Is Graduate School Right for You?
Before you apply, it’s important to consider whether graduate or professional school is the appropriate next step. Apply to graduate/professional school if:
- You have a well-defined career goal, and you know that a graduate degree is a necessary step to achieving that goal.
- You’ve already gained experiences (academic and applied) that will make you a competitive applicant.
- If you're considering applying to graduate/professional school during your Senior Year, it's ideal to meet with a Career Advisor no later than spring semester of your Junior Year. (Of course, we're happy to meet with you at any time. It's never too late to discuss your options.)
When It’s a Good Idea to Wait
Graduate/professional school is a major investment of time and money. It also requires you to narrow your career focus. If you’re still trying to decide on a career direction, you may want to gain some work experience before diving into a grad program. This can help clarify your goals and ensure you’re selecting a program that’s a good fit.
Graduate vs. Professional School—What’s the Difference?
There are many types of programs out there including: Masters (MA, MS, MBA), PhD programs, law (JD) programs, and numerous types of medical degrees. In general, "Graduate School" refers to Masters or PhD programs, and "Professional School" refers to law, business, or medical degrees. To identify the right degree required for the job you want, we suggest the following:
- Check out the professional organization(s) for your chosen field, and locate career or student resources. Often these sites have information about required degree programs, and the differences between them.
- Talk to professors or advisors about your goals and graduate degree options.
- Do an informational interview with someone who’s doing work that interests you. Find out about their degree(s). How to conduct an informational interview.
This step is crucial. In order to gain acceptance into a program, you must be able to articulate why you are a fit for that specific program. To achieve that level of insight, and then convey it in your application, follow these steps:
- Develop a list of your criteria. You may want to consider factors such as school size, faculty that fit your interest area, financial support, and geographic location.
- Make a spreadsheet, table, or document that helps you keep all the programs straight; note how each program matches up with your desired criteria.
- Reach out if you have questions. Grad programs always have a designated faculty or staff member who can answer admissions-related questions. You may need to contact the program to find that person, or it may be apparent from the website. Be polite and professional with your inquiries; this is your first impression!
- Get familiar with the faculty. Particularly when it comes to PhD programs that may only accept a few students per year, it’s important to identify a specific faculty member that you might want as a mentor. If possible, it’s a good idea to reach out to the professor expressing your interest, and asking any questions you may have. Research the faculty member in advance, including their publications and current projects.
Develop Your Final List of Schools
Once you’ve done your research, create your application list. Do your research to see how many programs you should apply to; this will depend on how competitive the degree is, as well as your own criteria. Create a list with three tiers—a cluster of “reach” top-tier schools, a cluster of mid-range schools, and a tier of “safety” schools.
Get Your Application Process Organized.
Keep deadlines and application requirements organized using a method that works for you, such as a spreadsheet or table. In general, you’ll need to complete the following:
- Standardized tests. The test you take will depend on your program. Take care of this step early, so you’ll have time to re-take if necessary, and you won’t have to study for it while you’re working on the rest of your application (which can be time consuming). Here are the most common tests you may need to take:
- GRE: required for most academic graduate school programs, and now used for veterinary medicine programs. Some programs also require a "Subject Test" in addition to the general test. If taking, be sure to take advantage of their free sample tests to gauge how prepared you are.
- GMAT: required for MBA programs.
- LSAT: required for Law School programs.
- MCAT: required for Medical School programs.
- Curriculum Vitae (CV). This is basically a resume, but with a different focus and different sections. You should include all relevant academic experience. Examples include: presentations, publications, research grants or experience, and serving on university committees.
- Personal Statement. The personal statement is one of the most important parts of your application. This is where you state why and how this particular program is a fit for you. Therefore, it MUST be tailored to the individual school/program. You should have several people look at your statement, such as professors and a career advisor. Here are a couple samples of good personal statements: Sample Essay 1 Sample Essay 2
- Letters of Recommendation. Again, a critical element of your application. Ask for letters about 2 months in advance, and make it as easy on your letter-writers as possible.Pre-address their envelopes if necessary, and send electronic copies of all the addresses they’ll need so they can cut and paste into their letters.
- Pre-address their envelopes if necessary, and send electronic copies of all the addresses they'll need so they can cut and paste them into the letters.
- Provide them a copy of your CV and personal statement so they can refer to your accomplishments and goals.
- Send a gentle reminder when the deadline is approaching (about 2 weeks out).
- Application. Some grad programs (like medical schools) have a “common application”, but other programs may differ by school. Make sure you are aware of all application components. Typically these will be completed online.
The Wait Begins!
Congratulate yourself when those applications are in. Applying for grad/professional school can feel like a part-time job. Don’t hesitate to visit us in Career Development for application assistance, or help deciding on programs.