Exploring Graduate School

Interested in graduate or professional school?

Preparing to obtain an advanced degree takes time and commitment. As you decide if attending graduate school is the right choice, it is helpful to explore your own reasons for attending. Be clear on what field you intend to pursue, and determine if continuing your education will provide you with a significant advantage in your career field. 



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Grad School Application Checklist

In general, most institutions will require you to submit supporting application materials. Typically these documents include: 

  • Official transcripts from previous colleges and universities attended.
  • A personal statement
  • Multiple letters of recommendations
  • Standardized test scores
  • Resume or CV 

Many graduate programs will require a letter of recommendation. This is a document written on your behalf, usually from a supervisor or professor, that can vouch for your professionalism and skill-sets.

Nervous about asking for a letter of recommendation? See our templates to make the process easier.

Think of a personal statement as a cover letter you need for professional or graduate school. From outlining your achievements to refining your writing style, we can help you create a memorable and impactful statement that sets you apart in any application process.

Personal Statement Resources


Writing Your Personal Statement

The best personal statements give the reader a window into who you are, usually by examples or stories. Ask yourself: 

  • Does this introduce me as a person and a future practitioner in the field?
  • Does it have elements that will impress the reader?
  • Would the reader want to meet me after reading my statement?

Even the best content will be lost if the ideas are presented in a jumbled, incoherent manner. Clear writing begins with an outline.

  • What is your message? Write that first.
  • How will your ideas logically progress to get to that conclusion?
  • Write your key sentences – do they flow in a logical order?
  • Does the final essay say what you want in a logical and compelling way? 

Poor grammar, spelling, and typographical errors can ruin your statement. Review your essay: 

  • Check guidelines for appropriate length
  • Avoid starting sentences with "I"
  • Use no exclamation points, except in dialogue.
  • Use active, rather than passive voice (e.g., "I found the book" vs. "The book was found by me.")
  • Write sentences no longer than approximately 30 words in length.
  • Shorten paragraphs so that the page doesn't look like a wall of type. 

A resume is your opportunity to showcase not only your qualifications and experience, but also highlight your personal brand and your ability to be ready for your future graduate program.

Learn more about how to write the perfect resume on our resume page. 

Ace your resume


Gain the experience you need for grad school. 

Gaining industry experience through part-time jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities will set you up for success in your potential grad program. To learn more about experience needed for success check out our prepare page and search open opportunities in Handshake. 


learn more about gaining experience

Find positions on HANDSHAKE

Making the Decision

Questioning if grad school is the right move for you? Consider the following:


Will graduate school help you meet your career goals? If so, do you know what type of degree you need to pursue — master’s, PhD, etc.?

explore your motivations


How much money are you prepared to spend on graduate school? Can you afford to pay for tuition, books, rent, food, and other necessities?

student financial management center


There's a different "right time" for everyone. Do you want to go straight from undergraduate to graduate? Do you want to take a gap year? When do applications open? These are all questions to consider.

Grad School Timeline



Selecting a Program

There are plenty of factors when it comes to figuring out which graduate program is right for you. Don't know where to start? Use this guide to help inform your decisions. 

Reflecting and being honest with yourself about why you want to attend graduate school is the first step in selecting a program. You can use the following questions as a guide:

  • Are you looking to further develop competencies and topics you practiced during your undergraduate studies?
  • Are you interested in learning something new or more in-depth?
  • Is this degree required for the work you want to do in the future?

Once you have determined why and how graduate school is a valuable investment, the next step is to determine what's important to you when choosing a program.

When selecting graduate school programs, look for those that will best meet your career and learning objectives. Conduct a thorough self-evaluation by clearly defining your own needs and expectations.

Start by answering the following questions: 

  • What must a graduate program offer academically in order to meet my career goals?
  • What do I want to get out of a program?
  • What size program/university do I want to attend?
  • In what geographical locations am I willing to attend graduate school?

As you research programs, determine how they measure up to the criteria you created. Ideally, you want to develop a list of approximately 15 to 20 schools of initial interest to you. 

After you’ve defined your program expectations, it’s time to find ones that most closely match your requirements. 


Graduate School Application Timeline

Students can decide to attend graduate school at any time during their academic career. An ideal timeline would start four semesters before graduation – but remember your timeline might look different than your peers. It helps to be aware of the steps you should be taking in undergrad to set yourself up for future success. 


Four Semesters Before Graduation

  • Begin researching programs.
  • Start preparing for, register for, and take the appropriate standardized test(s).
  • Develop a list of individuals who can write your letters of recommendation.
  • Begin exploring graduate school funding resources.

Two Semesters Before Graduation

  • Write your statement of purpose.
  • Ask faculty to write your letters of recommendation.
  • Submit your applications.
  • Request official transcripts from the Office of the University Registrar.
  • Apply for funding available through the programs and universities to which you are applying.

One Semester Before Graduation

  • Complete and mail the FAFSA if you are applying for federal student aid.
  • Verify that all of your application materials were received.
  • Write thank-you notes to everyone who assisted you during this process, especially to those individuals who wrote your letters of recommendation.



Take the next step.