Thinking about graduate school?
Going to graduate school is a big decision that requires research and self-reflection. Graduate degrees are a pre-requisite for certain career paths such as law, medicine, and mental health counseling. Other times, a graduate degree or certificate is optional and often leads to promotion in your chosen industry. Attending graduate school should be a purposeful decision and not a way to postpone making career decisions. Develop a clear understanding of the path you are pursuing and how graduate school fits into it. The Career Development Center can help you with this process. For tailored advice, schedule an appointment with one of our Career Counselors.
Selecting a Graduate School
Quality of Program and Faculty
Questions to consider: What is the purpose of the program? What are job placement and student advisement services like? What is the student/faculty ratio? Are there internships, assistantships and other experiential education opportunities available?
A graduate department's reputation rests heavily on the reputation of the faculty. In some applications, you will be asked about which faculty members you would want to work with and why. Familiarize yourself with publications describing current research in your discipline. Find articles in professional journals and discover where the authors teach. Review published graduate program ratings.
As an applicant to graduate school, you should research the role that accreditation plays in your field. The role of accreditation varies from one discipline to another. In certain fields, it is a requirement to have graduated from an accredited program in order to be eligible for a license to practice. The federal government will sometimes make graduation from an accredited program a hiring requirement. In other fields, accreditation is not as important and there may be some excellent programs that are not accredited.
Financial Aid and Other Considerations
- Every university has an applications process for financial aid, so plan to communicate with each one you are applying to and fill out the FAFSA
- Federal Student Loans for Graduate Students
- Other opportunities to consider include Graduate Assistantships, Teaching and Research Assistantships, Grants and Fellowships, and Scholarships. Generally, you can expect to work on campus in some capacity for an assistantship, teaching, or research position for a set number of hours per week. Grants do not require a service component, and fellowships are not as common and are highly selective. No matter what options you pursue to fund your graduate education, there will be application processes. You can work with graduate admissions or the academic department at your institution to find out when opportunities become available and how to apply.
- Research grants in advance, particularly in the science, technology, and mathematics fields, as they might strengthen your admissions chances for certain programs (e.g., NSF in the sciences). At WCU, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs provides support for identifying research grants and funding.
- A visit to a good library and a conversation with a Reference Librarian should yield you some strategies for researching scholarships and grants.
Program Search Resources
Applying to Graduate School
There are many steps to the application process and each school will have its own list of criteria and required items. A perfect place to start is to get organized so that you can ensure you are completing all items in a timely manner and meeting the requirements for each different program.
Common Admissions Tests
- When registering for a standardized test, you may be offered or provided test preparation materials. You may be able to purchase preparation materials through the test administering site.
- Princeton Review
- As part of the selection process, admission committees require official transcripts. Your GPA is one of many criteria evaluated. The content of your courses, your course load and major, your recommendations, as well as the reputation of your undergraduate institution are also important.
- Transcripts from WCU
- Sometimes called Personal Statement or Letter of Intent. You will be required to submit a piece of writing tailored to each university’s program. Take adequate time when writing, and get feedback from mentors, the Writing Center, and the Career Development Center.
- Dos and Don’ts of personal statements
|Adhere to any word or page limits||Write a term paper or a full autobiography|
|Stick to the prompt(s)||Just summarize your resume|
|Use our office and the Writing Center to get feedback||Exaggerate your experiences or accomplishments|
|Proofread to make sure you’re using correct spelling and grammar||Be too wordy or digress|
|Show with examples, don’t just tell||Generalize|
Recommendations and Other Professional Documents
- No matter if you are applying to graduate school upon completion of your undergraduate degree or later in your career, most schools will request at least 2 letters of recommendations.
- Provide plenty of time for your recommendations to be submitted. Remember that most admission deadlines are at the same time of year and you will likely not be the only person asking a professor (or supervisor) for a letter of recommendation. At a minimum, you should provide the recommender with 1 month of lead time, although more is always better.
- When requesting a letter of recommendation, you always want to ask the prospective recommender if they feel as though they can speak positively about your work. If they cannot speak positively, find someone else to write your letter of recommendation.
- After asking this question, you should set up a meeting with the person who has agreed to write your letter of recommendation, or provide the following items through email: Current resume or curriculum vitae (CV), Personal Statement (if you have written it already), and Information on schools to which you are applying
- What is a CV? A curriculum vitae (CV) is similar to a resume, although it is longer and more comprehensive. Not everyone needs to have one. It is most commonly used in academia, research, education, and fine arts settings. A CV provides greater detail of ALL of an individual’s experiences, including emphasis on publications, presentations, courses taught, research interests, professional development, committee participation, and so forth. Because CVs can vary in length from 5 to 30 or more pages, rather than looking at specific samples, we suggest you look at the following comprehensive, expert resources on CV development. Our staff can assist you during appointments with CV development.
- Graduate admissions interviews are formal conversations with representatives from the school that allow you to share your passion for the field, the story of your accomplishments, and your enthusiasm for the school. Not all schools require an interview, but if they do, you should prepare for it as though it were a job interview. You can explore some best practices for preparing and how to take advantage of the opportunity here:
- You may also schedule a mock admissions interview with one of our career counselors.