Deciding if you want to go to graduate school and finding and applying to specific programs can be difficult. The Career Development Center is here to guide you through the process. Click on the links below for more information to help you make an informed decision. If you have additional questions or need additional assistance you can contact our office at 559.278.2381 to schedule an appointment with a career counselor.
Is Graduate School Right for You?
Going to graduate school is an important step in a person’s life plan. It involves a major commitment of time, money and hard work. You want to be sure that it is the right step for you.
Of the four statements listed below, choose the one that best describes why you are considering graduate school. Check the answers section to see if graduate school is your best next step.
Statements to Consider
- I am pursuing a career that requires an advanced degree.
- I want to know more about my subject of study.
- I need to buy a few years while I figure out my career.
- I want to earn more money.
1. If you chose #1, you are preparing for a career that requires advanced education (e.g. college professor, psychologist, marine biologist, lawyer, researcher, doctor, sociologist). These are examples of careers that require an advanced degree as an entrance requirement. If you are considering such a profession, then graduate school is the right path for you.
2. If you chose #2, you have a passion for a subject that is compelling you to learn more. You simply cannot imagine going through life without knowing everything there is to know about medieval history, the evolution of the reptile, or supply and demand. Whatever your passion might be, your undergraduate education has only whet your appetite and you simply need to learn more. If you need to pursue your passion for education, then graduate school is the right path for you.
3. If you chose #3, graduate school may be a poor choice for you. Graduate school is an expensive and time consuming endeavor. Rather than paying thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of being confused, why not get a job and have someone pay you? You can still go to graduate school later if it turns out you need or want to, and you will be a much better student once you know why you are there. Meanwhile, come to Career Development Center to utilize our career planning resources and talk to a counselor about potential options.
4. If you chose #4, you are probably barking up the wrong tree. Companies pay employees not by how much education they have, but by the work they do. An administrative assistant gets paid the same salary regardless of whether s/he has a BA, an MBA, or a PhD. While it is true some jobs that require an advanced degree pay more than some that do not (see #1 above), jobs that do not require advanced degrees generally do not pay employees more for having them. If salary is a concern for you, you can research salary on sites such as www.cacareerzone.org and www.salary.com in order to determine if a graduate degree makes sense for you.
Other questions to consider:
- How will you manage the financial and time requirements? Is there a chance that a future employer might pay for you to attend graduate school?
- Do you have a strong GPA? Do you have the interest and ability to succeed in a graduate school program?
- Are you willing to relocate to continue your studies?
- Would gaining work experience prior to graduate school be a benefit?
- Are you emotionally ready for one to three more years of academic work at a much more rigorous level than your undergraduate experience?
In deciding whether to pursue a graduate degree, talk to other individuals as well. Select people who have a differing prospective and background. They can be a valuable source of information. The following people might have helpful input:
- Current graduate students who are at different phases of graduate program.
- Professors in the program you plan to pursue.
- Industry professionals and prospective employers.
Thinking through the reasons for applying to graduate school will help you make an informed decision about continuing your education.
Types of Programs
Academic Type Programs
M.A. (Master of Arts) or M.S. (Master of Science) in a specific discipline or subject you have studied as an undergraduate. Typically to complete a Ph.D. (Doctorate Degree) extends two to four years beyond the Master’s level, and also requires on original research project called the dissertation. This option is required to be a professor with future options for consulting and research. Master’s level degrees can be obtained in the California State University program while most doctoral programs in California are available through the University of California system or private institutions. For a list of graduate programs at California State University, Fresno, click here.
Professional Type Programs
Professional graduate degrees are programs that often lead students to a job outside of the field of academia. Many times the professional programs will be less research based than the academic type programs and contain 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). More than 22 different specializations. Some two year programs are more quantitative than others. Read more about M.B.A programs here.
- 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.
For a further overview of graduate and professional programs and an in depth information on programs, financing graduate school, and entrance examinations, visit Petersons.com.
Prepare for Graduate School
Once you have made the decision that graduate school is the right step for you, it is a smart idea to begin your preparation early in order to better your chances for acceptance.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Work at getting good grades as most graduate schools strongly consider your undergraduate transcripts for admittance.
- Visit a pre-professional faculty advisor at Fresno State. A list of contact information can be found here.
- Visit the websites of your top graduate school programs to ensure you are taking the needed prerequisites for admission.
- Work to develop good writing skills and research techniques as these will be valuable resources.
- Speak with professors who teach and have experience in the field in which you are interested and ask for advice.
- Set up an informational interview with people who are in the field in which you are interested. Learn from them about the current trends as well as what skills are required in their profession.
- Apply for internships in order to gain experience in the field.
- Review graduate school directories and catalogs available on the internet or in Career Development Center.
- Get information on the required entrance exam for your program (e.g. GRE, LSAT, MCAT, or GMAT).
REMEMBER: There are career counselors ready to help and the Career Development Center office is an excellent place to begin collecting information.
Research Graduate Programs
Start early and research each possible school carefully. Consider the following questions:
1. At what schools does your desired program exist?
- Peterson’s.com: Use this website to search for graduate programs in your field of study and desired location.
- California State University, Fresno: Review this website to see if your desired graduate program exists at Fresno State.
- Grad Programs in Overall CSU System: Visit this link to see a spreadsheet of all of the degree options in the CSU system and the campuses at which they are located.
- Continue the Journey: This is a free booklet published by the Office of the President of the University of California. It contains information about admission requirements, opportunities for financial support, summer research programs, and graduate degree programs at each UC campus. While this booklet targets women and underrepresented minorities, it is useful to all students considering graduate study at the UC. Click on the "degree options" link to see the degree programs offered at each campus. For a PDF version, click here.
- Gradschools.com: Search from more than 70,000 graduate programs, get recruited by programs and read timely articles about applying, enrolling and succeeding in graduate school. International Graduate Schools can also be viewed here, just follow the link.
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 supervisor?
7. Are the required classes readily available?
8. Are opportunities for field work and/or research made available?
9. What type of financial aid is available to Graduate students?
10. What types of facilities are available to students (i.e. library, laboratories, computer/technology laboratories).
11. Where have recent graduates been employed?
12. How does the graduate program rank nationally?
- Rank Grad Schools Based on Your Personal Criteria
- U.S. News & World Report Rankings
Remember it is also important to:
- Visit the campus
- Review the graduate catalogue
- Talk to current students
- Talk with an admissions representative
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 five components for their application:
An Application Form to the Graduate School
Most application forms are submitted online for convenience, but you can call or write to the graduate division of a school in advance to secure a paper application. Before beginning the application online, read directions thoroughly to know what information you will need in order to fill out the application. Some sites may even provide you with a pre-application guide that you should read before attempting your application. You often need information such as previous school addresses, units earned, courses taken, work experience, etc. A cost is usually associated with the application, and payment online can usually be done by credit card. Also, frequently the online application will require that you attach a statement of purpose, so you will want to have the capability to do that on the computer you use to complete the application. The online application website for graduate programs in the California State University system is Cal State Apply.
*Many programs require that you submit an application directly to the department as well as the school’s umbrella graduate division. Please ensure that you know where you need to send application materials.
Undergraduate GPA Transcripts
Request your undergraduate transcripts directly from all post-secondary institutions you have attended. This is usually done through the Registrar’s Office. When you request your transcripts, you will need to provide the names and addresses of the graduate schools where you would like your transcripts sent. There is usually a fee for each transcript. Be sure to allow several weeks for the processing of your request.
Graduate Admission Test Scores
Graduate schools generally require a graduate admission test that will vary depending on your program of study. Plan to take the one you need at least four months before you need to submit your application as tests will take time to be officially evaluated. Similarly, you will need to plan further in advance in order to allow time to study for the test and take a preparation course if you wish. Scores are typically good for up to five years, so will be valid if you want to take the test but wait to apply to graduate school. See the Entrance Examination section for further detail.
Letters of Recommendation
All graduate schools will require anywhere from two to five letters of recommendation. Applicants pursuing graduate school immediately after their undergraduate work will want the majority of their letters to be from professors, while those entering graduate school after several years of work may rely on their professional work references. Also, if you plan to attend graduate school eventually, but not right after your undergraduate degree, you can ask professors to write letters of recommendation and place them on file for future use. See the Letters of Recommendation section for further details.
Statement of Purpose
The final piece to the application is your Statement of Purpose. This is your opportunity to convince the admissions committee that you are qualified to pursue graduate study. Be prepared to write an essay or statement on your background and interests as they pertain to your study in the field. This is your opportunity to present yourself beyond the “numbers” represented in your transcripts and graduate admissions exams. It also gives the committee a sample of your ability to write, so be meticulous about spelling, grammar, and writing style. The essay will also be used to assess your enthusiasm for the field of study, motivation, creativity, maturity, and personal uniqueness. Have several people, including your letter writers and career counselor, review your Statement of Purpose for clarity and composition. See the Statement of Purpose section for further details.
Helpful Hints to Remember:
- It is a good idea to apply to a few programs in order to provide you a variety of options. Compare your GPA and test scores to those of people admitted to the program. You can apply to a couple programs where you would be in the bottom 25% of students, a couple where you would be the average, and a couple where you would be at the top of the applicant pool. This will provide you with a range of possibilities for acceptance.
- Apply early. An early application can set you apart from the competition. Application deadlines vary; some can be as early as August prior to your senior year and some may have rolling admissions.
- Determine which tests are required for admission. Research information on cost, dates administered fees and locations. Make arrangements to complete all required tests.
- Set up a time line for completion of each requirement to be sure that you stay on track. Applying to graduate school feels like taking a full course, and a time line will help.
- As you did for your undergraduate degree, you will need to submit a separate application for financial aid.
- If you cannot find information online or prefer to have a hard copy, call or write for applications, catalogs and financial aid information about one year prior to when you plan to attend graduate school.
__ Complete essay/Goal Statement/Statement of Purpose
__ Request Letters of Recommendation
__ Request Transcripts
__Take admissions tests
__Submit application for Admission
__Submit application for financial aid
__Schedule visits to the campus and possible interviews
Most graduate schools will require a score from one of the standardized entrance exams such as GRE, GMAT, MCAT, etc. These test scores could play a major part in which institution you will attend and whether or not you are accepted.
Preparation for the exams:
- Study the free handbooks that are provided by the test companies
- Do the practice tests that are provided in the handbooks
- Purchase and use any official study guides containing actual exams from recent years that the testing company may have published
- Purchase and use commercial study guides and software programs which are available in book stores and computer stores
The four most commonly used exams are*:
Graduate Record Exam (GRE):
This exam includes the General Test and Subject Tests in 16 subject areas. The Subject tests are designed to measure knowledge of a specific subject area related to graduate study in specific fields. For more information on the GRE, follow the link above and click on GRE. You can register for the exam on this site as well.
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT):
Approximately 850 schools require the GMAT scores from their applicants. For most business schools GMAT scores are considered heavily for admission. For information on the GMAT, visit the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) website. GMAC is the organization that oversees the GMAT as well as helps to facilitate graduate business education by providing information to both schools and
Medical College of Admission Test (MCAT):
The skills and information tested on this exam are identified by physicians as prerequisites for the practice of medicine. A high score is important for admission to medical school. For more information and access to free practice tests, visit the MCAT portion of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ (AAMC) website.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT):
In order to be accredited by the American Bar Association, law schools must require that applicants submit LSAT scores. Law is a highly competitive area and a high score is imperative. Visit the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website for more information on the LSAT and to register for the exam. LSAC is the organization that oversees the LSAT and facilitates the application process for nearly all American Bar Association accredited law schools in the U.S. Free LSAT preparation materials are available on the website.
*Some graduate programs (i.e. Optometry, Dentistry, Pharmacy) use other entrance examinations. Check the requirements for your desired program or consult a career counselor or pre-professional faculty advisor for the appropriate exam. Contact information for the faculty pre-professional advisors can be found by clicking here.
Additional Preparation Programs
The following are for-profit companies that sell resources in the form of books and test preparation courses. They also provide free practice tests online and sometimes hold free information sessions on applying to graduate school. In addition, these websites provide excellent information on a variety of other relevant topics to graduate or professional school education. We provide these links for your convenience, although we do not endorse either service. Take a practice test first before investing in the test preparation course.
Fresno Kaplan Center
1630 East Shaw Avenue, Suite 140
Fresno, CA 93710
Search for a course online using the above link.
Courses are usually held at:
San Joaquin College of Law
901 Fifth Street
Clovis, CA 93619
Email for more information at email@example.com
Disclaimer: Please note that the web sites listed under below are not maintained by the Career Development Center but are provided as a convenience to students
Affordable Colleges Online - Information about careers, education requirements, and online degree options
The Princeton Review - Test preparation for standardized tests including SAT, ACT and graduate school entrance exams
Kaplan Test Prep - Preparation for more than 90 standardized tests, including entrance exams for secondary school, college and graduate school
Planning to Apply to Graduate School - Learn if graduate school is for you, graduate programs, application timelines, how to get connected with faculty, and how to excel in college to prepare you for graduate admissions.