Graduate School Preparation

Choosing a Grad School: Overview

Graduate school allows you to examine a particular field in a focused way. Some masters degrees are designed to lead to a doctoral degree while others are the “terminal” degree for a profession (e.g., MBA, Master of Library Science). Completing a masters usually takes 2-3 years for full-time students. Doctoral degrees usually entail the contribution of new knowledge to a field and a written dissertation; it usually takes 5-7 years to complete.


Clarify why you want to pursue graduate school. Some people don’t know what area to focus on, or they feel pressured to attend grad school now. Others want a higher salary and don’t see any options other than grad school. Others aren’t ready to enter the work world. Make an appointment with a career counselor if any of these scenarios fit you.


It’s important to assess whether you’re ready for it. Ask yourself: Have you counted the costs in terms of time, energy and money? How will you cover living expenses? Can you stay interested in a narrow range of topics for 2-7 years? Do you need a break from school? Are you ready to sacrifice work experience for school?


Choosing a Program

Program Comparison

Consult the following resources, visit school web sites, read catalogs, and attend our graduate school fairs and workshops.

Abroad Programs

Program Decision Criteria

  • Faculty – degrees/credentials, research specialties, student/faculty ratio
  • Program Quality – measured by different factors but may differ from your priorities
  • Price – opportunities for fellowships, assistantships, scholarships, other aid
  • Admission Requirements – GPA, exam scores, undergrad coursework, experience
  • Course Offerings – desired courses frequently offered?
  • Employment – where graduates of the program are working; how much they earn
  • Facilities – quality of libraries, computer labs, research facilities, etc.
  • Location – will it help you meet personal or professional goals?
  • Student Life – diversity of students, student organizations, housing, support services

Application Timeline: Start Now!

Sophomore/Junior Year

  • Research programs
  • Explore financial aid resources
  • Sign up for required standardized test and take a practice test
  • Attend Career Center grad school workshops
  • Identify potential letter writers
  • Order unofficial transcript and correct any discrepancies
  • Take required standardized test

Junior/Senior Year

  • Write your statement of purpose
  • Request letters of recommendation from faculty
  • Order official transcripts
  • Complete and mail your applications
  • Apply for aid available through program; assistantships, fellowships, scholarships, etc.

Senior Year

  • Submit financial aid applications
  • Visit campuses, talk to faculty/students
  • Follow-up with schools to make sure file is complete
  • After receiving school’s acceptance, send required deposit

Application Materials

Typical Application Materials

  • Application Form
  • Application Fee
  • Official Transcripts from all institutions attended
  • Entrance Exam Scores
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Letters of Recommendation

Statement of Purpose

Also called a “personal statement” or “letter of intent.” Some schools require statements with specific information about an applicant’s target area of study, while others are open to a wide range of content. The overall purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you should be chosen.

Content ideas

  • Your purpose of graduate study
  • Target area of specialization
  • Future use of your graduate study, including career goals
  • Your unique preparation and propensity for success in target field
  • Any conditions in your records, scores, or background explained in a positive manner
  • Why this school and program has special appeal to you


  • Write in frank, concise language (non-academic) about your background
  • Explain what you’ve learned about yourself, target field, and goals based on your life
  • Be specific, and get to the point early to catch reader’s attention
  • Keep length to 2 pages or less
  • Don’t give a laundry list of achievements
  • Don’t write statements that are self-evident to readers (e.g. writing skills are important)

Words to Avoid: significant, interesting, challenging, satisfying, satisfaction, appreciate, invaluable, exciting, excited, enjoyable, enjoy, feel good, appealing, I like it, it’s important, I can contribute, meant a lot to me, stimulating, incredible, gratifying, fascinating, meaningful, helping people, remarkable, rewarding, useful, valuable, helpful.

For more guidance on Statement of Purpose, visit or read some sample statements.

Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters are important in the application process and could be a deciding factor in getting accepted into your program of choice. 3 letters are often required from such people as (a) someone who knows you well, (b) a professor, or (c) a previous supervisor. Give 2 months advance notice when requesting letters.


Entrance Exams

Most graduate and professional schools, but not all, require entrance exams. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General and Subject tests are required by many academic programs (Master and Doctoral degrees). MBA programs usually require the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Other tests are required in other fields such as the LSAT for law school, the MCAT for medical school, the DAT for dentistry school, the OAT for optometry school, and the TOEFL English proficiency test for international students. Grades and entrance exams are often weighed heavily in the admissions process.

Prep Courses


Financing Grad School

Financial Aid


A fellowship is a grant used to fund graduate study in certain fields.

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