Preparing for Graduate School

Laptop computers are aplenty as students study at the Student Activity Center (SAC) at 333 East Campus Mall

As you begin to consider graduate study, be sure to thoroughly research the various types of degree programs and university or college settings available to you. One size does not fit all; so be sure to select a program and institution that you are confident is the right choice for you. Below are some questions to help you make this important decision.

Because of your special interests, such as:

  • I want to pursue scholarly interests/pursue a professional degree program.
  • I’m interested in how my field fits into the broader world and in making an impact.
  • I want to develop intellectual relationships.
  • I want to pursue a career credential/career plan.
  • I want advancement in my job.
  • I want to attain my personal goals.

Because with a Ph.D. you can:

  • get in-depth specialized training,
  • become a professor,
  • become a leader outside of the academy (business, non-profit, entrepreneur, etc.)
  • invent,
  • advance knowledge,
  • be intellectually challenged, and
  • enhance your problem solving.

Advanced Degree Types

  • Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy –  Some programs admit directly to the Ph.D., and some require that students enter and earn the master’s degree first, on their way to earning the Ph.D.
  • Master’s degree – Some programs require a thesis, some do not, and some give students the option to choose which track they’d like to pursue.
  • Professional degrees – examples: Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Juris Doctor (J.D.), Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Audiology (Aud.D.).
  • Professional/Terminal Masters – examples: Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Health (MPH).

Is Graduate School for me?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the best department in my field of interest that I can get into?
  • What is the career potential of my field?
  • How much is it going to cost?
  • How long does it take to get through graduate school?
  • What do I want the degree to do for me?
  • Am I willing to invest the commitment to time, effort, and over-all cost required?
  • Am I willing to persist, do hard work, and dedicate myself to my graduate study?

Choosing the right graduate school

  • Find 8-10 schools that fit your research interests and goals.
  • University websites are often the best places to start your research.
  • Ask your undergraduate faculty where they studied or where they would recommend you look.
  • When you attend conferences and/or participate in professional organizations, inquire about which universities your colleagues attended.
  • Research the faculty research or scholarly interests at schools you are considering.
  • Talk to current graduate students at your selected schools.  What has their experience been like?
  • Ask about support programs such as scholarly communities, tutoring centers, writing center, library workshops, professional development opportunities, career services, technology training, etc.
  • Ask about funding.  Graduate school differs from undergraduate study, because as a graduate student you may be able to find funding sources to support you, such as fellowships or assistantships, without having to take out student loans.

Where should I go to graduate school?

Major areas of study – Questions to consider:

  • What degrees are granted in my interest area?
  • What is the size of the program at the various universities I’m considering?
  • What are the degree requirements?  Are they clearly articulated to students?
  • How marketable are degrees in this area?
  • Does the program, department, or school/college provide career development services?
  • What types of jobs do alumni of this program hold?  Are they successful because of the preparation they received in this program?
  • Are alumni of this program employed primarily in tenure-track faculty positions, or are they successful outside of the academy as non-profit or business leaders, entrepreneurs, etc.?  Keep in mind that while you may have one career goal in mind right now, your interests and values may shift while in graduate school.  It is important for you to see that there are a wide range of career options to people who hold advanced degrees in your field.

Faculty – Questions to consider:

  • What are the teaching/research interests of the faculty?
  • How do students and faculty interact?
  • Does the program offer academic support?

Support systems and student services – Questions to consider:

  • What kind of labs, computing resources, technology training, writing centers, tutoring centers, disability resources, and libraries are available?
  • Is there graduate student housing available?
  • What healthcare benefits will I receive?
  • What about childcare availability? Costs?

Campus and surrounding community – Questions to consider:

  • Is the campus in an urban or rural environment?
  • What is the weather like?
  • Is it a safe campus?
  • Does the university help create a sense of belonging?

Admission – Questions to consider:

  • Deadlines for application?
  • What do admissions committees look for in an application?
  • What about course requirements/prerequisites?
  • Do I need to take standardized tests?
  • Are there any application fee waivers or grants?
  • Who should I talk to in the department/program?
  • What are my chances of being admitted?  What are my chances of being admitted with funding?
  • What will the admissions committee look for in my statement of purpose and letters of recommendation?

Options for financing graduate education – Questions to consider:

  • Are fellowships available?
  • Are there assistantships available, such as teaching, research, or project assistantships?
  • What kind of funding package might be offered to me?
  • Is there the possibility of grant add-ons (mostly in the sciences)?
  • Am I eligible for financial aid, and if so, am I comfortable taking out student loans to finance my own graduate study?
  • Are there other types of on-campus employment available to me?

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