What You Will Need
Once you’ve decided what you want to study and prepared for the application process, you are ready to apply. You will need these materials:
- Letters of recommendation
- Standardized test scores
- Statement of purpose/admissions essay
- Financial aid application/materials
Review each program’s list of requirements and deadlines to make sure you have everything. Even within universities, graduate application requirements can differ by department. Call or email their admissions offices with any questions.
Researching and Selecting Graduate Schools
Going to graduate school can be a good option for your academic, professional, and personal goals, but first things first—how do you know which program is right for you?
Self-assess: Self-assessment can help you consider important factors for making your decision.
Allow enough time: Allow at least one year before you apply to review websites, gather information, set up standardized exam times, and reach out to individuals who could provide insight into your graduate school options. Take a look at the timeline on preparing for graduate and professional school to understand the big picture of applying to graduate school.
Know your industry: What exactly do professionals in your chosen career path do every day? Conduct informational interviews with individuals in the field you are considering—current students and alumni will be able to share the most accurate information on potential career paths and the nature of the field. You might even be able to shadow them for a few hours. More resources about informational interviews can be found in Chapter 2 of the Career Development Handbook.
Track your exploration: Cast a wide net for your search—start with broad keywords for your internet searches, take a look at programs overseas, read up on schools you may not have heard of before. Rankings can be helpful to learn about some of your options, but keep an open mind as there are countless elements to what makes a program the right choice for you. Go to the websites of at least 20 to 30 schools and do a little reading.
As you learn more about each program, gather your data in a compare-and-contrast spreadsheet with the name of each option in one column and your most important factors (location, cost, potential advisors, student support mechanisms, institutional culture, etc.) across the top.
What you find may surprise you—after this in-depth research you may determine programs and schools to be of much greater interest than previously thought, and, conversely, programs originally high on the list may lose their luster.
Collect firsthand experiences: What does it feel like to be on campus or in that city/state? Your graduate school will be your home for up to the next 8 years—ask yourself:
- Will you be comfortable with the physical and cultural environments?
- Are the facilities well-resourced and updated?
- Will you feel at home there?
Visit in person, if possible: Try to visit in person if you can so you can experience how you feel in that school and location. Speaking with students currently enrolled or recent graduates can also provide you with answers, so draft a list of questions, get in touch with them, and request a few minutes of their time. Ask for their honest opinions and about their experiences in the program. What you hear may provide important information that can help you make your decision.
Overall, this is an opportunity to decide what is important to you. Prioritize your wants vs. your needs to make well-formed choices about your next steps.
Top Criteria to Consider when Selecting a Graduate Program
Consider what programs will be the best match for you, based on your career interests/goals and the degree you will earn. Some aspects to consider are:
|Quality of the program||Course offerings in your area of interest|
|Faculty/student ratio||Department and faculty strength and reputation|
|Time to completion of degree||Program costs: tuition, fees, books, supplies, and living expenses|
|Internship or field-work opportunities||Quality of research facilities, laboratories, and libraries|
|Financial aid resources||Degree requirements: credit hours, comprehensive exams, thesis, fieldwork|
|Connections with alumni||Career paths of recent alumni|
|Geographic location||Years of experience suggested pre-enrollment|