- Is graduate school right for you?
- Identifying and researching degrees programs
If you're thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, you should first consider the following:
- Do you have clearly defined goals that include graduate school?
- Have you researched your desired career path to determine what graduate degree and program is best?
- Do you have experience in the field? Volunteer work and projects count.
- Is the degree necessary?
- Will gaining some additional experience maximize your competitiveness?
- Is your GPA competitive enough for your graduate school goals?
- Have you planned ahead or are you rushing through the application process?
- Are you looking forward to continuing your education?
- Have you thought about how you’ll pay for a graduate degree?
There are two steps in identifying appropriate graduate programs. First, you want to identify what type of degree you should be pursuing. This will then help narrow down which programs you’ll research.
If you know the industry, or type of position you ultimately want, try to find others in the field and see what their educational background is. You can also look at the educational requirements tied to job descriptions within the industries you're targeting.
After you’ve determined which degree you want to pursue, you can start researching programs. The following criteria can help you narrow down which schools to research:
- Research areas
- Geographic location
- Reputation and rankings
- Admissions criteria
Not sure where to start? Speak with your department or academic advisor, or visit one of the following resources:
- College Recruiter
- College Source Online (use the advanced search option)
- Grad Profiles
- International Programs
- Peterson’s Guides
- US News rankings
Most graduate schools have similar application requirements. It’s important that you always check the specific requirements for the programs to which you’re applying.
General Record Exam (GRE) – The GRE is offered locally on an ongoing basis throughout the year and is required for most graduate schools.
GRE Subject Test – There are seven different GRE subject tests offered once in September, October and April. Not all programs in the following areas require a subject test, but many may be required or recommended by the department you’re applying to:
- Biochemistry, cell and molecular biology
- Literature in English
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) – GMAT's are offered weekly and are for students looking to pursue a graduate degree in business.
The score you receive on these exams can have a big impact on whether or not you’re accepted into a program. This is why it is important to make sure you are adequately prepared for the exam you are taking. In addition to traditional books, the following resources can provide additional help in your exam prep:
Letter of recommendation requirements can vary from school to school. It’s a good idea to review any guidelines posted on the website of the program you’re applying to before contacting your references. You can also set up an online account through Interfolio to store your letters of recommendation.
Be sure to check your transcript for accuracy before submitting it. Information about requesting transcripts can be found on the Registrar’s transcript page.
Personal Statements, Statements of Purpose, and Essays
In general, a personal statement is a more comprehensive essay about yourself and how your qualifications align with the program or field that interests you. A statement of purpose is usually more focused on the specific program. Some general tips:
- Be sure to answer questions clearly
- Highlight your main qualifications for the program
- Inform the reader why you're unique; share your story, your experience or special qualifications
- Briefly state what you know about the field. Remember: This is a personal statement, not an academic paper
- Let the reader know why the program appeals to you and what criteria you used in your application process
- Your statement should stand alone, but also complement the rest of your application
- Have a writing tutor, faculty member, career advisor, or someone your trust review your statement while still maintaining your voice
- Proof your document carefully to ensure that it is well-written and free of errors
If you’re asked to provide a statement of purpose, do your research on that specific program. You may want to explore individual courses, the program focus, research opportunities, faculty expertise, structure of the program (internship, field experience, etc.), location, or other factors that can help you to determine your fit for that program and that program’s fit for you. There may be aspects of your application that you feel deserve, or need, an explanation. If this isn't included in your other statements, you may opt to include an addendum. Addendums should be as brief and to the point as possible.
Not all graduate programs require interviews, but for those that do the interview process is a critical step in the overall application process. Review the Graduate School PDF guide either on your own or with a career advisor to help make sure you’re prepared. We also suggest doing a mock interview, either with a friend, family member, WSAP speaking tutor or one of our career advisors.
*note that medical school timelines may differ than the information provided below
Define your career/degree goals and begin researching programs.
Determine what standardized tests are required and when they are offered. If possible, budget time to take tests twice just in case.
Think about and explore test prep options. Self study? Prep class?
Take standardized tests (if appropriate).
Prep, take, or retake (if necessary) standardized exams.
Request letters of recommendation.
Refine school list.
Contact faculty at target schools, if appropriate. Some PhD programs strongly encourage you to connect with faculty in their programs to discuss research opportunities.
Create or update your calendar with application deadlines and required materials.
Start work on personal statements, other essays, your resume and other required documents.
Finalize resume and essay(s).
Review the financial aid application process and fill out necessary forms.
Look for and apply for scholarships.
Check on recommendation status with your recommenders.
Request transcripts through the Registrar.
Complete and submit your applications.
Remember to submit your test scores!
Weigh options and make decisions.
Make alternative plans, if necessary.
Students should look for funding opportunities through the specific program(s) they are applying to. Students might also consider serving as Teaching Assistants while in graduate school. The following resources contain additional information on how to secure funding for graduate school: