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Office of Career Services(OCS)

Applying to Graduate School

Graduate and professional schools offer an opportunity for you to undertake advanced study in areas of interest and/or to accomplish a career goal. There are some professions that require an advanced degree such as law, medicine, and postsecondary teaching. However, if you are uncertain as to your career goal, careful thought and consideration should be given before applying to a program. Making an informed decision about pursuing a graduate or professional degree requires an in-depth self-analysis, research of schools, and development of a plan. It is recommended that the planning and preparation begin approximately 18 months before expected entrance. This would include the self-analysis, the research of graduate programs, and a plan of action.

Why Go To Graduate or Professional School?

There are many reasons why an individual will decide to attend graduate or professional school. This personal decision may include reasons such as:

  • Requirement for entry into the field (e.g. law, medicine, speech therapy) 
  • Professional growth 
  • Career change 
  • Personal growth, fulfillment 
  • Increase in income 
  • Postponement of career decision or job search 
  • The job market 

Your decision should be based on your own personal situation and long-term goals. A decision should not be made in haste. Careful reflection on your reasons for pursuing an advanced degree will help to ensure a sound decision.

Factors to Consider

The process of deciding whether and when to pursue an advanced degree involves conducting a personal evaluation. It is imperative that you conduct an honest assessment of factors that can and will influence your decision. These factors may include, but are not limited to:

  • Personality 
  • Skills/talents 
  • Interests 
  • Self-discipline 
  • Motivation 
  • Persistence 
  • Tenacity 
  • Career path 
  • Intellect 
  • Others who will be affected by your decision (such as family, significant other) 
  • Support system (such as family, friends, mentor) 

A personal assessment will help in clarifying your career goals and directing you to a graduate program that will be a good match. In addition, your self-assessment will be valuable during the application process, in particular when writing your personal statement and in the event a personal interview is part of the application process.

Selecting a Degree Program

There are generally two types of graduate school degrees awarded: masters and doctorates. Professional schools commonly award advanced degrees in law, health and the medical field. The timelines in completing degree programs vary. The degree sought, number of classes taken in a semester or quarter, required fieldwork experience, whether a comprehensive exam, thesis or dissertation is chosen, and residency requirements will all influence the length of time for completing a degree program.

Research Graduate and Professional Schools

Thoroughly researching graduate schools will significantly enhance one's ability to make a good decision, and help to prioritize which schools match an individual's educational and career goals. Make a list of criteria that are important to your decision. Although no absolute criteria are available for judging graduate or professional schools, the following may serve as a checklist of criteria to consider:

  • school offers degrees in your area of interest 
  • strength and reputation of the academic program 
  • geographic location 
  • weather 
  • meets your goal 
  • required entrance exams 
  • demographic makeup of campus population 
  • cost of tuition, books, relocation, housing 
  • financial aid availability 
  • application deadline 
  • number of applicants vs. number accepted 
  • faculty to student ratio 
  • your undergraduate preparation 
  • size of institution 
  • accreditation of program 
  • school and program's overall reputation 
  • campus culture 
  • length of time to complete program 
  • placement record of program's graduates 
  • completion rate 

Researching graduate schools and their program offerings is a "mouse click" away. Many schools have web sites and virtual tours that can introduce you to their school and programs. If you have some schools in mind and do not know their web site, do an internet search by going to any search engine (Yahoo, Google, etc.) and typing in the school name. This should connect you to the school's web site. Other web sites for researching graduate schools are:

Peterson's Graduate and Professional Schools - 
Grad Schools (portal) - 
Grad Guide (portal) - 
Graduate and Professional School Profiles - 
Council of Graduate Schools - 
Association for Support of Graduate Students - 
National Association of Graduate-Professional Students - 
U.S. News & World Report Rankings & Guides - 

After gathering information, it is best to narrow your selection to four or five potential schools. Your visit to the school(s) is a very important part of the process. There are often factors that you can only accurately assess by visiting each school in person. If you are unable to visit all the institutions you are considering, prioritize your top two or three and visit only those schools.

Financing Your Education

Graduate awards are usually given on the basis of past academic performance and or financial need. Financial aid for graduate and professional schools is offered in three basic forms:

  • Grants and scholarships are awarded on the basis of financial need and/or academic performance. This "gift assistance" does not obligate the recipient to repay the award. Check with religious organizations, foundations, labor unions, businesses, or town and city groups for scholar-ships based on achievement, ethnicity, hobbies, or talents. Armed forces may also offer financial opportunities. Your employer may have an educational reimbursement program. 
  • Fellowships and assistantships are available through your department of study and/or they may be funded by the state. These types of awards may cover part or all of your tuition and provide stipends. There are a number of private fellowship offerings available based on merit, area of interest and minority status. Apply with national fellowships such as the Fulbright Mellon, National Research Foundation, and/or National Science Foundation. 
  • Loans are available through a variety of private and government sources. Student loans must be repaid. Student loans feature lower rates of interest and/or deferred payment options. Apply for loans at each institution to which you have submitted an application for admission through the Financial Aid Office. Also, check with banks, credit unions, or educational loan organizations for private loans. 

Typical Admissions Requirements

  1. A baccalaureate degree
  2. A minimum grade point average (often of 3.0 or better). GPA in your major rather than your cumulative GPA may be used to meet this criterion 
  3. A minimum score on an entrance examination 
  4. Some preparation in the proposed field of study (i.e. internship, research) 
  5. Experience relevant to the proposed field

The Application Process

Application policies vary greatly among institutions and even among departments within the same institutions. Make sure you have obtained the most recent information from schools to which you are applying. The way you present yourself and your achievements should be tailored to each specific program. You may be required to supply the following in order to be considered for admission to a graduate program:

  1. Completed application 
  2. Official undergraduate transcript(s) from the Registrar's office 
  3. Personal essay/statement of purpose 
  4. Required entrance examination scores 
  5. Letters of recommendations (minimum 3) 
  6. Writing sample, tape, portfolio, audition as requested 
  7. Application fee (usually around $50.00 to $75.00) 
  8. Personal interview 

Completed Application: Be sure that each application you submit is complete, accurate and on time. Applicants greatly out number the spaces available in graduate school, so the appearance of your application is as important as the information on it. Answer all questions and adhere to the deadlines.

Transcript: An official transcript from the Registrar's office must be sent directly from the institutions you have attended to the schools to which you are applying.

Personal Essay/Statement of Purpose: The purpose of the personal statement is to show the admissions committee how you think, and your writing ability. Your goal in writing a personal statement is to create a portrait that is both persuasive and personal. It should be a concise, well-written essay about your background, knowledge of the field and your reasons for pursuing graduate study in the field or profession you have chosen.

Admissions Examinations:

Graduate Records Exam (GRE) - 
Miller Analogies Test (MAT) - 
Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) - 
Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) - 
Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) - 
Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) - 
Veterinary Aptitude Test (VAT) - 
Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) - 
Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) - 
Teacher Testing (PRAXIS) - 

Plan to take the appropriate entrance examination during your junior year or at the latest during the fall of your senior year if you plan to go on to graduate school immediately after college.

Letters of Recommendation: Most graduate programs will require three to four letters of recommendation. The letters are supposed to vouch for your ability to study at the graduate level, your undergraduate preparation, and your commitment to the proposed field of study. The individuals you ask to write your recommendations can impact how you as an applicant are perceived. Your best choices for recommenders are:

  • Undergraduate professors ( in your major) 
  • Other professors 
  • Professionals who have supervised you in volunteer or paid work related to your graduate field 
  • Employers 

It is strongly encouraged that you request letters from faculty who can comment on your undergraduate academic preparation, potential for graduate study, and commitment to your proposed field of study. If a professor is not well acquainted with you, provide him/her with a resume of your professional goals and academic background. Also, provide each with a stamped envelope addressed to the appropriate graduate school. Although professors are your best bet, there are other people who can attest to your suitability for graduate school. These include:

  • Teacher's Assistant (TA) 
  • Colleagues 
  • Graduate students in your proposed field, or even in the program to which you are applying 
  • Letters of recommendation can rank very high on an admission committee's list of evaluation criteria.

Writing Samples, Tapes, Portfolios and Auditions: These items may be requested for consideration to enter specific programs (i.e. fine arts, design, film, music, or architecture). Be prepared to submit any additional information that is requested to enhance your opportunity for acceptance.

Application Fee: Each application must be accompanied by a fee. Include a check or money order for the required application fee.

Personal Interview: In some programs an interview may be required before admission is granted. In addition to being an important factor in gaining admission, it provides you the opportunity of making an assessment of the program. Prepare as you would for an employment interview.

Graduate School Checklist

Six months prior to applying:

  • Research areas of interest, institutions and programs. 
  • Register and prepare for appropriate admission tests. 
  • If appropriate, obtain letters of recommendations. 

Three months prior to applying:

  • Take required admissions tests. 
  • Obtain application materials. 
  • Visit institutions of interest, if possible. 
  • Write your application essay. 
  • If needed for medical, dental, osteopathy, podiatry, or law school, register for the national application or data assembly service most programs use. 

Fall/One year before matriculating:

  • Take admission tests if you have not already done so. 
  • Send in completed applications. 
  • Winter/Before matriculating in the fall: 
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Financial Aid PROFILE, if required. 

Spring/Before matriculating in the fall:

  • Check with all institutions before the deadline to make sure your file is complete. Send a deposit to your institution of choice. 
  • Notify other colleges and universities that accepted you of your decision so that they may admit students on their waiting list. 
  • Send thank you notes to people who wrote your recommendation letters, informing them of your success.