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.
There are many reasons why an individual will decide to attend graduate or professional school. This personal decision may include reasons such as:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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 - www.petersons.com
Grad Schools (portal) - www.gradschools.com
Grad Guide (portal) - www.graduateguide.com
Graduate and Professional School Profiles - www.gradprofiles.com
Council of Graduate Schools - www.cgsnet.org
Association for Support of Graduate Students - www.asgs.org
National Association of Graduate-Professional Students - www.nagps.org
U.S. News & World Report Rankings & Guides - www.usnews.com/usnews/rankguide/rghome.htm
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.
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:
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:
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.
Graduate Records Exam (GRE) - www.gre.org
Miller Analogies Test (MAT) - www.milleranalogies.com
Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) - www.lsac.org
Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) - www.mba.com/mba
Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) - www.aamc.org/students/mcat
Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) - www.ada.org
Veterinary Aptitude Test (VAT) - aavmc.org
Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) - www.opted.org
Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) - www.pcat.info
Teacher Testing (PRAXIS) - www.ets.org/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:
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:
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.
Six months prior to applying:
Three months prior to applying:
Fall/One year before matriculating:
Spring/Before matriculating in the fall: