Prepare for Graduate School

Are you thinking about attending graduate school? Deciding whether to attend, searching for the best program, and the application process can be difficult. The Career Development Center is here to guide you through the process.

Is Graduate School for You?

Attending graduate school is an important step in a person’s life plan. It involves a major commitment of time, money and scholarly work.

 Consider the Following:

  • Does the career you are preparing for require an advanced degree?

College professors, psychologist, marine biologist, lawyer, researcher, doctor, and sociologist are all examples of careers that require an advanced degree for employment. If you are considering such a profession, then graduate school is the right path for you. 

  • Do you have a passion for a subject hat is compelling you to learn more? 

You might have a mystery or problem to solve that requires learning in a structured environment; if so, then graduate school is the right path for you. 

  • Do you know the cost of graduate school? 

Graduate school is an expensive and time consuming endeavor. Do your research on programs and schools to ensure that the return on your investment will be worth your time and money. Some jobs do not require advanced degrees and do not pay employees more for having them.

Types of Graduate Programs

Academic Programs

M.A. (Master of Arts) or M.S. (Master of Science), are offered in a specific academic discipline or subject matter with a research focus (thesis) or culminating project, fieldwork, or experience. In addition, a Ph.D. (Doctorate Degree) requires original research or dissertation.

Professional Programs

Professional graduate degrees are programs that often lead students to careers outside of academia or research. Professional programs are less research intensive and have a practical component to prepare students for the workforce. Some professional programs include:

  • D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery)
  • D.D.M. (Doctor of Dental Medicine)
  • M.B.A. (Master of Business Administration)
  • M.S.W. (Master of Social Work)
  • M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts)
  • M.L.I.S. (Master of Library and Information Science)
  • M.P.A. (Master of Public Administration)
  • M.P.T. (Master of Physical Therapy)
  • M.P.H. (Master of Public Health)
  • M.D. (Doctor of Medicine)
  • O.D. (Doctor of Optometry)
  • J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence; degree required to be a lawyer)

Some M.S. and M.A. graduate programs (e.g. Counseling) may also be considered professional type programs, so research each curriculum to make sure the program you choose encompasses what and how you want to learn.

Research Graduate Programs

Once you have made the decision that graduate school is the right step for you, it is smart to begin your preparation early in order to better your chances for acceptance. 

Undergraduate Timeline for Graduate School (PDF)

Start early and research each possible graduate school program carefully.

Consider the Following Questions:

  1. At what schools does your desired program exist?
  2. What are the school’s requirements for admissions? (Some schools require work experience prior to graduate school.
    • CollegeSource® Online: This site compiled over 10,700 college catalogs in complete, cover to cover format; including 2-year, 4-year, graduate and professional school programs. Sign up on the site for a free trial usage.
    • University 101: University 101 has compiled website information for over 4,000 colleges and universities. This website will usually take you to the school’s homepage after which you can find information on admissions, course requirements, etc.
  3. Is there a state residency requirement?
  4. Does the school prefer degrees in specific subjects or are there course prerequisites?
  5. What is the size of the faculty in your desired department? What is their reputation?
  6. Who would be your advisor in the program?
  7. Are the required classes readily available?
  8. Are there opportunities for fieldwork and/or research made available?
  9. What type of financial aid is available to graduate students?
  10. What types of facilities are available (i.e. library, laboratories, and computer/technology).
  11. Where have recent graduates been employed?
  12. How does the graduate program rank nationally?

Application Basics

The application process will differ greatly from one institution to the next. Read all application information carefully to ensure that you are completing the application correctly and completely. Generally, graduate programs will require the following: 

  1. Application(s) and fees
  2. Official transcripts
  3. Pre-requisite course work
  4. Grade point average (GPA) requirements
  5. Entrance exams (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT)
  6. Personal statement
  7. Resume or CV
  8. Writing samples
  9. Letters of recommendation

Statement of Purpose

General guidelines to remember

  •  There are several different names used for this required piece: essays, personal statement, goal statement, statement of purpose. All are essentially asking for the same information.
  • There is no specific format or outline required for this document.
  • The graduate school committee wants to learn more about you as a person. Convey your personality as best you can. Remember they will be looking for traits that will make you an outstanding graduate student.
  • Prior to writing your statement, do a self-analysis to determine what is most important to include. Think carefully about your motivation and about your career goals.
  • Be sure to answer all questions that are asked completely.
  • Proof read to catch any spelling or grammatical errors.
  • While you may develop a generic essay to use as a basic starting point, it should be revised to address the specific information requested by each individual school.

Questions that will help you collect ideas and information  

  • Why do I want to go to graduate school?
  • What is my interest and motivation for pursuing this field?
  • What benefits will graduate school contribute to my career plans?
  • What academic and professional work experience has prepared me for graduate school?
  • What are the strengths of the program (curriculum, technology, and faculty)? Why did I decide to apply this school?

Things to avoid

  • Little white lies: “This program is my first choice…”
  • Flattery: “This program is the finest in the country…”
  • Overgeneralization
  • Philosophical: “Life in the universe is ever-changing…”
  • One-dimensional: “My greatest desire is…my only goal in life is…”
  • Juvenile: “I have always wanted to be a doctor…”
  • Painfully obvious: “I believe my undergraduate education has prepared me for…”
  • Autobiographical: “…and when I was twelve my family moved to...”
  • Getting too personal about religion, politics, or your lack of education.
  • Repeating information directly from your application form unless you use it to illustrate a point or want to develop it further.

Other helpful resources

  • Essayedge.com - Comprehensive essay guidance organized into comprehensible lessons.
  • Statement of Purpose.com - Comprehensive information on writing a Statement of Purpose as well as samples in a variety of fields.

 

Letters of Recommendation

You will typically need 2 to 5 letters of recommendation from professors, supervisors, and/or employers. You should ask for letters of recommendation from an individual who is willing to write a positive letter or testimonial about your academic preparation, work experience, and desire to pursue an advanced degree. 

Provide the following information to the individuals writing your letters of recommendation:

  • Detailed list of your desired graduate programs, including letter deadlines and whether you will pick up the letter from them or if you need them to mail the letter directly to the program. If you are asking them to mail the letters directly to the program, you will want to include an addressed, stamped envelope as well.
  • Detailed reasoning about why you want to attend each program and possibly what type of research or which faculty members you would look forward to working with at that given school.
  • Copy of your statement of purpose to each program.
  • Resume chronicling your work experience and extracurricular activities would also help.
  • If you have the option, pick up the letters yourself from your letter writers and ask for them well before your own deadline.

Financing Graduate School

Assistantships

  • In most cases, assistantships allow for a stipend, tuition reimbursement, or monthly salary by the institution in exchange for about 20 hours of work per week.
  • Usually classified as teaching, research, or administratively focused and can give you excellent experience in your field of study.
  • If you are interested in an assistantship, it is best to inquire directly with the department or program in which you are interested.

Scholarships

  • Scholarships are monies awarded to students based on need, academic merit, personal characteristics, or extra-curricular achievement. For more information on scholarships, visit the financial aid office on your future campus.

Grants

  • There are several sources for grants, including the Federal Government, the State of California, and the California State University, Fresno.
  • To be eligible for a grant, you must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and the monies are awarded based on need.
  • For more information on grants, visit the financial aid office on your future campus.

Loans

  • There are major federal programs such as Perkins Loans, Stafford Student Loans and Grad PLUS Loans as well as loans from private lenders.
  • There are also often loans available through the individual department or discipline at the university.
  • To be eligible for a federal loan, you must complete the FAFSA form.

Fellowships

  • Fellowships are awarded to applicants based on academic merit by institutions or research organizations to recruit high potential students.
  • Fellowships are prestigious awards that can be placed on your resume/curriculum vitae.
  • Ask your future department or search the below databases to find fellowship opportunities.

 

Online Resources for Scholarships & Fellowships