Graduate Study Preparation
Confused about whether to pursue a postgraduate degree? Pursuing a graduate degree reflects an interest in a more specialized field of study than your undergraduate education. Graduate school means an extensive commitment in terms of time, money, and hard work. It takes an average of one to three years to earn a master’s degree and approximately four more years to earn a doctorate degree. Graduate study should not be your principal goal but rather a means towards a goal that you strive to achieve; a goal that would motivate you through the years of intense graduate studies. If being a graduate student is your principal goal, the real world can come as a nasty shock at the end of your program!
Deciding which universities and programs to apply to is a critical and difficult step. It is important to familiarize yourself with the program description and individual faculty research interests, which can generally be researched online. To maximize your chances of admissions, be sure to diversify your range of schools. It is recommended to apply to an average of six to 10 programs. Divide your potential school and program choices into three categories based on your chances of admission:
(a) safety schools, where your acceptance is fairly certain
(b) competitive schools, where acceptance is feasible
(c) your ideal or dream school, a highly competitive university or program that is difficult but still possible.
Although published rankings are important, be sure to also consider other criteria such as:
- Personal fit
- Does the faculty have similar research interests?
- What is the student/faculty ratio?
- Is the university/program accredited?
- Are there scholarships, teaching or research assistantships, or other financial aid?
- Will you be happy living in a particular city?
You need to conduct extensive research into universities, programs, faculty members, and their research interests. Some programs such as an MBA may have other stipulations, such as professional work experience prior to admission. Universities in different regions often differ in focus, specialization, as well as application processes, and deadlines. Research-based programs may require rigorous theoretical training prior to applying. Research internal (university/program-affiliated) and external (organizations, companies, and governmental) funding options, as required documents take time to prepare.
Graduate and professional schools may require admission tests or exams. It is important to prepare and take the test early. This will allow ample time to retake it if you wish to improve your scores. Registration deadlines for most tests are approximately six weeks prior to the test date. Examples of admission tests include GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT.
Graduate programs often request curriculum vitae, also known as a CV, to evaluate applicants regarding their knowledge and experiences within the field, in addition to identifying their interests, motivation, potential for success, and fit for the program as well as university. A CV is a detailed account of an individual’s educational and work background, as applicable to the field, and does not have a page limit. It is often confused with a résumé, which is a tailored, one to two-page summary of one’s work experience and education. Depending on the program, some allow applicants to choose whether they wish to send a CV or résumé; whereas, others such as MBA programs, may specify the document type.
Graduate and professional schools generally require a written statement as part of the application. It is commonly referred to as a personal statement, statement of purpose, motivation letter for an admission statement/essay. The statement may vary in format and word count, and can be unstructured or include a series of questions that need to be answered. It is also common to find a series of six or more questions to answer when applying for sources of funding, such as scholarships and fellowships. Here are some personal statement resources: The Owl, Desigrad, Essay Edge, Accepted! Regardless of the format, the personal statement content usually addresses the following questions
- What is your motivation and potential for the program?
- Why are you interested in this university and program?
- What is your research interest/topic?
- What are your future plans and career goal? How will you contribute to the program and field?
- How will this university and program enable you to reach your career goal?
- If your application does not match the acceptance criteria (e.g. GPA), why do you qualify?
- For research-focused programs, consider referencing potential advisors (professors).
When requesting a letter of recommendation, in addition to providing documents, you may also want to meet with your recommender and discuss the following points that will enable your recommender to draft a more tailored letter for your application, find the points below
- Scope and importance of research
- Evidence of wider success (e.g. grants, awards, publications)
- Indication of long-term plans (e.g. research, publications, career goal)
- Discipline-specific attributes (e.g. language proficiency, country of research)
- Teaching and research abilities
- Practical and real-life engagement
- Character and personality
Whether you have decided on a graduate degree and program or still in the process of researching, the ability to fund your graduate study is an important topic to address. Funding, or the lack thereof, can be a determinant in whether you proceed or postpone your graduate study plans. When researching your program, be sure you explore both internal and external funding opportunities. Internal funding opportunities are financial aid sources offered by that university, organizations, or foundations affiliated with that university (e.g. alumni funds). These may or may not require a separate application form; whereas, organizations and foundations that are not affiliated with the university usually grant external funding opportunities. Keep in mind funding can either cover partial or full tuition costs, maybe renewable or nonrenewable and may include certain specifications or conditions (e.g. GPA requirement, years of work experience, geography, demography, etc.). Here are some examples of different funding types:
Assistantship/Research: This is a competitive partial or full tuition waiver or monetary compensation that is granted in exchange for part-time teaching, research, or work. It is an option that is generally offered for doctoral degrees. It does not require repayment and may be renewable.
Bursaries: This is a type of scholarship that is commonly seen in the UK. Usually based on a student's financial need and may require a financial disclosure form. A student may have to meet a geography or demography requirement. It does not require repayment and may be renewable.
Grants: This is a type of funding that is usually granted for time-bound research, project, or travel endeavor (e.g. conferences). Applicants are required to state their needs and allocation of the funds. It does not require repayment and may be renewable.
Loans: This is a type of funding that is commonly seen in the U.S. through the FAFSA application (for U.S. citizens). May be granted for different purposes (e.g. education, personal, private, or business). Applicants are required to complete an application form, undergo a credit check, and sign an agreement contract. It must be repaid and accrues interest.
Scholarships/Fellowships: This is a type of funding that is granted to a student because of merit, need-based, institutional-based, sociological criteria, or general. Applicants may be required to complete a separate application and personal statements. Conditions may be placed to receive or renew the funding (e.g. GPA requirement, internship, teaching, research, etc.). It does not require repayment and may be renewable.
Here are some funding resources:
Meet a Career Advisor
Our career advisors are available to meet with you individually and assist you. They are certified and trained to listen to your needs, help you increase your self-awareness and job market understanding, and coach you in developing a plan to reach your career goals. However, it is up to you to make career decisions, act on your decisions and make your career plan a reality. Confidentiality of personal information, assessment outcomes, and credentials is guaranteed. You can make use of this service as early as your freshman year and throughout your professional career as an alumnus.
You can schedule an advising appointment on your CareerWEB account | Counseling Appointment Section.
Attend a Workshop
The Career Center offers the following workshop:
Applying for graduate studies, going on a study-abroad program or planning to do so in the near future? The most vital component of the application is the personal statement. Attend this session to learn how to set yourself apart from other applicants and give the admission committee members a glimpse of your intellectual and creative abilities.
For details about the workshops, refer to CareerWEB | Events Section.