Researching Graduate School
As graduation quickly approaches, seniors may wrestle with the age-old question "Which comes first, graduate school or employment?" For some, this is an easy decision to make; for others, additional thought and evaluation are required.
If you are confident that an advanced degree is required for entrance into your chosen field, you should apply for graduate school admission. Those students who have decided to go into medicine or law tend to fall into this category. Keep in mind that graduate school admission is generally very competitive. You may need to complete additional coursework or gain work experience to be considered a strong candidate for the graduate program of your choice.
If, on the other hand, your decision is based purely on default or lack of clear career direction, graduate school is not for you.
Some seniors decide to enter graduate school to avoid the complicated process of finding a job. This strategy can actually lead to more frustration and confusion. Many of these students find that graduate school did not provide the "answer" that they sought. Furthermore, very few employers are willing to take a risk on a misdirected candidate regardless of his/her educational credentials. If postponing a career decision is your reason for considering graduate study, schedule an appointment with a counselor in the Career Center to discuss your options.
Some will argue that by attending graduate school immediately following undergraduate school, you will be more successful because your study skills are well developed and you are comfortable with the academic environment. Others will insist that you need a break and that work experience will help you to solidify your career goals.
It is important to consider the value of work experience prior to graduate school. Related work experience will add to your credentials and may strengthen you application for more competitive graduate programs. Work experience may also help you identify related career paths that were unfamiliar to you. This exposure may cause you to redirect your interests and to apply to different programs than you may have originally considered.
It is also realistic to consider the financial impact of graduate school when deciding whether to pursue a graduate degree. Many employers value continuing education and will help their employees fund advanced degrees on a part-time basis. Some employers will even pay 100% of educational expenses for their employees.
The decision to attend graduate school is yours to make; no one else can make it for you. Be sure to give this decision careful thought.
RESEARCHING GRADUATE SCHOOLS
Graduate degrees can be academic or professional. Academic degrees focus on original research, whereas professional degrees stress the practical knowledge and skills needed for a particular profession. Master level programs may take one to three years to earn, and doctorates usually take an additional four years to complete.
Once you have decided to attend graduate school, it is then time to begin researching potential universities and programs. Begin by talking with faculty who share your interests or by talking with a career counselor.
For a listing of accredited programs in your area of interest, start by looking through graduate reference guides such as the Peterson's Guides (available at the Career Center). These directories will give you basic information on degrees offered, tuition, faculty, student-faculty ratio, and contact information. You might also check them out at www.petersons.com. Other Internet sites to assist your graduate school efforts can be found in the Career Center graduate school handout located in the Career Library.
Your professors will also have advice about programs that you should consider. They may also have colleagues at some of the institutions that you are investigating who could provide you with insight into those universities.
After identifying programs of interest, you should write to these schools and request a graduate school catalogue, application materials, and financial aid information. Several graduate school guides are now available on the Internet. To help you research graduate programs, use the time line handout available in the Career Center.
If possible, visit the campuses that most interest you. A first-hand look is essential for your top programs, and is recommended for your "medium" and "back-up" schools. If the school does not require an interview, request one. If the school does not allow interviews (some will interview by invitation only), arrange for a "campus visit" during which you can speak with faculty and students.
There is some debate about the role of interviews with faculty and students. Few programs require an interview as part of the application process, and the official rhetoric is that interviews play no part in admission. Graduate school interviews are just as likely to be for the benefit of the student - serving as an information-gathering session - as they are for the benefit of the admissions committee. To a large degree, then, interviews are informational only.
However, a positive interview can do nothing but strengthen your application. Use this time wisely to demonstrate to the professor(s) that your interests, goals, and skills are compatible with the program, will enhance the program, and/or will be furthered by the program. The interview also allows the professors to put a face and a personality with the numbers and words on paper.
EVALUATING GRADUATE/PROFESSIONAL PROGRAMS
Use the following chart to help you determine the best "match" between your interests and various advanced degrees programs.
Name of University
Name of Department
Degree Awarded (MA, MS, etc.)?
Avg. time required to complete degree
Acceptance rate (if known)
Avg. GPA of most recent entering class
Number of full time students
Number of part time students
Avg. age of students in program
Is faculty's research of interest to me?
Are assistantships available?
Are fellowships/grants available?
Have I been offered financial assistance?
Prestige of university (rate: high to low)
Prestige of program (rate: high to low)
What is the placement rate of graduates?
What is the size of the library?
Rating of computer facilities
Desirable geographical location?
Other factors important to me (list below)