Graduate School Resources
Determine if Graduate School is for you
For some professions, an advanced degree is required to enter the field. College teaching and medicine are examples of such professions. If you have chosen a field such as this, then graduate school is a necessity. For other fields, such as education or business, graduate school is not necessary for an entry-level position.
Another possible reason to attend graduate school is to specialize in a subject of personal or professional interest. If you are unsure of your career choice, you should delay graduate school until you are more focused. Likewise, it is not a good idea to attend graduate school for the purpose of delaying a job search or to please someone else.
Gather Information on programs & build a big list
You will want to have enough information to make an informed decision about what program to attend before investing a great deal of your time and money. You should build an initial list of over 100 possible schools. Be sure to look nationwide; do not limit yourself geographically. Consider tapping into the following sources:
Peterson's Guides to Graduate School is a highly recommended series. Get addresses so you can write to the schools that interest you to request more information.
Ask for suggestions from BW professors about what programs you should explore. They may know colleagues at some of the institutions you are considering.
Parents & Friends
If your parents are paying for part or all of your tuition, they will probably have some input. Don't forget those closest to you when looking for suggestions.
Graduate students in your field
Ask your professors for the names of alumni who have attended graduate schools in your field. Contact those alumni for advice on programs. If you visit schools, ask to speak to currently enrolled students.
Note which faculty members are publishing in professional journals or textbooks in your area of specialization and the programs with which they are affiliated.
Periodicals such as "U.S. News and World Report" publish periodic ratings of colleges and universities. It is a good idea to consult several ratings for comparison. Also, be aware that these can be prejudiced toward research-oriented institutions.
Research & Compare Schools
Aside from basics like geographic location and admission requirements, consider the following criteria when selecting the graduate school program that is best for you:
How long does it take to complete the program and how many students drop out before completing? Be sure to ask students in the program for the realistic answer to this question. You cannot always believe the brochures.
Does the department take a specialized or more generalist approach? Which suits your needs better?
Size of Department
Can you get the attention you want from faculty members? How many faculty are devoted to the department? Are they part-time or full-time?
Size of the Institution
Would you feel comfortable there?
Are the other students in the program much older or younger than you? Would you be comfortable with that? Also consider gender and ethnicity.
Remember to explore not only the reputation of the institution as a whole, but also research the specific department and the individual faculty members.
Investigate the library. Accessibility of original research is important. Check that the computer centers and labs are adequate for your research.
Depending on your field, practical work experience in addition to classroom learning may be important. Is there an emphasis on research or on practical application?
Cost & Aid/Scholarships
Be sure to examine both of these factors. It can sometimes cost less to go to a school that at first glance seems expensive because of the opportunity for aid. Assistantships or internships may be available which offer tuition in exchange for working or teaching on the campus. Do not rule out any program because of cost; if the program wants you, there may be additional funding of which you are unaware.
Where have graduates obtained employment after graduation? Often current students can tell you this.
Consider the cost of living in the area when weighing the total expenses. Investigate on-campus and off-campus possibilities.
Rank & Narrow Your List
You can now rank your list of 100 or more schools. As criteria, use your personal interest and the relative likelihood of admission. Use three categories to rank: reach schools, "I don't think I have a good chance for admission but I am interested;" possible schools, "I have a fairly good chance for admission;" and safe schools, "I will definitely be accepted." You should apply to at least two schools from each category.
The best way to judge the competitiveness of a school's admission requirements is to ask the people who you talked to when developing your "big list" of schools. You can also check published rankings or call the school to ask about entrance requirements.
The Application Process
Write or call for information from the schools you have selected. Request an application and a catalog. Be sure to write down the name of the person who answers the phone. Keep in mind that you are already making first impressions even at this early stage of the process.
When you receive your applications in the mail, scan each for obligations and deadlines. Build a timeline and a realistic plan for completing all of the tasks involved.
If it is not mentioned in the application, call to see when the earliest time is that the school will accept applications. Make this your target date. Fifty percent of applications arrive the month before the deadline, so do not get lost in that deluge.
Schools are seeking well-prepared students who have defined goals or a vision for their future. Also, since schools strive toward diversity in their student population, you will stand out if you are unique in any way. You will be evaluated through your recommendations, exam scores, undergraduate GPA, application, and essay(s). Keep in mind the following helpful hints about each of these items:
Obtaining recommendations should be the first step in your application timeline as the process can be time consuming.
All of your recommendations should be from people who have known you recently. Ask a potential reference, "Would you feel comfortable making a strong recommendation for me?" If yes, then provide that person with information to help him or her recall your accomplishments. For example: your transcript, resume, a paper or lab assignment.
Make the process as easy as possible for those who have agreed to write recommendations for you. Complete all the information on the recommendation form that you are able to (name, major, etc.) before giving it to the writer. If you want the writer to complete recommendations for several schools, give them all at one time. Provide the writer with an addressed, stamped envelope.
Give your references a deadline which should be a few weeks before you plan to mail your application. Gently remind them about once per week. Ask one extra person to write a reference so you will have a safety net. Write a thank you note to each person who supplied you with a recommendation.
Plan to take the appropriate entrance exam during your junior year, or at the latest during the fall of your senior year.
Get a review guide and use it. These are available for loan in the Career Resource Center or you can buy one in any bookstore. Preparation classes are available at BW for the GMAT. Contact Pierre David at extension 5925 for information.
Plan far enough ahead so that you can take the test again if you do not do as well as you would like the first time. Statistically, people's scores generally increase 10% the second time. Some schools will average the two scores, while others will simply accept the highest score.
Registration materials for the exams can be obtained at the following locations on campus:
- GMAT, GRE Academic Advising, Bonds
- LSAT Political Science Department, Wilker Hall
- MCAT Biology Department, Life & Earth Science Building
Never misrepresent your GPA. Be honest but also feel free to explain if there were extenuating circumstances during a certain quarter (i.e. death in the family, illness, etc.)
If you have a low GPA, re-analyze it to see if you can find a pattern. For example, you had a bad freshman year so you recalculate your grades to exclude that year, or you say that your GPA has increased consistently each year. Another common method is to calculate your last sixty hours.
Present your overall GPA as requested, but add an additional statement with your re-calculated GPA.
Leave nothing blank. Include honors and activities from high school if you have none from college. Join professional organizations related to your field of study and include them on your application. Send something extra. Anything extra you send must be quality work and it must be directly related; for example, a resume or a really good paper or lab assignment.
Get published or submit papers for publishing. Send some work to a student journal or help a professor with research and get on the "et al" list.
Statement of Purpose Essay
Be sure to have a strong opening that will catch the reader's attention. Substantiate your interest and your preparation. Show your vision for the future. Present yourself as a unique individual who has something to offer to the program.
An essay must be perfect. Check carefully for grammatical and typographical errors.
For advice on writing a successful personal statement, click here.
An ideal timeline for most applicants follows:
18 Months Prior
- Research institutions and programs of interest
- Investigate national scholarships
- Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admission tests
- Ask people for suggestions of good programs
15 Months Prior
- Take required graduate admission tests
- Obtain application materials from the schools that you are highly considering
- Check on application deadlines and admission policies
- Check to see if you need to register for a national application service (some schools use these to streamline application process)
12 Months Prior
Obtain letters of recommendation. Write thank you notes to each person who writes a letter for you
- Send in completed applications
- Take graduate admission tests if you haven't already
6 Months Prior
Check with all institutions prior to deadline to make sure your file has been received and is complete
- Visit institutions that accept you
- Apply for financial aid and assistantships
- Send deposit to institution of your choice
- Contact the people who wrote your recommendations to inform them of your success
- Notify other programs that accepted you
Additional Resources and Web sites
US News Best Graduate Schools 2009 Rankings
Lists of the best programs in law, business, education, medicine, engineering, and health.
Web's oldest and most complete directory of universities and colleges.
Contains thousands for college catalogs and course descriptions.
Programs are listed in functional curriculum-based directories that include descriptions, contact information, and links.
The premier graduate school search engine.
A comprehensive site for graduate school information.
Need an overview of the graduate school process? This website was established to provide college juniors and seniors with articles and information about applying, interviewing, and maximizing their graduate school success.
Petersons.com: Graduate & Professional Study/Faculty
Use this site to find colleges and universities offering graduate and professionals degrees (search by name or location). Also, you may search by academic area or professional degrees (Law, Medical, MBA, etc.).
Access for graduate school research.