Applying to Graduate School: What to Know

How To Prepare for Graduate School

After completing an undergraduate degree, students are then faced with a “next steps” decision. Some opt to take their bachelors and settle into their professions. Others choose to continue learning through additional coursework, another undergraduate degree, or pursue a graduate degree program.

The Advantage of a Master’s Degree

Pursuing graduate school isn’t always necessary depending on your career aspirations, but many professions do require a post-undergraduate degree. Education administrators, counselors, clinical social workers, healthcare manager and occupational therapist careers all require a graduate degree which promotes further centered learning.

Three years ago, the Washington Post reviewed that 21.7 percent of more jobs will require a graduate degree by 2020. Some of the faster growing occupations also require a master’s degree: school counseling, nurse practitioner, marriage and family therapists, and physician assistants. Regardless of chosen field, a master’s degree is beneficial for obtaining leadership roles, advancing your career, and may increase your salary in some positions.

How Graduate School Differs from Undergrad

Graduate degree programs offer a much more subject centric education. For an average of two years, students take coursework that is solely specific to their major. Undergraduate education often requires core curriculum coursework to be taken first with subject specific classwork after.

According to the Inquiries Journal, graduate programs involve coursework that is “designed to help prepare you for your comprehensive exams and for writing a dissertation.” This coursework is directly reflective of what is needed and takes into consideration licensing, certification, and everything else essential to finding success in a your chosen career.

How to Apply to Graduate School

According to Idealist, students should begin thinking about graduate school long before they attend: three months before you apply and twelve months before you enroll. This helps assure you’re making the decision right for you. 

In the beginning stages, you should take the following steps:

  1. Define your professional goals and determine what you should study – make sure these goals correlate with your personal ones as well.
  2. Research institutions and programs of interest - you can do this by speaking with experts in your field, alums, peers, present students, or conducting online research.
  3. Take into consideration a variety of things including cost of tuition, whether to take online or on campus courses, federal loan programs, scholarship opportunities, tuition reimbursement from your present employer, graduate assistantships, and research grants.

After you’re certain graduate school fits in with your professional and personal aims, your next step is application. Most programs have several application requirements. These include:

  1. Completion of prerequisites.
  2. Letters of recommendation – these should provide background information on who you are, your accomplishments, your professional goals, and you reason for apply to graduate school. They should be written by former professors or supervisors. It’s best to give people a least two weeks to complete them.
  3. An updated resume.
  4. Statement of purpose and any other required essays.
  5. Official transcripts – some programs require that they are sent directly from the university.

In addition to the above, some graduate school programs have exam requirements. The type of exam depends on your field. Medical students may have to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCATs), for instance, while law students are required to take the Law School Admission Test (LSATs).

For other fields such as counseling and education admissions, graduate schools may require that you complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE is offered year-round and students can take it up to once every 21 days. Even so, taking it too often can work against you: universities may access all of your scores and weigh each one before making a decision.

A few other things to be cognizant of as you apply include application fees and submission dates. Keep copies of everything you send in the event that it is lost in transit.

Grad School Acceptance

After you’ve been accepted into a graduate school program, the decision-making process isn’t over. Just because you’re accepted, doesn’t mean you’re committed. It is best to weigh the options before signing on the proverbial dotted line.

  1. If you’re accepted to more than one school, compare the offers you receive. Keep in mind things like school ranking, duration of program, cost, and personal preference. Accreditation is of high importance too. For licensure and certification in some fields, attending accredited programs is preferred, if not required.
  2. Once you’ve chosen a school, notify admissions of your decision and pay the deposit if needed. Communication about enrollment is sent via email or the postal service (or both): look out for it so you don’t miss any important deadlines.
  3. Apply for your financial aid if needed through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  4. Prepare for your first courses, becoming familiar with your online format or on campus map.
  5. Figure out what and who your program resources are as well as the program requirements in terms of grades and coursework load.

Although not required education for many occupations, a master’s degree can prepare you for leadership roles, advance your career, conducting research, or prepare you for certification or licensure in a regulated career.