- Determining if Graduate School is Right for You
- Gathering Information on Graduate Programs
- Research and Compare Schools
- Ranking and Narrowing Your List of Schools
- The Application Process
- Application Materials
- Paying for Graduate School
- Timeline for Applying to Graduate School
Making the decision to attend graduate school is one that should not be taken lightly. You should ask yourself what has motivated you to consider graduate school. Are you looking to specialize in a subject of personal or professional interest? Do you want to develop expertise in a particular subject or field to maximize your future earning potential and opportunities for career advancement?
Depending upon your career goals, graduate school may be required for entry. Careers such as academia, law, medicine, or banking often require graduate degrees. For other fields, such as engineering, technology, or business, graduate school is not required for an entry-level position, but can be beneficial.
If you are unsure of your career choice, you should delay graduate school until you are more focused. Also, it is not a good idea to attend graduate school for the purpose of delaying a job search or to please someone else.
It is important to gather enough information to make an informed decision about what school and program you will attend before investing a great deal of your time and money. It is recommended that you build an initial list of 50-100 possible schools. Consider schools across the country, and if possible, do not limit yourself geographically. Listed below are some sources for learning about graduate schools.
- The Graduate Guide is a comprehensive guide to graduate school programs including distance learning, financial aid sources and veterans education..
- Petersons Online at www.petersons.com or in print in a multiple volume collection. Volumes include Peterson’s Guide for Graduate Schools in Physical Sciences and Engineering, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Biological Sciences. The print volumes offer detailed descriptions of many schools and programs by discipline. The website offers similar information plus information about services to prepare for graduate school including test preparation, online applications, admission standards, and financial aid information.
- US News and World Report (http://www.usanews.com) has ranking articles and interactive tools to compare programs in business, law, engineering, medicine, education, and more. Also US News publishes a print issue dedicated to ranking graduate schools and their programs.
- Vault.com. A good resource for programs and admission standards. Also includes personal stories from students who attend or have attended different schools.
- Grad Profiles contains in depth information about graduate school and information about programs of study, including degree requirements, facilities, expenses, financial aid, faculty research, etc.
- GradSource provides comprehensive information about graduate study in the fields of engineering and computer science. Includes information about programs in the USA.
- CareerTech offers online graduate school programs and a directory of continuing education programs.
- Professors - All of your professors attended graduate school at one time. Ask for suggestions from them about which programs you should explore. They may know colleagues in some of the programs you are considering.
- Parents & Friends - Parents and friends can be a valuable resource when exploring potential graduate school opportunities. They may have friends or colleagues that can direct you to programs in your field of interest.
- Graduate Students in Your Field - Ask professors for names of alumni who have attended graduate school in your field. You can contact those alumni for advice on programs. Also, if you visit any schools that are of interest to you, make sure to ask to speak to a current student. They can provide essential information about the school and its program from a student perspective.
- Professional Journals - Note which faculty members are publishing in professional journals or textbooks in your area of specialization and the programs with which they are affiliated. This can provide you with additional information about a potential school of interest.
- Published Ratings - As mentioned above, US News and World Reports publishes periodic ratings of graduate schools and their programs. It is a good idea to consult a variety of ratings resources for comparison. Be aware that these resources can be biased toward research-oriented institutions.
- Career Center - You can visit your career center to learn more about graduate schools and programs that meet your career goals. Also, the Career Center contains print materials that describe different graduate programs, law schools, and medical schools across the country.
Other Ratings Sources:
- Education and Social Science Library: College and University Ratings
- PhDs.org Graduate Program Rankings
- Business Week: Best B-Schools
- How strict are the admission standards for the department to which I am applying?
- Do I have to take an entrance exam? If so, which one?
- What is the average score of students who are accepted?
- What is the average undergraduate GPA of students who are accepted?
- Have I completed all required undergraduate coursework?
- Is experience in the work world a requirement?
- Does the department take a specialized or more generalist approach to its subject matter?
- Which type of approach is more in line with my goals and needs?
- Does the department take a specialized or more generalist approach to its subject matter?
Size of Department
- How many full-time/part-time faculty work for the department?
- Do faculty members give individualized attention?
- What is the student/faculty ratio of the department?
- What is the reputation of the institution as a whole?
- What is the reputation of the department to which I am applying?
- What is the reputation of individual faculty members?
- Is there an emphasis on research?
- Are field placements/experiences incorporated into the curriculum?
- Do I share an interest in any faculty member’s area of research?
- What are the opportunities to participate in research projects that interest me?
- Time commitment/attrition
- How long does it take to complete the program?
- How many students drop out before completion?
- Can the program be completed as a part-time student?
- Is there an option for MS/PhD combined?
You should ask current students in the program for realistic answers to these questions.
You cannot rely only on the information that is provided in the school's literature.
Size of the Institution
- How many graduate students attend the institution?
- What is the normal class size?
- Would I be comfortable there?
- What is the general age of the student population?
- How diverse is the student body?
- Are there organizations/clubs for graduate students?
- How comprehensive is the library? To what databases, CDs, journals, etc., do they have access? How many volumes in my field do they carry?
- Would I be able to access original research?
- Are the computer centers adequate?
- Are the labs adequate for the research I will be conducting?
Cost of School, Financial Aid, and Scholarships
- How much are tuition and fees per year?
- Is there financial aid available?
- Are there research/ teaching assistantships available to help offset the costs?
- Am I eligible for a loan?
- Do I qualify for work-study programs?
- Are there scholarships available?
Never rule out a school or a program because of cost. There are many ways to help offset the cost of graduate school. It can sometimes cost less to attend the school of your choice after you have explored all types of aid, scholarships, and assistantships available.
Employment After Graduation
- What is the percentage of graduates who obtain employment after graduation?
- What types of jobs do graduates from my program obtain?
- Where are they working?
It is important to consider the cost of living in the area when weighing the total expenses. Remember to research all options on-campus and off-campus.
Housing and Living Expenses
In addition to tuition and fees you will have to pay for living expenses when you attend
- Are there on-campus housing options for graduate students? What is the cost?
- Are there dining facilities available? What is the cost?
- What is the average cost of off-campus rent in the area I wish to attend graduate school?
- Would I prefer to live alone or with a roommate?
- Does the school assist me with finding a place to live?
- Is there separate housing for married students?
After you have researched the schools that you are interested in, you can now rank schools to determine to which ones you wish to apply. You should consider your personal interest in the school/program as well as the likelihood that you will be accepted into the program since all schools and departments have admission requirements.
As a general rule, you can break schools up into three different categories:
- “I don’t think I have a good chance for admission, but I am really interested in attending this school.” These are your “reach schools.”
- “I have a fairly good chance for admission.” These are your “possible” schools.
- “I will definitely be accepted.” These are your “safe” schools.
You should try to apply to 2-3 schools in each category. Since you have already researched different admission standards and requirements through speaking with departments and students as well as through researching different web sites, you should have a good idea about which schools fall into each of these categories. Once you have decided where to apply, it is time to start the application process.
Each school has different procedures and requirements as part of the application process. It is important for you to pay attention to the instructions as provided by each school. Applications that are not completed fully and correctly are not processed. You can hurt your chances of being selected by a school if you fail to follow all instructions properly.
Many schools allow you to apply on-line for graduate study. You can visit a school’s graduate admissions page for information on how to do this. Also, you may still be able to apply through a paper application. The best way to obtain a paper application is to call or write to the schools that you are interested in or it might be available to complete or download online.
Application requirements generally include a minimum GPA; particular scores on standardized tests such as the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or LCAT; official transcripts from your undergraduate school; letters of recommendation; an application essay; and a nonrefundable application processing fee. The amount of weight given to each of these factors will vary by school and program.
It is important to note all deadlines. Make a file noting all admission requirements and deadlines for applications. Get your materials in to the schools on time and check with the schools at least three weeks before their final deadlines to ensure that they have received all of your application materials.
Graduate School Exams
Most graduate schools do require some type of an entrance exam. The most common exams are:
- GRE—Required for most Master’s and PhD programs
- GMAT—Required for MBA programs
- LSAT—Required for law school
- MCAT—Required for medical school
- TOEFL-- May be required for International Students
Remember that the deadlines for registering for each of these tests are usually far in advance of the actual test date. Some tests are only given a few times a year so it important to plan accordingly.
Scores on these tests are an important part of the admissions process. If you wish to look into test preparation courses, you can visit the following sites:
Letters of Recommendation
Many schools require at least 3-4 letters of recommendation as part of the application process. You should obtain your letters of recommendation early since this can be a time consuming process. It is important for you to plan to have references that can speak and write of your accomplishments and skill sets. Here is a guide to help to ensure that you will be able to submit strong letters of recommendation with your graduate school applications.
- Make a conscious effort to develop and cultivate relationships with your professors, employers, supervisors, business associates and other individuals who will be able to speak highly of your past work experiences and academic accomplishments. You should try to have a number of people who know you well enough to provide information about your skills, knowledge and abilities.
- Ask the individual you have chosen if they are willing to serve as reference for you. Ask them if they will provide you with a positive recommendation. Never give out a person's name without asking permission first.
- Give all your references plenty of time to write letters of recommendation for you. Do not wait until only a few weeks before the application deadline to approach your references.
- You should try to make it easy for a reference to write a letter of recommendation. Provide each reference with a copy of your resume and a copy of your personal statement. Also try to fill out any part of the recommendation form provided by the graduate school that you can. Provide references with school-addressed stamped envelopes so that they can easily send all letters of recommendation and forms to the appropriate schools.
- Be sure to thank all of your references for taking the time to assist you with your letters of recommendation. Write each reference a thank you note and keep them informed of your progress.
Grades and Transcripts
- Your undergraduate GPA is an important part of the application evaluation process. You must be honest about your cumulative GPA and include it on your application and other required correspondence you have with the graduate schools to which you are applying.
- If you have a low GPA, however, try to determine if there were specific circumstances that may have led to it. For example, you had a death in the family, an illness, or a tough freshman year. If your GPA has continually improved, you can mention that on an application and in an essay. You can also calculate your major GPA and include that along with your cumulative GPA if your major GPA is higher.
- Most schools require an official transcript from your undergraduate university that verifies the classes you have completed and the grades you received. You should contact NJIT’s Office of the Registrar for information about how to send official transcripts to each school to which you are applying. An official transcript must be sealed and have the school’s official logo. A printed or unofficial copy from the internet is not acceptable.
- Completing the graduate school application completely and correctly is an essential part of applying to graduate school. Applications can be completed in paper form or online depending on the school to which you are applying. In either case, you should never leave any part of the application blank. It should be filled out clearly, accurately, and free of typographical and grammatical errors. Be sure to spell out your full, legal name on all application materials.
- Applications may ask you to include information about your academic and professional background. This can include information about all schools that you have attended, past employers, publications, leadership roles that you have held, and professional associations in which you are a member. Some graduate schools also require a resume as an additional piece of information.
The Personal Essay
One of the most important parts of any application to graduate school is the personal essay or statement of purpose essay. It measures your ability to communicate through writing. It is important to read all instructions carefully since some schools will ask very general questions whereas others are more specific. For example, one school may ask you for a statement about your character and qualities. Another school may ask you to describe your particular research interests. No matter what the topic, it is important to remember these key points:
- Be sure to use a strong opening that will catch the reader’s attention. Stay away from clichéd statements such as “I have always known that I wanted to be an….” or “Ever since I was a child, I wanted to…” You must show a graduate school how your interest in a particular field of study has developed over time. Show what you have done to prepare yourself and how this graduate program will help you to reach your future goals.
- Use strong examples of why you are a top candidate to enter this graduate school. What separates you from other applicants? Include anything that will show the admissions committee that you are a unique individual who will offer something to the program.
- Most applications will state how long the essay should be or provide you a specific amount of space in which you should write. Keep your essay to the specified length. A longer essay can work against you. The admissions committee will evaluate your essay based on quality, not quantity.
- Use at least a 10 point type font or larger when typing your essay.
- Proofread and check the spelling in your essay. Ask family/friends/professors to proofread it for you as well. It must be perfect with no errors.
- One of the most important parts of any application to graduate school is the personal essay or statement of purpose essay. It measures your ability to communicate through writing. It is important to read all instructions carefully since some schools will ask very general questions whereas others are more specific. For example, one school may ask you for a statement about your character and qualities. Another school may ask you to describe your particular research interests. No matter what the topic, it is important to remember these key points:
Additional Web Sites to Help You Prepare Your Essay
- Purdue OWL. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab includes information about how to best write the personal statement. Includes questions to ask yourself and sample essays.
- AdmissionsEssays.com is a comprehensive site that provides information on how to write graduate school essays. Sample essays can also be viewed. In addition, essay writing services can be purchased for a fee.
- EssayEdge.com includes links to an Essay Help Course to assist with learning the basics of writing admissions essays. This site also includes links to sample essays in a variety of disciples. Essay writing services can be purchased for a fee.
Paying for Graduate School
At first glance, graduate school can seem very expensive. You may ask yourself how you could pay a new set of tuition, fees, and housing costs. To afford graduate school, there are a number of sources of aid that are available. What you need to do is to evaluate the cost of the school and factor in the available resources that you may have access to.
There are three basic types of financial support available to graduate students. Not all these resources are available at all schools. Students may not receive all types of aid, either. It is important for you to do the research on what type of aid is available at the schools you are considering.
- Assistantships- Most assistantships come in the form of Research Assistants (RA) or Teaching Assistants (TA). As an RA, you would generally assist a member of the faculty with their research initiatives. As a TA, you would assist with facilitating one or more sections of an undergraduate course. This can include teaching, grading, and leading discussion groups. Generally, both RA and TA positions require about 20 hours of work per week and will help cover tuition costs. You may also receive a stipend through one these positions. The department you are attending or the general graduate school office can give you information about whether TA or RA positions are available and how you should apply.
- Fellowships and Grants - These monetary awards do not require work commitments and are typically given to students who have shown that they have academic merit. You should investigate on your own for sources of fellowships and grants. Your local bookstore or library will usually carry books that list where you can apply to fellowships and grants.
- Loans - A common way that many students pay for part of their graduate school education is through federal and state loan programs. Two of the most common loan programs are Perkins Loans and Stafford Loans. These loans need to be paid back with interest once you complete your graduate study. Usually you will apply for loans through a school’s financial aid office, so be sure to contact that office of all the schools you are interested in attending.
- Other Resources - Some companies offer tuition reimbursement programs to their employees. Usually Human Resources can provide you with information about how this benefit is administered at your company.
Websites About Paying for Graduate School
- FinAid is a student’s comprehensive guide to learning all about the financial aid process.
- FAFSA is the official financial aid website for the US Department of Education. Here you can download a free online form to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
- FastAid is where you can find scholarship information that is not easily found on the web. The information is updated daily.
- e-Scholar from The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a website that provides all students (high school and higher), parents, and career professionals information on different educational opportunities offered by Federal Government departments and agencies, or partnering organizations.
- Nextstudent provides information about financial aid options, including fellowships and graduate student loans for graduate students.
18 Months Before You Begin Graduate School
- Research schools and programs that are of interest to you.
- Visit schools that are of interest to you.
- Register and study to take the appropriate graduate admissions test
- Talk to family, friends, and professors about good programs in your field of interest
- Begin to investigate financial aid options including scholarships and fellowships
15 Months Before You Begin Graduate School
- Take the appropriate graduate admissions test
- Obtain application materials from the schools to which you plan to apply.
- Check application deadlines and procedures once you receive the application materials
12 Months Before You Begin Graduate School
- Determine who you wish to ask to write letters of recommendation
- Obtain the letters and write thank you notes to all references
- Obtain official transcripts
- Send in completed application
- Take or re-take graduate admissions test
6 Months Before You Begin Graduate School
- Check to make sure all schools have received your application materials
- Visit all schools that have accepted you
- Apply for financial aid and assistantships
- Send deposit money to the institution of your choice
- Contact your references to inform them of your decision and success
- Notify programs that accepted you of your decision to attend or not to attend
- Begin to search for housing if it is not already provided by the school of your choice