Graduate School Resources

Making the Right Decision

Making the decision on whether to pursue graduate or professional education requires time, reflection, and intentionality. Asking questions is the best way to determine if graduate or professional education is part of your future.  Applying for graduate and professional school takes time and intentionality. Some things to think about:

  • Are you ready to go?
  • What are the advantages of an advanced degree?
  • What are the career or professional benefits to you?
  • How will this degree advance your career?
  • Have you researched graduate and professional programs?
  • How and when should you make your decision?
  • Do you know what is involved in the application process?
  • Does every program require an entrance exam?
  • Can you afford it?
  • How will you manage your stress and keep balance in your life?
  • Who will you ask for recommendations or letters of reference?
  • When is the best time to attend graduate or professional school?
  • What (if any) qualifications do you need to meet to be eligible/competitive?

Graduate vs. Professional Degrees

Students who opt to pursue graduate study seek master or doctoral degrees in a particular discipline. A graduate program is generally more focused on a specific area of interest and on acquiring specialized skills for a profession or to do advanced research. Frequently internships and/or field experiences which offer the opportunity to practice professional skills are also a part of the curriculum.

Master's Degree

A professional master's degree is a non-thesis, non-research degree. These programs are practice-oriented degrees, in which one seeks to obtain deeper post-graduate training in a discipline prior to undertaking its practice. Most professional master's degree programs range between one and two years in duration. Most professional master's degree do require the student to provide funding, i.e., students will pay for their own tuition and fees.

A master's with thesis is a research-based master's degree that requires students to complete graduate-level coursework, research, and write/deposit a thesis. Most master's degree programs with thesis are approximately two years in duration. Students will often receive funding for their education in addition to working as a research or teaching assistant.

A master's degree usually takes 1 or 2 years of full-time study.   Examples:

  • MEd is a Master in Education
  • MA is a Master of Arts
  • MS is a Master of Science
  • MBA is a Master of Business Administration
Doctoral Programs

A Doctoral program leads to the Ph.D. degree, which is the fundamental qualification for conducting independent scholarly research. Although a master's degree may be awarded incidentally in the course of a Ph.D. program, and some students who start out as master's candidates might stay on to complete a Ph.D., there is sometimes little connection between terminal master's degree programs and Ph.D. programs, even if they are conducted by the same faculty. If research or academia is your primary interest at this point, then you should be considering Ph.D. programs.

Professional Programs

A professional degree helps students prepare for careers in specific fields, such as law, pharmacy, medicine, and education. The length of the programs vary and can span anywhere from one to five years, depending on the institution you attend.  These programs often put a great deal of focus on real-world application, with many professional programs requiring students to complete internships or projects in their field of study before graduation. This allows students to gain extensive on-the-job training and boost their resumé.

Certain professional degrees are required—by law—to be earned before you can work in a specific job, for example, as a doctor or a lawyer.

Reasons to Pursue a Graduate Degree

Possible Reasons Not to Pursue a Graduate Degree

Application Timeline and Process

Summer after Junior Year
  1. Register for relevant entrance test. Study!!!
  2. Research graduate programs and requirements.
  3. Write personal statement
Fall of Senior Year
  1. Take or re-take entrance exam.
  2. Request feedback on your personal statement.
  3. Contact recommenders for recommendation letters.
  4. Complete applications
Winter of Senior Year
  1. Ensure all application materials, transcripts and test scores have been received.
  2. Visit Schools
  3. Receive offer letters
  4. Negotiate financial aid packages or apply for assistantships
Spring of Senior Year
  1. Interview for possible assistantships
  2. April 15 is the final decision date for most schools
  3. Let your recommenders know where you are going.
  4. Celebrate!

Application Materials

Below are the required components for many graduate programs.

Letters of Recommendation

While some programs may permit you to submit letters of recommendation from anyone, most want to hear from a faculty member who has had you in class or with whom you have conducted research.

Ask for recommendations from professors who are familiar with you and your work, who are reliable, and will follow through. Ask if they can write you a strong, positive recommendation.

  • Ask politely and far in advance of deadlines.
  • Waive your right to review the letter or recommendation form. You do not have to do so, but it will likely lend more credence to the recommendation when read by the selection committee.
  • Provide your recommenders with a resume and transcripts.
  • Follow up with your recommenders to confirm that your recommendations have been sent prior to deadlines.
  • You should always send a thank you to your recommenders expressing your appreciation for their time and support of your application.
  • Keep them updated both on the outcome of your application and your next steps.

Personal Statement

The personal statement or statement of purpose is an essential aspect of the application process. Personal statements are necessary for a graduate or professional school application and provide insight about your abilities and experiences while also functioning as a sample of your writing skills.

Once you have drafted a general statement, you can tailor it to fit programs to which you are applying by talking about the reasons you chose the program and how it specifically fits your background and interests.

Here are several suggestions for writing your personal statement.

  • Think of angles or viewpoints from which to demonstrate your character and potential. Your essay should be personal, accurate, forthright, and genuine.
  • Use the essay to help the selection team better understand your distinctiveness/uniqueness.
  • Review examples of personal statements so that you can become familiar with the appropriate tone.
  • Explain how you became interested in your field of study. Use objective experiences to communicate your message.
  • Describe how your interests relate to the graduate program.
  • Explain any gaps between your GPA and scores on graduate school admissions exams.
  • Describe how you overcame hardships or barriers encountered in life.
  • Demonstrate how your leadership skills, computer skills, or writing skills were developed.
  • Explain why you think you will be successful in graduate school.

Once you think you have a working draft of your personal statement, make an appointment with a trusted advisor.

Standardized Exams


The GRE's are required by many graduate programs. There are two types of Graduate Record Examinations (GRE's): The General Test and the Subject Tests. The General Test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. The GRE General Test is administered year-round.

ETS, the publishers of the tests, have constructed the General Test assuming that people will study for it. You will be at a significant disadvantage if you don't prepare. You'll be less anxious if you start studying for the exams several (2-6) months before the test but even several weeks of preparation can allow you to feel more confident on the test date and to be better prepared to do your best.


The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a standardized assessment delivered in English that helps business schools assess the qualifications of applicants for advanced study in business and management. Schools use the test as one predictor of academic performance in an MBA program or in other graduate management programs. The GMAT is made up of three components: Analytical Writing Assessment, Quantitative Section, and a Verbal Section. GMAT exams are administered year-round.

Learn More

What to Consider When Choosing a Graduate School

There are thousands of graduate programs around the country.  You will need to do your research to find out which programs are right for you!

When determining your graduate school options, it's important to talk to current students and alumni.   In speaking with the institution's alumni and mentor network, you also have the opportunity to assess the type of connections you can make there, and how they may help you get ahead even after graduation.  Begin by creating a list of questions to ask, such as:

  • Do you have enough academic and career guidance?
  • What do you like and dislike about your program?
  • Are you happy with your professors and advisors?
  • How do you feel about the student community?
  • What do you wish you knew before enrolling?

What students and alumni tell you might surprise you and could be extremely valuable in determining the right graduate school for you.

You can also speak with graduate admissions advisors to help you narrow your options. They have experience guiding students to make this type of decision and can provide you with the outcomes of past students whose goals were similar to yours.

Things to consider:
  • What courses are offered? Do these courses meet your area of interest?
  • Reputation/accreditation of the program and institution
  • Admissions test scores needed
  • Visitation/interview opportunities
  • Length of program
  • When are courses offered? Who teaches them?
  • Essay/portfolio requirements
  • Student/faculty ratios
  • Geographical location/size
  • Standard of living costs (housing, food, ect.)
  • Is it reasonable to work during the program?
  • Is there transportation available?
  • Can you be a part-time student?
  • Research and Teaching opportunities for students
  • Cooperative vs. Competitive Admissions
  • Are there any practicums or internships required?
  • Tuition rates and Financial Aid availability
  • Faculty Research interests and resources
  • Professional opportunities following graduation
  • Does the program require a comprehensive exam or a thesis?

Graduate School Resources

Peterson's Grad Search

Grad School information and search tool

MS vs MBA program

How to choose which is right for you?

How to choose a grad school

Sending out dozens of grad school applications is time-consuming and expensive, so skip the blitz method. Instead of applying to every grad program in your field, focus your attention on a few, carefully selected schools.

Graduate Directory and Resource Guide

Test Preparation

Mometrix's library of free resources has been designed to help alleviate anxiety on your upcoming graduate and professional school examination by equipping you with all the tools you need to succeed.