of specialized fields. You might explore and choose a Master’s program to break into a field, promote to a higher level and better paying position within the field, narrow to a particular specialty within a broad field, gain deeper level research and quantitative skills, etc. These include degrees such as Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Education, Master of Teaching, etc. In many cases, gaining experience either in the career field related to the Master’s program or simply providing you with professional work experience, will clarify the career direction you want with your graduate program, provide you with real-world experience that significantly enriches graduate studies, and makes you more competitive for the jobs you want after your graduate studies!

Explore

  • Is Graduate School Right For You? 
  • Are you ready? 
    • Have you focused on those areas during undergraduate? 
    • Have you done a Senior Thesis, a capstone, one or more projects on one of those topic areas? 
    • Have you researched with a faculty member?
    • Do you have some ideas for an original project or research, which may be required for the completion of a Master’s
  • Is the Master’s degree necessary to break into the field or it is more useful once you’ve had some experience in the field?
  • Do you pursue a Master’s or a Ph.D.?
  • Would pursuing a fellowship through the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement contribute to your competitiveness or even pay for the Master’s program?
  • Would a graduate program abroad further distinguish yourself? Could you get it paid for through a scholarship?
  • What will it cost you? Sample cost for a 2-year Master’s program, based on estimated figures:

EXPENSE ITEM

ANNUAL COST

TOTAL

Tuition 

$50,000

$100,000 (plus interest if loans)

Cost of living

$35,000

$70,000

Opportunity cost of not working

$40,000

$80,000 (but doesn’t account for taxes)

TOTALS

$125,000

$250,000

Costs nearly recouped in 3 yrs with new career

$80,000

$240,000

  • Talk to graduate students here at Notre Dame who are in Master programs related to what you are seeking
    • Gain perspective on going immediately after undergrad or gaining some experience first
    • Ask what helped them be competitive for their program
    • Ask what they have found most challenging about their program

Prepare

  • Narrow down the career field of specialization 
  • Determine 3-4 topic areas within that field of specialization that interest you
  • Consult graduate school research tools
  • Select a range of graduate programs that include some from the top and middle rankings and by a factor, such as location or in-state residency
  • Evaluate program factors
  • Talk to professors who specialize in the area of your Master program
    • Ask them about the top programs
    • Ask about the programs you’ve researched
    • Ask them about the faculty at the programs you are considering
    • Ask them if they recommend any other particular classes, projects, research that will help you be more competitive for the programs

Testing

General Application Timeline

Research Schools

Test Preparation and Scheduling to Take

Application Submitted

Letters of Recommendation

Personal Statement

Decisions

Junior yr

 -----------

Year before expect to enroll

Prep 2-4 months

-----------------------------

Take Junior Spring or Summer before Senior yr

------------------------------

Take Spring or Summer before applying

------------------------------

At least 3-weeks before application goal or deadline

Oct/Nov

 

esp.  if rolling application deadline to increase chances for scholarships & assistantships; some programs have later application deadlines; adjust timeline accordingly

Junior yr late Spring or Summer before Senior yr

--------------------

select and ask about 3-4 months before application deadline

plan on 3-5 drafts

Jan - Mar usually

Apply

  • Ask for Letters of Recommendations, if required; provide recommender with schools to which you are applying, resume, draft of personal statement, letter submission date, what strengths, skills you would like the recommender to speak to
  • Prepare CV - an academic version of your resume, including undergraduate projects, research, publications, major research projects and/or papers. See sample resumes. (please link specifically to Robyn-Elizabeth Lavine and Aurora Smith resumes)
  • Prepare personal statement or portfolio of materials, if required
  • Apply early to increase chances for scholarships or assistantships

Ph.D.

A longer academic endeavor of 4-7 years, depending on the graduate program, heavily research based, often requiring significant skill in quantitative research methods. You may want to explore a Ph.D. graduate degree if you have a laser-focused interest in a specific academic field and desire to do specific and in-depth research on particular questions or ideas in the academic field. It is important that you thrive in research, writing, grant-writing, academia, and working with all levels of faculty. Deciding to pursue a Ph.D. is a big decision.You will spend 5-7 years in a Ph.D. program and potentially 2-3 more years in a post-doc program. Take the time and thought you need to be sure this is the career direction you want.

Explore

  • Why would you want to do a Ph.D.? 
  • Will you be ready?
    • Are you doing research during undergraduate - independent and faculty-directed? 
    • Will you do a Senior Thesis, a capstone, one or more projects on topics you may pursue in the Ph.D. program? 
    • Do you have some, even vague, ideas that could be fuel for a dissertation?
  • Does the Ph.D. lead you to the career(s) you want? Academia is becoming very difficult to enter with some Ph.D. degrees.
  • Talk to Ph.D. graduate students here at Notre Dame who are in Ph.D. programs you are considering
    • Ask why they decided to pursue a Ph.D.
    • Ask what helped them be competitive for their program
    • Ask what they have found most challenging about their program
    • Ask what their typically week is like

Prepare

  • Narrow down the career field of specialization 
  • Determine 3-4 topic areas within that field of specialization that interest you
  • Consult graduate school research tools
  • Select a range of graduate programs that include some from the top and middle rankings and by a factor, such as location or in-state residency
  • Talk to professors who specialize in the area of study you are considering
    • Ask about the top programs and particularly the programs you are considering
    • Ask them about the faculty at the programs you are considering
    • Ask them if they recommend particular classes, projects, or research that will help you be more competitive 
  • Evaluate program factors

Testing

General Application Timeline

Research Schools

Test Preparation and Scheduling to Take

Application Submitted

Letters of Recommendation

Personal Statement

Decisions

Junior yr

 -----------

Year before expect to enroll

Prep 2-4 months

-----------------------------

Take Junior Spring or Summer before Senior yr

------------------------------

Take Spring or Summer before applying

------------------------------

At least 3-weeks before application goal or deadline

Nov/Dec

Junior yr late Spring or Summer before Senior yr

--------------------

select and ask about 3-4 months before application deadline

plan on 3-5 drafts

Jan - Mar usually

 

Apply

  • Ask for Letters of Recommendations, if required; provide recommender with schools to which you are applying, resume, draft of personal statement, letter submission date, what strengths, skills you would like the recommender to speak to
  • Prepare CV - an academic version of your resume, including undergraduate projects, research, publications, major research projects and/or papers. See sample resumes. (please link specifically to Robyn-Elizabeth Lavine and Aurora Smith resumes)
  • Prepare personal statement or portfolio of materials, if required
  • Apply early to increase chances for scholarships or assistantships

Law School

The first question to ask yourself is, “Do you want to practice law?” You’ll hear a lot of different reasons for going to law school, but bottom line, law school is preparing you to practice law. The entire campus recruiting program is geared around this. Many Notre Dame students enjoy the challenge of law school, but it’s more difficult knowing if you will enjoy the practice of law, across its more than 260 practice areas! Deciding to go to law school is not only a long-term career decision, but also a major financial investment. So, first determine if the practice of law will be a long-term and satisfying career for you.

Explore

  • Overview of law as a career
  • Find 2-3 Notre Dame alumni,who currently practice law, through IrishCompass (the Notre Dame Alumni Student network) and conduct an information interview with her/him; talk to your relatives who are lawyers, but go further
  • Clarify what it is you believe you want to do in your career and explore other graduate programs that may be tailor made for the career you want for comparison
  • Shadow a couple of attorneys for a half day or so
  • Do a law-related internship in a public interest law agency, through the Political Science Internship Course; in a law-firm IF there is someone who will take the time to show you the ropes, teach you to do more than shadow and file papers 
  • Take philosophy of law; a constitutional studies class; business law; join the Notre Dame Mock Trial Association
  • Take a look at Should I Go to Law School? The $100,000 Gamble (KF297.R63), Hesburgh Library
  • Bridging the Gap Between College and Law School: Strategies for Success (KF283.S77), Notre Dame Law School Library
  • Talk to a pre law advisor

Prepare 

  • American Bar Association’s  Preparing for Law School
  • Law School Admissions Council's Steps to Apply
  • Be prepared for the financial cost of applying - $195 for the Credential Assembly Service; approximately $40 per law school application
  • Talk to Notre Dame law students 
    • Gain perspective on going immediately after undergrad or gaining some experience first
    • Ask what helped them be competitive for their program
    • What are their tips for studying for the LSAT and writing the personal statement
  • Sit in on a law school class (with the professor’s permission)
  • Take the Notre Dame Law School Admissions tour, even if you’re not consider NDLS; great for comparison and developing questions you want to ask the law schools you are considering
  • Research Law Schools
  • Evaluate key factors of every law school you are considering
    • ABA required disclosure, e.g., NDLS
    • Review the Standard 509 Information Report, e.g., NDLS’s page
    • Compare across the law schools you are considering
  • Attend the Law School Fair held in the early Fall at Notre Dame; visit a lot of schools; ask for application fee waivers
  • Attend the law school-focused workshops offered on campus throughout the year
  • Establish how you will finance your law school education; if you are at the top of the GPA and LSAT range of a school to which you are applying, you may have a case to request/be offered a scholarship
  • Access the cost - use the law school student loan calculator
  • Determine how you will finance your legal education

Testing

General Application Timeline to enter law school in fall

Research Schools

LSATt Preparation and Scheduling to Take

Application Submitted

Letters of Recommendation

Personal Statement

Decisions

Junior yr

 -----------

Year before expect to enroll

Prep 3-4 months

 

Take Junior Spring or Summer before Senior yr

------------------------------

Take Spring or Summer before applying

 

Last date to take - 3-weeks before application goal or deadline

By Halloween preferably

 

No later than  Thanksgiving

Select and ask in Junior yr Spring or Summer before Senior yr

 

Submit early  October

--------------------

Select and ask about 3-4 months before application deadline

 

Submit early October

plan on 3-5 drafts

Jan - Mar usually

 

Apply

  • Select 3-7 law schools to apply to, including a couple stretch, a couple solidly certain
  • Many law schools have rolling admission deadlines; apply early to increase chances of gaining a seat and getting a scholarship
  • Ask for three Letters of Recommendations, some schools require only 2; provide recommender with schools to which you are applying, resume, draft of personal statement, letter submission date, what strengths, skills you would like the recommender to speak to; you don’t want all three saying the same things about you
  • Your law school application should build a comprehensive, but composite, picture of you
  • Prepare one-page resume, including any research, publications, major academic writing. See sample resumes. (please link specifically to Robyn-Elizabeth Lavine and Aurora Smith resumes)
  • Prepare personal statement - why law school now; why this law school (more than just filling the name of the school into a template sentence); what you bring to the class cohort - perspective, life experience, understanding of a particular subject, etc.
  • Disclose anything that may become a character issue for your bar application through an addendum - talk to a prelaw advisor if you have questions
  • Prepare any optional essays allowed and that you believe complement the rest of your application
  • Acceptances - you can negotiate for a scholarship; many schools will not negotiate the scholarship amount offered
  • Comparing costs between law schools
  • Coming to Law SChool: How to Prepare Yourself for the Next Three Years (KF283.G35), Notre Dame Law School Library

Medical School

Deciding to go to medical school is life-career decision. After your 4-year undergraduate degree, another 7-11 years is required to complete 4 years of medical school, 3-7 years of residency (depending on specialty), pass multiple exams, and successfully complete licensing examinations to become a licensed physician. A deep love of science, strong academic abilities, and standardized test-taking skills will carry you through the training and the constant intellectual challenge and rigors of practicing medicine. There are superb resources at Notre Dame for setting you on the course to pursue medicine. If you are considering medicine, seek out the faculty and resources who can help you get started on the academic path that will help you get into medical school. At the same time, we invite you to utilize the self-assessment and discernment tools available to you through our office to gain clarity and confidence in your career choices.

Explore

Choosing to be a doctor deserves your time, energy and extensive exploration into this career field. There are more than 3,000 alumni practicing some form of medicine. Look them up on the Alumni Directory (under Find Alumni, advance search, selecting “medicine” under “field of specialty.” Set up an informal information interview with one of them! Additionally, there are more than 500 Notre Dame alumni on IrishCompass who have already joined the ND  Network and are willing to talk to you about their career! 

Prepare

Apply

Health Careers

The healthcare field will continue to grow, not only in number of medical professionals needed, but also in various specialties and not for humans only. Health careers include veterinarians, dentists, periodontists, physician assistants, nurses with many different specialties, physical therapists, ophthalmologists, genetic counselors, etc. If you are highly interested in the medical sciences and health care, but desire a different educational path, work-life balance and medical focus than a licensed physician, then explore the numerous other health careers.

Explore 

Prepare 

  • Research the academic and application requirements for the health career you want to pursue
  • Meet with your academic advisor to ensure you are taking the courses necessary for getting into the next required academic schooling
  • Talk to your academic advisors about gaining independent and/or faculty-led research experience
  • Explore independent research preparation and funding; meet with an advisor
  • Explore fellowships related to medical or health care issues, such as the Goldwater Scholarship; meet with a fellowship advisor 
  • Start researching the specific graduate programs you want to consider during your junior year, determining application requirements and financing the program
  • Prepare for and take the required standardized test (perhaps the MCAT or the GRE) to get into the post-secondary program
  • Seek out student club activities related to your interests
  • Shadow and volunteer in facilities related to the career you want to pursue, e.g., volunteering in a vet’s office or a hospital

Apply

  • Talk to your academic advisor and other faculty who teach in the academic areas most related to the health career you want to pursue - ask them about the top schools to attend for your chosen field
  • Establish your timeline for preparing application materials, planning to submit all applications before the final application deadline
  • Select and ask persons writing a letter of recommendation for you, providing names of schools to which you are applying, resume, and draft of statement for application (if required) and giving them at least 2 months in which to prepare the letter

Business / Policy / Public Administration

One of the most common graduate business degrees is the Master of Business Administration. Although usually a full-time, 2 year academic program, there are 2 ½ to 4 year part-time evening and executive MBA programs for those who want to continue working while acquiring an MBA. Most MBA programs prefer (some require) applicants to have at least a couple years of professional work experience. This brings rich business ideas and dialog to the classroom. Other business degrees include Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA), Master of Science in Business Administration (MSBA), Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Science in Administration (MSIA), Master of Public and Private Management (MPPM), and Master of Management (MM). Most importantly, if you have any uncertainty about pursuing the master’s degree that interests you, there is no rush. Consider doing a couple years of professional work in that field to test your interests and enrichen your graduate studies.

Explore 

  • Talk with a faculty member and/or an admissions representative for the ND MBA or MNA programs here on campus
  • Talk with Notre Dame alumni who have pursued the advanced degree of interest to you (find them through the University of Notre Dame LinkedIn alumni search  or on IrishCompass
  • Incorporate courses into your studies that provide exposure to the career area that interests you; many of these programs do not require a specific undergraduate degree, but do look for experience, research, writing, project work clearly demonstrating study and interest in the field
  • Participate in Notre Dame experiential programs, such as the Arts & Letters Corporate Industry Boot Camp, Student International Business Council, DC Career Trek (policy), etc.

Prepare

  • Research the academic and application requirements for the business/policy graduate program you want to pursue
  • Meet with a representative and/or students in the programs at Notre Dame similar to the one of interest to you
  • Consider doing independent and/or faculty-led research experience
  • Explore independent research preparation and funding; meet with an advisor
  • Explore fellowships related to the graduate studies you are considering; meet with a fellowship advisor 
  • Start researching the specific graduate programs you want to consider applying to during your junior or senior year - depending on when you want to apply, determining application requirements and financing the program
  • Whether you apply right away or later after your undergraduate studies, consider if you will need a letter of recommendation from a faculty member; build the relationship now; ask for the letter before you leave Notre Dame
  • Some prefer to take the required standardized test (GMAT for MBA; GRE for policy/public administration) to get into the post-secondary program while in undergraduate, but it’s o.k. to take these tests later; most of all ensure you can commit 2-4 months to study and prepare to do your best on the test
  • Seek out student club activities related to your interests
  • Obtain internships in the career area you are considering for graduate school

Apply

  • Select 3-7 specific programs to apply to. 
  • Craft your financial plan - few, if any of these programs, offer funding; perhaps assistantships; maybe some scholarships for substantial financial need - if you are a candidate they really want in the program
  • Prepare the required application materials; apply early to increase chances of a seat in the program, an assistantship or a scholarship

Masters vs. Ph.D. 

MASTERS

Ph.D. 

1-2 years to complete

5-7 years to complete

not usually funded

usually funded

terminal degree

builds on specific MA degree

move into a more specialized career upon completion

may do 3-4 years of post-doc work within higher education institutions after completing Ph.D

point of program usually to increase job opportunities within a specific industry

point of program usually to move into academia, though in some cases depends on the program

can do a part-time program and complete while working

not usually offered as part-time program

usually requires a thesis or some type of a field-based project completed during second year

requires a significant research-based dissertation completed over a 3-4 year period

may or may not work closely with a faculty member

will work closely with a faculty advisor to complete dissertation

choose on basis of program specialization; may choose based on faculty research

choose on basis of program and faculty research focus

often value prior work experience

often value moving directly from research-based undergraduate program to the Ph.D. program

specific undergraduate degree often not required, though may be helpful

often require specific undergraduate degree for foundation of continued research at Ph.D. level

often value independent undergraduate research, such as a Senior Thesis or independent research project

research with faculty and independent research necessary to be competitive in many programs

publications great and will increase competitiveness, but not required

publications, conference/poster presentations add to competitiveness