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Should I go to Graduate School?

Deciding to go or not to go to graduate school is a major decision.

If you are the student who has a clear sense of what career you want to pursue, and if an advanced degree is required for entry into that field, then a graduate or professional school maybe for you. Catechetics, law, medicine, counseling, management research and college or university teaching are some of the areas in which education beyond a baccalaureate level is usually required.

Or, if you want to immerse yourself in the study of a particular academic discipline purely for the love of it, and you would never forgive yourself if you did not at least give it a try, then advanced study will probably turn out to be a satisfying and valuable experience.

But WHEN to go to graduate school is also a question.

Some folks choose to go directly on to graduate school, others feel they need some time off before they can handle more of college life. There are pros and cons to both.

Some issues to think about:

  • Are you excited about going to graduate school?
  • Do you want to take a year off for a break or to decide on a direction?
  • What about your finances? How will you pay for graduate school?
  • Are you already drowning in debt from undergrad?

We’re here to help. Make an appointment so we can help you walk through the process.

Graduate School Selection Criteria

If you decide that graduate school is right for you there are some very important factors to consider when choosing which schools to apply to:

  1. Finances. Be certain that you know the total cost: tuition fees, room/board, transportation, etc.
  2. Geographic Location. The weather, political/social climate, an urban versus rural setting, as well as accessibility to employment opportunities upon graduation may be important in your planning.
  3. Size. How large is the institution and department in which you're interested? The number of students and the student/faculty ratio will affect the amount of individual attention you receive.
  4. Philosophy of Education. What is the average length of time spent in the program? Do opportunities exist for specialization in areas of your specific interest? Some institutions may approach the subject matter theoretically, while others may be more pragmatic in their approach.
  5. Residence Requirements. Residence requirements determine whether you pay in-state tuition (charged to legal residents of that state) or out-of-state tuition (charged if you are not a legal resident of that state).
  6. Placement Services. You will want to check with the institution's placement personnel, if possible, to find out what types of employers typically express an interest in graduates of the department of interest to you. Keep in mind, too, that departmental faculty often get actively involved in helping their graduate students with the employment process.
  7. Other Considerations. Some graduate programs require demonstrated competence in one or two foreign languages before the advanced degree is awarded. Similarly, you will want to investigate how much research effort you will be expected to make and whether or not a thesis is required at the master's degree level. If you plan to pursue a doctorate, is it to your advantage to apply directly to a doctoral program?

Preparation and Planning

Recommended Timetable for Applying to Graduate/Professional School

I. In your Junior year, clarify your objectives for attending and researching graduate programs.

  1. Clarifying your objectives:
    1. Self-Assessment: Assess how your interests, values, skills and abilities relate to your proposed career direction. You may want to meet with a career counselor or advisor and use resources such as Richard Bolles' "What Color Is Your Parachute?" and our Career Services guide available in the Career Center.
    2. Information Interviews: Interview professionals in positions that you believe you would like to enter after your graduate training. Follow these guidelines:
      • Interview several persons to avoid biases.
      • Locate these persons through faculty, friends, family, local professional associations, and alumni groups
      • Before requesting the interview, read printed information about the field and organization.
      • Use the Career Services and Services Guide on Networking for assistance.
      • Send a letter of thanks after the interview.
  2. Researching Programs
    1. Directories: Consult resources such as Peterson's Annual Guide to Graduate Study or www.gradschools.com.
    2. Request catalogs, departmental, and financial aid information from admissions offices. Just send a postcard or an e-mail with your name, address, and projected year of entry or make the request on line.
    3. Compare programs. Consider the national reputation of the program; faculty philosophy; number and breadth of course offerings; length of programs; accreditation; frequency that courses are offered; availability of course and facilities for part-time student (if applicable); appropriate library collections and computer access, size of program and number of students enrolled.
    4. Consult faculty and professionals in your field for advice regarding the quality of programs.
    5. Take the appropriate graduate admissions test: You may wish to take an admissions test as early as the latter part of junior year or in the summer prior to senior year. Be aware that all scores will be on your record for five years and will be sent to graduate schools to which you apply.
      • If you believe your score does not reflect your true ability, or you were ill the day of the test, it may be beneficial to retake the test. However, if your score is a fairly accurate indicator of your ability, it is unlikely that taking the test again will result in a substantially different score. The best way to ensure a satisfactory score is to prepare for the exam, whether independently or through a commercial test preparation course.

II. Preparation in your Senior Year

  1. Acquire more detailed information.
    1. Talk to admissions representatives and faculty at any Graduate School Fair and at the campuses that you are considering.
    2. Choose faculty with whom you would like to study. Learn their educational backgrounds and their research interests. Ask faculty advisors to recommend other faculty if possible (Remember, however, that faculty retire, and move to other institutions. Choose a graduate school for its general and acknowledged excellence in your field, not for an individual faculty member.)
    3. Talk to presently enrolled students and alumni. Admissions representatives can give you names.
      • Suggested questions:"What are your overall impressions of the program?" "What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program?" "How much access do you have to faculty?" "How often are courses in the catalog actually taught?"
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