Graduate School Guide

Many students consider pursuing advanced studies beyond their undergraduate experience. Deciding to go into a professional or graduate program is a big decision. When contemplating graduate school, there are many things to consider.

Best reasons to attend graduate school

  • Your career goal requires an advanced degree, such as a professor, lawyer or doctor.
  • You want to specialize in a subject that you are passionate about.
  • You want to advance in your career or change career directions.
  • You want or need to gain a certain level of certification or licensure.

Worst reasons to attend graduate school

  • You don’t want to or don't think you can get a job.
  • You don’t know what you want to do.
  • You want to delay paying student loans.
  • You really like college and think graduate school is going to be just as fun.

Research Resources

Research programs, schools, financing options, scholarships, etc at

Learn more about the entrance exams required by many programs at

Timeline for Applying

You need to begin preparing to apply at least a year before you expect to enter a graduate program. This means the spring of your junior year or the summer before your senior year. Most graduate schools start in the fall with application deadlines usually occurring between the December and February before; however, as you build your timetable, you need to pay very close attention to deadlines and try to complete applications well before the due date in case you encounter any unexpected bumps in the road. The time table below is intended to give you an idea of the steps you should take to apply to graduate school. Keep in mind that it is approximate and you will need to adapt it to your personal situation.

Freshman-Sophomore Year

  • Engage in career explorations activities to identify potential career paths.
  • If you are pursuing areas such as law, medicine or veterinary sciences, identify the typical prerequisite courses needed for graduate school.
  • Meet with a career consultant to discuss ways to build your resume.

Junior Year

  • Decide on the type of graduate program that is consistent with your career goals.
  • Create a list of your top values and criteria and then identify 10 to 15 prospective graduate programs that match your needs.
  • Research the programs of interest to you to determine pre-requisite courses and minimum admissions requirements.
  • Determine which standardized tests are required for your program of interest; take a practice test and enroll in a test preparation program, if necessary.
  • Sign up for entrance exams required by your program of choice.
  • If the program you are applying to uses a clearinghouse (law or medicine), begin gathering the required information.
  • Begin looking into financial aid options such as loans, scholarships, fellowships and graduate assistantships.
  • Identify letters of recommendation.
  • Update resume.
  • Begin writing a rough draft of your personal statement or essay.

Senior Year

  • Take entrance exams, if you haven’t already done so.
  • Initiate an exploratory discussion with the department chair-person or a faculty member at each of your prospective programs to establish report and narrow down your prospective schools.
  • Generate a final list of universities to which you want to apply.
  • Finalize versions of your personal statement and resume; have them proofed by three different people.
  • Give recommenders information about your reasons for attending graduate school, deadlines, etc.
  • Complete application forms; make copies of each before sending
  • Fill out the FAFSA as close to January 1 as possible to qualify for federal aid; apply for grants, fellowships and assistantships.
  • Prepare for possible interviews; contact the Career Service Office if interested in a mock interview.
  • Write thank you letters.

Graduate School: Application Process

Most programs will not review an application until it is complete, and probably will not review it at all if anything is late - so start early. Always have a copy of all your application materials in case items get lost. Also, be sure to call to confirm the receipt of all your materials. Remember: most programs receive many applications and may be looking for quick ways to eliminate applicants. A small error or an unprofessional-looking application may be all they need to send yours to the bottom of the stack.

Application Fee

You should plan to have approximately $300 to $500 available, as application fees can be as much as $100 per school. These fees are typically not refundable, so do your research and be fairly certain of your interest in a school before applying.


Graduate schools often ask for resumes/cvs - or at least a list of experiences - to consider in addition to your GPA and test scores as admissions criteria. A resume for graduate school application is essentially the same as for a job search; however, it’s a good idea to structure the resume to highlight the skills and qualifications that would be valued in a particular graduate program, such as research experience, related jobs or activities, and so forth.

Official Transcripts

An “official” transcript bears the university’s seal and the signature of its registrar. You must order these and usually pay a small fee for each one. Just about every graduate program requires an official transcript from every post-secondary institution you have attended, even if you took only one course at an institution.