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Pursuing Graduate School

Getting Started

Why Go To Grad School?

You're thinking about going to graduate school. Navigating the process can seem really overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. The first thing you need to do is ask yourself why. Graduate school will be mentally challenging and may be a significant time commitment.

  • A Master's Degree typically takes 2-3 years
  • A Ph.D. can take 5-8 years

It's important to think through some reasons to the good reasons to go to Graduate School and the reasons not to. 

Good reasons to go to grad school:

"Here is the only good reason to go to grad school. I am intellectually curious about a particular academic topic; I enjoy reading, thinking, writing, and researching about this topic and my motivation for studying this topic comes entirely from within. I understand that in order to gain further expertise in my chosen topic, I need to pursue a post-graduate degree. I hope to use this degree in order to land a job in an academic or applied environment that takes advantage of my expertise." 

(Adapted from Dr. Richard Lawler's "So You Want to Go to Grad School")

Less than favorable reasons to go to grad school:

  • My parents have high expectations for me and I don't want to let them down
  • I think that I "kinda like" something, so I guess I'll apply to grad school 
  • I got mostly A's in college so graduate school will be easy
  • I'm scared of real life
  • Grad school is what comes after college, right?
  • I don't know what else to do
  • I want to avoid paying back my student loans

When deciding, talk to people who have gone to grad school. Ask your professors, get their opinions, and ask them to share what their experience was like. Ask a lot of people -- not all graduate schools are the same and some programs (even in the same field) vary greatly. Talk to current graduate students -- find out what they like and what they struggle with. There are a lot of perspectives and a lot of different experiences. Ask questions, talk with people, and use their insight to help navigate your decision. 

For some professions, graduate school or an advanced degree is required. Counseling, law, teaching college, and medicine are all careers in which you must go beyond an undergraduate education. If you are unsure of what career you want, delay going to graduate school. It is too much time, stress, and money if you are unsure of what you want to do. But if you know, and you're ready, then keep going!

Creating a Timeline

Graduate School Application Timeline

You’ve made the decision that graduate school may be right for you. That means that now is the time to start thinking ahead and get prepared for the application process. You’ll see below that there is so much that you can do to prepare and it may seem overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be. This gives you an idea of where you may want to be when beginning the application process. It also lets you know about things you could be working on to be a stellar applicant.

When looking through this timeline, you’ll see that it begins early in the college career. If you are past your first, second, or even third year, this list is still useful to you. Look at the whole list, go back and see what you can check off by adding to your resume or CV, or see what else you want to add. Remember, we are here to help you through this process. You can set an appointment to discuss the application process by emailing:

First, Second, and (part of the) Third Year

Academics, talking with professors, building your network :

  • Maintain a healthy GPA. If you’re in you’re first two years, you are learning to navigate college, what it means to study, and how to manage your time. There are countless resources on campus to help you learn healthy academic habits. Try to do things before they are due so they don’t pile up at the end of the quarter. Find ways to beat the monster that is procrastination.
  • Get involved on campus. This means joining clubs and organizations or finding leadership opportunities.
  • Talk to your professors. Make a point to go to each of your professor’s office hours at the beginning of the quarter. Ask them how to be successful in their class, what their expectations are, and ask about their research. You want to be on your professor’s radar for good reasons and getting involved in their labs and doing well in their class is one way to do that.
  • Begin volunteering. Visit the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement to begin looking for internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as community service options. While you’re there, talk to them about a leadership transcript. This is an excellent way to supplement your CV or Resume.

Things to remember:

  • Start thinking about the types of programs you’re interested in. What are their requirements? What is their application process? What are the program outcomes? Bookmark these in your web browser or create a running list of schools your interested in and the program title. Start talking to professors and asking their opinions.
  • Begin thinking about summer. Where will you be living? Will you be working? Will you be enrolled in classes? Summer is a great time to consider doing a study abroad program. These programs take about a year of planning and preparation so it is best to get started early. Talk to International Studies to learn about options that they have.
  • Do you have a running draft of your resume or CV? Now is the time to start that! It will be important in your academic and professional careers. Set up an appointment with Career Services to discuss ways to help make your CV and resume stand out.

Junior Year

First, congratulations! You have made it halfway through your undergraduate career. Junior and senior year come with new challenges, both exciting and overwhelming. Now is the time to really get focused on academia by keeping your GPA high, beginning research projects with professors, and being serious about your major and your future.

Fall Quarter

  • Maintain a healthy GPA. Though graduate programs look at the GPA for your entire career, many are focused on your major GPA. So really work to excel over these two years.
  • Talk to faculty. It cannot be stressed enough how important undergraduate research is for getting into graduate school. Additionally, you will need letters of recommendation. A professor who has seen you both in class and helping with outside projects will write you a far better letter, than a professor who hardly knows you.
  • Start compiling a list of graduate schools that interest you. Keep notes and compare faculty you’d like to work with, tuition costs, possible assistantships and funding, program outcomes, and application requirements. 
  • Start studying for the GRE. It may seem early, but you need to take it sooner than later. Take practice tests, get a practice book, or even register for a prep course. The McNair Scholar program allows students to take their GRE Boot Camp at a reasonable cost.
  • What leadership organizations are you involved in on campus? Now is the time to really start seeking out this opportunities and getting involved.
  • Research, research, research. Connect with faculty members about their research. Find ways to get involved in labs. Another great way to get this experience is by reaching out to graduate students. Most grad students on campus will be doing research for their thesis and need help!

Winter Quarter

  • Keep compiling that list. Really start to narrow it down to options that will suit you and meet your needs and projected outcomes.
  • Continue to stay active in organizations on campus.
  • Seek out volunteer opportunities in your desired field
  • Talk to Career Services and the CLCE to start planning summer internships

Spring Quarter

  • Did you work closely with faculty this year? Ask for a letter of recommendation. Provide your CV and what programs you are applying for. Be sure to send them a thank you note once they have done this.
  • Start seeking out funding for graduate school. Are there scholarships that you need to start writing essays for now?
  • Register for a GRE prep course over the summer or register to take the GRE.

Senior Year

Now it is time to get serious. If you are going to apply, most applications will be due between December 1 and February 15. This means that you will need to have everything complete and ready to go during fall quarter. Good thing you have prepped! If not, that’s okay. You still have time to compile your resources and get applications turned in.

  • Take the GRE. If you didn’t do so during the summer, this needs to be done in September or October. When you go, you will be asked if you want to send scores. Take advantage of this as you can send test scores to 4 schools for free. There is a fee for sending scores to other institutions.
  • Go back and review the requirements for each institution you are interested in applying to.
    • Refine your personal statements to tailor them to each institution
    • Request GRE scores to be sent
    • Request transcripts from all colleges you have attended to be sent to each institution
    • Make sure your CV is up to date. Have faculty or Career Services review this before sending to the institutions
    • Apply to 5-10 of the schools you are interested in.
      • Some schools will waive the application fee if you demonstrate financial need. Contact each financial aid office.
      • While completing this application, complete any additional applications necessary for graduate assistantships.

And now, you can relax. Your applications are complete and now it's time to wait! Keep your GPA high and continue talking with faculty and networking on campus. You still need to finish this year strong. Continue looking to find out more about choosing a school, funding, and more.