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Graduate School


Graduate school is an advanced program of study that involves obtaining specialized knowledge in a concentrated or specific field. Graduate degrees are offered on three levels: Masters, Specialist, and Doctorate.

Masters degrees are offered in multiple fields of study, however some universities offer only doctoral programs in particular fields. A masters degree program can take between 1 and 3 years to complete. Some masters degrees are designed to lead to a doctorate degree while others are terminal degrees for a given profession.

Specialist degrees are typically completed in addition to a masters program and provide additional training and experience beyond what is required for the masters degree. This type of degree prepares students for professional certification or licensing.

Doctorate studies typically require the pursuit of original research for an academic program and take anywhere from 5-7 years to complete.

For further information regarding professional schools such as medical school, law school, and MBA programs refer to the professional school section.

Questions to ask before deciding on graduate school

Graduate school is a big decision that should be approached in a thoughtful way. Ask these questions first before sending off your applications: 

  • Will graduate school assist me in meeting my career goals?
    • Some careers require additional education beyond a bachelor’s degree. If you have a career in mind, you can check the requirements for the career on O*Net and BLS.
    • Advanced degrees do not always lead to increased income and job prospects.Occasionally an advanced degree makes you too specialized and therefore less attractive. Full time experience is often preferred.
  • What will I specialize in, and will my interest in that topic remain strong? 
    • Graduate school work is often highly specialized. Choosing your field means researching the same thing every day for 2-7 years. 
  • Am I ready to re-enter school?
    • Committing to years more academic and research work can be intensive and strenuous. If you are not sure you’re well prepared, you can take a gap year(s) between graduation and your matriculation into graduate school. 

Reasons you may want to attend graduate school 

  • Have a clear intent of what career you want to pursue and an advanced degree is required for entrance.
  • Desire to immerse yourself in the study of a specific academic discipline.
  • Desire to practice in a specialized career.
  • Desire for a complete career change.
  • Desire for career/salary advancement that requires a graduate degree.
  • Desire to switch from practitioner to administrator.
  • Need for professional licensing in your career.

How to prepare for graduate school


Sophomore Year

  • Talk with professors, line up research opportunities for junior year, start researching graduate programs. 

Junior Year

  • Know the application deadline for your graduate program
  • Obtain-faculty-directed research and independent research experience (summer, senior thesis, or capstone)
  • Read broadly in the field; take notes on the readings an ideas by majors contributors in the field
  • Get to know faculty members from whom you will want recommendations
  • Study and prepare for the graduate school testing necessary for your program; free practice tests available through Kaplan
  • Sign up for testing with enough time before application submission deadlines that you could take the test(s) once more to achieve a higher score

Senior Year

  • Research, evaluate and select programs to which you want to apply
  • Prepare CV or graduate school resume 
  • Figure out a graduate school finance plan
  • Prepare and submit application materials. 

How to research graduate schools

  • Start researching programs. Utilize US News, Peterson Report, and other ranking and compilations. 
    • Reputation of the faculty - What are their academic degrees/credentials and research specialties? What is the student/faculty ratio? Look at faculty websites if available.
    • Favor programs with more than one professor who specializes in your specialty.
      Quality of the program - This is measured by many different factors, many of which are mentioned below. You may choose to look at graduate school rankings to help you assess a program's quality; however, the rankings may be based on criteria that are different from your own. In addition, many scholars, deans, and advisers question the validity of such rankings.
    • Financial costs - What are the opportunities for fellowships, assistantships, or scholarships? What other sources of financial aid are available?
      Admission requirements - GPA, test scores, undergraduate coursework, specific entrance examinations, etc.
    • Available course offerings - Are courses you need to fulfill degree requirements frequently offered? Will the course offerings help you meet your professional or educational goals?
    • Employment - Where are graduates of the program working, and how much are they earning?
    • Facilities - Consider the quality of on-site facilities such as libraries, computer labs, and research facilities.
    • Geographic location - Will studying in a particular location help you meet personal or professional goals?
      Student life - Consider the diversity of students, student organizations, housing, and campus support services.
  • Graduate School Research Resources

Components of the Application Process


Detailed Graduate School Application Timeline

This timetable is approximate, but offers steps that you need to think about no later than the summer before your senior year. It is a good idea to start as soon as possible!

Month Action Item
  • Begin researching graduate school
  • Take entrance exam practice tests
  • Sign up for a GRE/entrance exam prep course or buy your own practice material. 
  • Register for the GRE/entrance exam
  • Request information from schools that interest you. 
  • Consider visiting those schools. 
  • Reach out to professors who will be able to recommend good programs. 
  • Take the GRE or entrance exam. If you do not like your score, sign up for another date. 
  • Begin drafting your statement of purpose
  • Finalize your list of prospective schools
  • Familiarize yourself with professors who share your research interests at each school 
  • Contact the professors who will be submitting a letter of recommendation. 
  • Continue editing and revising your personal statement
  • Request official transcripts from your undergraduate institution
  • Send your recommenders supplemental materials, like your resume/CV, personal statement, and writing sample that they can reference. 
  • Make contact with students and professors at your prospective school. 
  • Arrange a visit to campus if you can. 
  • Have someone in the field and a few smart (and honest) friends read over your personal statement. 
  • Send GRE/entrance exam scores directly to the school.
  • Complete and submit all grad application. 
  • Keep copies of every section for your records. 
  • Verify that your recommendations have been sent.