Graduate School Information
Pursuing Graduate or Professional School
After you have completed your undergraduate or Bachelor degree program, you might consider continuing your education to obtain an advanced degree. Perhaps you are considering the possibility (and feasibility) of attending graduate or professional school in an attempt to get your Master's or Doctoral degree. A professional degree program helps you develop the skills necessary for a career in a specific type of work: medicine, law, pharmacy, journalism, nursing, social work, counseling, and business administration. A graduate degree program helps you develop skills and conduct research in a broad academic area: English, history, political science, foreign languages, the arts, math, engineering, education, and the sciences.
Among the more popular advanced degrees are: PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), MD (Doctor
of Medicine, EdD (Doctor of Education), JD (Juris Doctorate), MS (Master of Science),
MA (Master of Arts), MBA (Master of Business Administration), MEd (Master of Education),
MN (Master of Nursing), MSW (Master of Social Work).
Graduate School Option
Talk to people who hold graduate degrees. Ask your professor for advice. Visit graduate schools. Make plans to take your entrance exam. Apply to more than one program.
- Is graduate school right for you?
- How genuinely interested are you in this field?
- How well have you performed in your past academic pursuits?
- Is a graduate degree a good investment?
- If so, how and when will it pay dividends?
- What schools have the best programs for my field?
- How will this degree improve my job prospects?
- How will you pay for graduate school?
- What assistantships are available?
- In what ways is being a graduate student different from being an undergraduate?
- Is it worth the effort?
Reasons for Attending Graduate School
Should you go to graduate school? Before you decide, you should seriously examine your ultimate career goals and motives for attending grad school before you commit at least two years of your life and thousands of dollars to a graduate degree program. Here are a few of the best reasons to attend graduate school:
A graduate degree is necessary for entry into a chosen field. Some of the fastest growing careers requiring a graduate degree today include marriage and family therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and healthcare social worker. Other career fields that typically require a master’s or doctoral degree include law, medicine and education administration.
A graduate degree is important for upward mobility and increased earning potential in a chosen profession. While not necessarily required for entry into a field, a master’s or doctoral degree may lead to upward career mobility and/or higher pay. This isn’t always the case, however, so if earning more money and moving up the corporate ladder are your only reasons for heading off to graduate school, be sure that your profession requires a graduate degree for promotions and raises. Occupations where a higher degree may mean more cash and mobility include marketing, software engineering, database administration, management and business administration.
A graduate degree is necessary to make a wanted career change. Sometimes an associate or bachelor’s degree in a broadly inclusive subject provides a good starting point for entry into the job market. However, many workers soon realize that their initial choice of occupation offers limited growth or job satisfaction. The answer to transitioning to a better career path may be a master’s or doctoral degree.
You have a passion for the subject. Passion is often overlooked, but it may be the best reason of all. Earning a graduate degree in a subject you’re passionately interested in can be your greatest reward, and it could lead to professional benefits that are entirely unexpected.
There are also, of course, lots of misguided reasons to choose graduate school, including:
Uncertainty about the future. This is among the very worst reasons to go to grad school. If you’re uncertain about your future goals and desires, committing to years of study on the chance that you’ll like where you end up could be catastrophic, especially when so much money and time is involved. A better choice would be to get out into the world and try a few occupations. Graduate school will always be there once you’ve discovered the right career path.
The economy/job market is bad right now. Most experts agree that when the economy is shaky, the number of applications to graduate degree programs increases. This phenomenon can be traced to students believing that spending a few years at graduate school is a safe and ultimately profitable way to wait out a bad job market. This is seldom true, however. Going to grad school to wait for the economy to bounce back is more likely to leave students years behind in job experience compared with their working peers and drop them into a job market at the same time as a lot of other new degree holders who had the same idea.
Avoiding financial or other obligations. Graduate school may be a way to avoid confronting some of life’s inevitable decisions, but they will just be waiting for you a little further down the line.
Meeting the expectations of others. Friends and family may be pushing you to fulfill their expectations of what success means, but since you’re the one who will have to put the time, money and effort into the endeavor, don’t purse a graduate degree for anyone but yourself.
- Making more money. Earning more money is a compelling reason for getting a post-graduate degree, but only if you are seeking to enter one of those professions where a master’s or doctoral degree will really make a difference in your earning power.
- It’s a cold, cruel world out there and the college classroom is warm and welcoming. Graduate school is an expensive way to avoid the real world, and you’ll still have to face that same world when you leave grad school whether or not you earned your degree.
Ultimately, the decision to attend graduate school is highly individual. Once you’ve carefully weighed your graduate school options and have elected to pursue that master’s or doctorate degree, you’ll still be faced with some crucial decisions.(From Go Grad)
Researching Graduate Schools
- Grad Schools: Graduate School Directory
- Graduate Guide: Graduate School Guide
- Princeton Review: Find a Graduate School Program
- Peterson's: Find the Right Graduate School Program
- Noodle: Discover Graduate School Programs
- NASPA: Graduate Program Directory
- US News & World Report: Graduate School Rankings
- Graduate Program Guide: Graduate School Rankings
What Do Graduate Schools Want?
What do graduate admissions committees look for in graduate applicants? Understanding what graduate schools want in applicants is the first step in tailoring your experiences and application to make yourself irresistible to the graduate programs of your dreams.
So just what do admissions committees look for? Their goal is to identify applicants who will become important researchers and leaders in their field. In other words, admissions committees try to select the most promising students. What's a promising student? One who has the ability to become an excellent graduate student and professional.
The Ideal Grad Student
The ideal graduate student is gifted, eager to learn, and highly motivated. He or she can work independently and take direction, supervision, and constructive criticism without becoming upset or overly sensitive. Faculty look for students who are hard workers, want to work closely with faculty, are responsible and easy to work with, and who are a good fit to the program. The best graduate students complete the program on time, with distinction - and excel in the professional world to make graduate faculty proud. Of course, these are ideals. Most graduate students have some of these characteristics, but nearly no one will have all, so don't fear.
Criteria Weighed by Admissions Committees
Now that you know the ideal to which graduate faculty strive in selecting new graduate students, let's look at how faculty weigh the various criteria for admission. Unfortunately there is no simple answer; each graduate admissions committee is a bit different, but generally speaking, the following criteria are important to most admissions committees:
- Undergraduate GPA (especially the last two years of college)
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores
- Recommendation letters
- Personal statement
Sure, you knew these things were important, but let's talk more about why and the part they play in admissions decisions.
Grade Point Average (GPA)
Grades are important not as a sign of intelligence, but instead grades are a long term indicator of how well you perform your job as student. They reflect your motivation and your ability to do consistently good or bad work. Not all grades are the same, though. Admissions committees understand that applicants' grade point averages often cannot be compared meaningfully. Grades can differ among universities - an A at one university may be a B+ at another. Also grades differ among professors in the same university. Admissions committees try to take these things into account when examining applicants' GPAs. They also look at the courses taken: a B in Advanced Statistics may be worth more than an A in Introduction to Social Problems. In other words, they consider the context of the GPA: where was it obtained and of what courses is it comprised? In many cases, it's better to have a lower GPA composed of solid challenging courses than a high GPA based on easy courses like "Basket Weaving for Beginners" and the like.
Clearly, applicants' grade point averages are difficult to compare. This is where Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores come in. Whereas grade point averages are not standardized (there are enormous differences in how professors within a department, university, or country grade student work), the GRE is. Your GRE scores provide information about how you rank among your peers (that's why it's important to do your best!). Although GRE scores are standardized, departments don't weigh them in a standardized way. How a department or admissions committee evaluates GRE scores varies - some use them as cutoffs to eliminate applicants, some use them as criteria for research assistantships and other forms of funding, some look to GRE scores to offset weak GPAs, and some admissions committees will overlook poor GRE scores if applicants demonstrate significant strengths in other areas.
Letters of Recommendation
Usually admissions committees begin the evaluation process by considering GPA and GRE score (or those of other standardized tests). These quantitative measures only tell a small part of an applicant's story. Letters of recommendation provide context within which to consider an applicant's numerical scores. Therefore it's important that the faculty who write your letters of recommendation know you well so that they can discuss the person behind the GPA and GRE scores. Generally speaking, letters written by professors known to committee members tend to carry more weight than those written by "unknowns." Letters written by well-known people in the field, if they signify that they know you well and think highly of you, can be very helpful in moving your application towards the top of the list.
The personal statement, also known as the admissions essay, statement of purpose, and personal goal statement, is your chance to introduce yourself, speak directly to the admissions committee, and provide information that doesn't appear elsewhere in your application. Faculty read personal statements very closely because they reveal lots of information about applicants. Your essay is an indicator of your writing ability, motivation, ability to express yourself, maturity, passion for the field, and judgment. Admissions committees read essays with the intent to learn more about applicants, to determine if they have the qualities and attitudes needed for success, and to weed out applicants who don't fit the program.(Dr. Tara Kuther)
Applying to Graduate School
Procedures and requirements for entering graduate school vary from one institution to another. For specific admissions policies, contact the university you are interested in attending. Begin the application process early.
Generally, most colleges require a completed application form (with processing fee) and official transcripts from each institution you attended. Such transcripts must include evidence of graduation with a degree. Specific grade point average requirements exist for admission into most graduate programs.
Graduate applicants must present a satisfactory official score on a prescribed graduate exam specified by the respective college and/or department. Among the most common entrance exams are: GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, MAT. Make plans to take your entrance exam. Apply to more than one program.
In addition to the application form and the exam results, many institutions require a Statement of Purpose or a Statement of Professional Goals & Objectives. The format for these essays is comparable to that of a cover letter used for job applications through which the candidate promotes his/her qualifications and potential for success in the program. The content of the essay may include: reasons for undertaking graduate study, career goals and objectives, professional background, level of preparation for graduate school, identification of interests, skills and values, and prospective contributions to the professional field. The statement confirms that the applicant will be a good representative of the graduate program.
Many graduate programs require letters of reference and/or professional evaluations of applicant's qualifications to pursue an advanced degree.
Graduate School Application Checklist
Here are some suggestions on what to do nine months before your application deadlines.
Plan to visit campuses: It's one thing to review a website, read printed materials, and communicate with admissions staff on the phone or via E-mail. It is quite another thing to visit a campus in person. Most institutions offer a variety of campus visit programs, which they usually describe on their websites.
If you can afford to visit an institution more than once, arrive unannounced the first time. Seeing how you are treated as a complete stranger can be very revealing about what the institution is really like. If you can't afford the time or funds to visit campuses multiple times, consider waiting until you have started the application process before visiting schools.
While on campus, make sure to do the following four things:
Meet with an admissions staff member: Come prepared with a few questions to ask about the program and about the application process. Also ask if you can sit in on a class.
Find the student lounge or café: Talk to a few students who are hanging out or studying in popular meeting areas and ask them some questions about the program. Take notes on what you learn.
Check out the career development office: When you visit this office, which might also go by "career services," see if you can obtain a list of the services available to students. That list will give you an idea of how helpful the staff is, and how much attention the institution pays to this important aspect of assisting students.
Visit the alumni office: Ask officials in the alumni relations office if they have information about services offered to graduates of the program. In addition, ask if you can get the names and contact information for recent graduates who live in your geographic area. You will want to contact these individuals down the road to find out how they feel about their overall student experience while enrolled.
Once you have returned from your visit, make sure to jot down some notes for your spreadsheet, giving a grade for the overall visit, as well as a grade for each office and class that you visited.
Start preparing for standardized tests: Most grad school admissions committees require the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. In addition, if you enroll at an institution in another country, and the first language of the country is different from your own, you will most likely be required to take a test to demonstrate your level of proficiency in that primary language.
Seek materials to help with test prep: You will most likely learn about these resources from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). These organizations have preparation materials available on their websites.
Other companies, such as Barron's, Kaplan, Peterson's, and Princeton Review offer test-preparation classes. In addition, you can go to your local bookstore and find a host of printed materials and study guides.
Keep in mind that standardized tests bring varying degrees of stress for prospective students. Obviously, some individuals do better on these tests than others. While test scores measure a certain level of academic ability, they by no means cover the entire academic arena.
Most admissions committees do not have a cutoff requirement for test scores, but some do. It is a good idea to find out what each of your options looks for and requires.
(From US News & World Report / Don Martin)
Graduate School Entrance Exams
- Kaplan Test Prep
- Princeton Review Test Prep
- Educational Testing Services
- Graduate Record Examination
- Graduate Management Admission Test
- Medical College Admission Test
- Law School Admission Test
Additional Graduate School Application Tips
The final stage of the graduate school application process yields both relief and stress for prospective students—as I learned from my experiences as a former admissions dean who has interacted with candidates hoping to get into their dream schools.
Matt Merrick, senior associate dean of students at Wake Forest University's Schools of Business, agrees. A candidate's ability "to think clearly and focus" during the final stages of preparing to submit an application can make a big difference, he notes.
Based on my experience reviewing thousands of grad school applications over nearly three decades, here are a few tips for completing your application:
Relax: The graduate or business school application process is a major learning experience, and often applicants learn as they go. Staying positive and maintaining calm allows the applicant to be reflective and thoughtful.
"Worrying and obsessing during the final stages of putting one's application together will not help," Merrick says. "In fact, it will likely hinder the ability to think clearly and focus on preparing the best application possible.
Allow enough time: At minimum, take a few weeks to gather and compile all of the required material. Then check and recheck to make sure all of the elements are in line.
"Make sure you don't wait until the last second before pushing the send button for your application," Merrick says. "Believe me; admissions teams can tell. Even if it is later in the year, take a few weeks to prepare adequately, complete all required sections of the application, and do a thorough review."
Follow directions: Not following directions raises questions about how the candidate might adhere to policies and procedures once admitted and enrolled. If there is a word limit for essay questions, follow it. If you are asked for two letters of recommendation, do not send more. If you are asked not to follow up via E-mail or phone, don't. "Following directions shows respect and in doing so you'll earn some in return," Merrick says.
Be professional: Maintaining a professional demeanor in all circumstances is a sign of maturity. Graduate school is a big deal and can be stressful; if you're someone who easily loses his or her cool, then you're likely not ready.
"It's OK to have passion and confidence, Merrick explains. "In fact, it's something we really to try draw out of our students here at Wake Forest." It's never OK, however, to be overly aggressive, abrasive, or demanding.
Focus on content and presentation: A candidate might have the greatest GRE (MCAT, LSAT, GMAT) scores, a superb undergrad GPA, and impressive letters of recommendations, but if the application contains obvious misspellings or grammatical mistakes, it's going to be a problem. Rightly or wrongly, admissions committees will assume the applicant was not entirely serious about his or her application.
"It's important that candidates not be so distracted by the content of their applications that they don't carefully consider and review the style and presentation of their material," Merrick says.
Be yourself: Embellishing your application or making excuses for weaker parts of your application will not help. No one is perfect, and applicants that try to make themselves look perfect raise a bit of suspicion. Presenting yourself in a genuine and honest way is very important; for Merrick it's a "fundamental character trait that is very important to us at Wake Forest."
Make contingency plans: Considering a backup plan is not an indication of lack of confidence. And it may be a plan less about what to do next, but how to do what's next.
"It's not enough to consider the nuts and bolts, the bread-and-butter issues," Merrick says. "You need to reflect on how you'll respond viscerally if you're denied and have an emotional contingency plan to help you move forward with a positive attitude."
(Dr. Don Martin)
Graduate School Resources
- Applying to Graduate School
- Graduate School Application Advice
- Graduate School Application Checklist
- Graduate School Application Planning Guide
- Graduate School Information Center
- Graduate School Application Timeline
- Tips for Completing Graduate School Applications
- Outshining Other Graduate School Applicants
- Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process
- Graduate School Preparation Guide
- Graduate School Preparation Packet
- Letters of Recommendation
- Resume Writing Kit
Graduate School Essays
- Writing Graduate School Essays
- Tips for Writing a Graduate School Essay
- Resources: Graduate School Essay Writing
- Graduate School Essay Samples
- Writing a Killer Graduate School Application Essay
Words of Inspiration
- Graduation Wisdom
- Stephen Colbert: Commencement Address at Knox College
- Steve Jobs: Commencement Speech at Stanford