Is Grad School For You?
There are many excellent reasons to pursue a graduate degree, but it’s important to consider why you’re interested in going and what you’d like to do with a master’s or doctoral degree. Perhaps your career path demands graduate work. Perhaps more interesting doors will open for you in your field if you have a graduate degree.
Before you look at the Graduate School Checklist, see if any of these statements match your thoughts on grad school:
- I want to go to grad school, but I don’t know what I want to study.
- I’m going to grad school because I want to make more money.
- I’m not ready to make a career decision, so I’ll do grad school first.
- All my friends are going to grad school.
- There are no jobs in my field; grad school is my only option.
- I’m not ready to go to work yet.
If any of the above reasons describe your motivations for grad school, stop and consider your personal career goals first. (The Center for Career Development can help you with this!) Funding is available for grad school, but you’ll likely incur debt in the process. Graduate programs can last anywhere from 2-7 years, and require rigorous academic commitment. Before you invest your time and money, be certain that you have a plan.
If you’re not sure you’re ready, it’s okay to wait. Working for a year (or several), serving in a gap year service program, or even volunteering can provide you with invaluable practical experience that may make your grad school application stronger. (You may also find that graduate school isn’t necessary to follow your desired career path.)
Graduate School Checklist
Make a list of what you’re looking for in a program. This is your starting point. Write down what you want and why you want it. Knowing this will help when you start asking others for advice.
Talk to your academic adviser and other professors in your chosen field. If you have favorite authors/speakers/leaders/thinkers in your field, google them to find out where they studied. Now is the time to do your research. These websites may help you begin your search:
When looking at your list, you may want to consider the following factors:
- Part-time vs. full-time
- Number of years to complete the program
- Private vs. public
- Tuition costs and financial aid available
- Testing requirements (GREs, etc)
- Entrance requirements
- Program approaches/specializations
- Program reputation
- Faculty and teaching methods
- Housing/living expenses
- Student life
After reviewing all your options, choose 5-10 programs to create a short list. Consider visiting campuses if you can. If you visit a campus, make appointments to talk to current students or alumni in your desired program and meet with faculty advisers if possible. (Be sure to come prepared with questions, specifically ones that can’t be answered by a quick visit to the university website.)
Check dates carefully! Every program is different, so be sure to read the instructions.
Suggested Timetable for Graduate Applications
Grad school applications have specific requirements that vary by school and by program, so it’s important to know what’s expected of you. Since you’re engaging in this process while also finishing your undergraduate degree, you need a plan. Remember, this is a general guide; you may need to tweak this timeline to fit your application schedule.
(Don’t forget that graduate admissions for funding deadlines may differ from the graduate program deadline.)
- Begin to draft a statement of purpose of your academic and professional goals.
- Explore graduate programs.
- Contact graduate programs that interest you and request information.
- Review for the GRE, and take a practice GRE.
- Register in June to take the GRE (general test) in August. (If you don’t like your scores, you can take it again.)
- Plan a budget for application fees, postage, testing fees, and other costs associated with applying for grad school.
- Share your statement of purpose with your adviser and professors who know you well. Ask their advice about graduate programs they’d recommend.
- Check with professors, and compile a list of people who will write recommendations.
- Narrow your graduate program choices to make a short list (about 5 schools). Familiarize yourself with several faculty members at each school whose work/writing/research appeals to you.
- Register to take the GRE subject test (if necessary).
- Begin working on drafts of your resume and application essays.
- Revise your statement of purpose, tailoring it to fit each application/program.
- Edit your resume. (Center for Career Development can help!) Edit your application essays.
- Arrange campus visits, if you can. Meet with current students, alumni, and faculty wherever possible.
- Order transcripts.
- Take the GRE subject test (if necessary).
- Download application forms and complete drafts, then review and edit your drafts.
- Submit completed application forms.
- Ask faculty for recommendations, and provide them with your statement of purpose and resume for their reference. Be sure to allow them sufficient time, and give them specific information about deadlines. (Follow up if necessary.)
- Submit your applications. (Be sure to keep copies for your records.)
- Verify that recommendation letters have been sent.
- Apply for aid available through programs: assistantships, fellowships, scholarships, etc.
- Follow up to ensure that supporting documents were received and that your file is complete.
- If you have not already done so, visit your prospective programs.
- Submit a FAFSA, even if you expect to receive funding.
- Consider a Plan B. If your plans for grad school change, you’ll already have a preliminary job search in motion.
- You should receive admissions letters by this date.
- You must accept or decline offers of admission.
- After receiving acceptance from the school of your choice, send in the required deposit, and contact other schools and decline acceptances.
- Write thank you notes to people who helped you!
Resources for the GRE
The official site by Educational Testing Services (ETS). Test registration, information for policymakers and teachers, and sample questions.
Information for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Related Needs
Created by professors, this site provides free GRE preparation.