Is graduate school right for you? Only you can answer that question. Don't take the decision lightly. Consider your interests, goals, dreams, and abilities. Assess your skills, competencies, and weaknesses with brutal honesty. In-depth soul-searching is unpleasant, but vital to making a choice you can live with for the next two to seven years.
Consider the following questions:
Why do I want to go to graduate school? Is it for the right reasons?
Students choose graduate school for many reasons, including intellectual curiosity and professional advancement. Some choose grad school because they aren't sure what to do or don't feel ready for a job. These aren't good reasons. Graduate school requires an intense commitment of time and money. If you're not sure that you're ready, then it's best to wait.
What are my career goals?
Will graduate school assist me in meeting my career goals?
Some careers, such as those in medicine, dentistry, and law, require education beyond the bachelors degree. A job as a college professor, researcher, or psychologist also requires an advanced degree.
What will I specialize in? What are my interests?
Whereas an undergraduate major is a broad introduction to a given field, graduate school is very narrow and specialized. For example, grad school in psychology requires choosing a specialization such as experimental, clinical, counseling, developmental, social, or biological psychology. Decide early because your choice determines the programs to which you'll apply. Consider your interests. What courses did you especially like? On what topics have you written papers? Seek advice from professors about the differences among the various specialties in a given field. Inquire about existing employment opportunities for each specialization.
Do I have the motivation for another two to seven years of school?
Graduate school is different from college because it requires a higher level of academic commitment. You must enjoy and excel at reading, writing, and analyzing information. Speak with professors and graduate students to get a better idea of what's involved in graduate study. Most first-year graduate students are overwhelmed and remark that they had no idea of what they were getting into. Seek a first-year student's perspective for a reality check.
Do I have the academic and personal qualities to succeed?
Generally, it is expected that students will maintain at least a 3.0 average during graduate school. Some programs deny funding to students with less than a 3.33 average. Can you juggle multiple tasks, projects, and papers at once? Can you manage time effectively?
Going to graduate school affects the rest of your life. There are both pros and cons to continuing your education. Seek information from multiple sources including the career-counseling center, your family, graduate students, and professors. Take your time with it. Most importantly, trust your judgment and have faith that you'll make the choice that's best for you.
You need to do your research carefully to choose the school that will best suit your needs and talents. There are more than 1,800 institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees; the variety is enormous. Many are highly specialized and offer only one kind of degree. Some may offer one or two professional master's degrees, often in education or business administration. Some institutions offer master's degrees only, while others offer doctorates in selected fields. Major research universities offer master's degrees and doctorates in a wide range of fields.
You will probably have certain personal preferences regarding the kind of institution you attend. Size and location are two factors that often influence a person's decision about where to go to school. There are advantages to both large and small institutions. Location is important if you believe you cannot make a major move because of personal or family concerns.
The most important factor should be how well the graduate program of an institution fits your particular interests, academic background, and goals. Although a university may offer a doctorate in your field, it may not have a program in the branch of that field that interests you. For example, some psychology departments specialize in clinical psychology and offer only a few courses in behavioral psychology; in others behavioral psychology courses predominate.
One way to do research on graduate programs is to talk to faculty members at your own undergraduate school about where they did their graduate work and what they know about graduate programs in their fields. Most faculty members enjoy the chance to talk with their students about their plans for graduate study. It is highly likely that they can recommend faculty at other institutions with whom you should study as well as recommend programs that might suit you. Getting to know your faculty members in this way not only provides you with valuable information about grad schools, but it also helps the faculty members know you better. This will give them context as they write letters of recommendation for you.
As you narrow your interests in a graduate program, it is important to determine what various programs' prerequisites are. For a professional degree, work experience or overall academic
preparation are often as important as specific coursework. For a research degree, however, there almost always are areas of subject matter and certain skills that you must have mastered at the undergraduate level. Particularly in the sciences, the prerequisites may be very specific.
Another important factor to determine is the selectivity of the program to which you want to apply. How many people apply to a given department or program, and how many are accepted? As the number of applicants grows in comparison with the number of "seats" open in the entering class, the selection rigor increases. It is often the case that the higher the selection rigor, the more likely it is that only the applications of the most highly qualified will be accepted. In considering the implications of this information, you must be very honest with yourself concerning your own academic background and intellectual potential.
Assess your preparation and your intellectual potential candidly to determine not only how well you can compete in a rigorous application process, but also how well you might perform after you enter a highly competitive graduate program. In the long run, your comfort with your graduate program will have a great effect on your satisfaction and performance.
Finally, keep in mind that, your application is evaluated and you will be recommended for admission by the department and its faculty members rather than a central admissions office. You should be more than casually familiar with the department to which you are applying. Spend time learning about the reputation of the department and its faculty. Evaluate their credentials. Determine how often courses listed in the course bulletin are taught and by whom. Ask questions of students currently in the program. Be critical about issues like faculty turnover, accreditation, and the reputation of the department and its faculty
Graduate schools are interested in recruiting qualified applicants for their programs. To assist in the process and help students locate programs that meet their needs, the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Board has developed the GRE Search Service, which is offered at no charge to prospective graduate students. Registration for it does not require registration for GRE tests. One benefit of registering for a search service is that you may hear from institutions you may not have otherwise considered, thus giving you more information about options for your graduate education. For more information, go to gre.org.
Deciding to go to graduate school, choosing the graduate school, completing the admissions process and paying for graduate school are major issues for you to consider. A wealth of information is available on the internet to educate you on these issues.
Here is a list of a few sites to help you get started on your research.
Graduate School Exams
The most widely used graduate exam is the GRE. Other specialized exams will be required for medical school, law school and MBA programs.
The GRE and GMAT (for business school) are computerized exams. You go to a test center to take the exams by appointment. You can register for the exam by calling the test center or by calling the toll-free numbers for GRE and GMAT.
GRE: 800-472-2255; GMAT 800-462-8669
Contact information for the test centers closest to Cedar Rapids:
University of Iowa Exam Service, 129 East Washington St. (300 Jefferson Building), Iowa City. Phone: 319-335-0355
University of Northern Iowa Exam Service, 125 Bartlett Hall (Student Services), Cedar Falls. Phone: 319-273-6024
Preparing for Grad School Admissions: What to Do During Your Junior-Year
Getting into grad school can be tough. Get started early to improve your application and increase your chances of getting in! Here's what you can do as a junior, or even a sophomore:
Start deciding where you'd like to apply. This entails gathering information. Look for programs. Browse through brochures and web sites.
Request catalogs and applications from schools that you may be interested in.
Meet with faculty and career counselors to discuss programs and your plans.
Determine admissions requirements.
Take extra elective courses that may aid your application. For example, in psychology, extra math, science, and statistics courses are good bets.
Determine which standardized tests to take. Take practice tests. Consider a prep course.
Take any required standardized tests towards the end of your Junior year. This ensures that you have time to retake them if needed.
Get involved in your field. Assist professor with a project or do some volunteer work.
Check your transcript for errors.
Senior-Year Timetable for Applying to Grad School
It's finally here! You're a senior and can't wait to graduate and move on to graduate school. But first you need to deal with those pesky graduate school applications. Senior year is graduate application time. Here's how to go about it and what to do to get into the graduate school of your dreams:
- If you haven't done so already, take the necessary standardized tests for admissions.
- Gather graduate program information (which you've collected over junior year and the summer or are feverishly working now to obtain) and narrow your choices.
- Consider which faculty members to ask for letters of recommendation.
- Research sources of financial aid.
- Carefully examine each of the program applications. Note any questions of essay topics.
- Write a draft of your statement of purpose
- Ask a faculty member or the career/grad admissions counselor at your school to read your essays and provide feedback. Take their advice!
- Ask faculty for letters of recommendation. Provide faculty with a copy of your transcript, each program's recommendation form, and your statement of purpose. Ask him or her if there's anything else that you can provide to help them.
- Arrange for your official transcript to be sent to each program to which you apply. Request that the Registrar hold your transcript until the Fall semester grades are in.
- Finalize your essays and statement of purpose. Don't forget to seek input from others.
- Apply for fellowships and other sources of financial aid, as applicable.
- Check and record the due date for each application.
- Complete the application forms for each program.
- Reread your essays and statement of purpose. Spell check!
- Mail your applications
- Relax and breathe!
Most schools send a postcard upon receipt of each application. Keep track of these. If you don't receive a postcard or letter, contact the admissions office by email or phone to ensure that your application has been received before the deadline.
- Depending on your field, start planning for the admissions interviews. What questions will you ask? Prepare answers to common questions.
- Fill out the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. You'll need your tax forms to do this.
- Visit schools to which you've been accepted.
- Discuss acceptances and rejections with a faculty member or the career/grad admissions counselor at your school.
- Notify the program of your acceptance.
- Notify programs that you're declining.