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Graduate & Professional School
Evaluate your strengthsThe first step is to make an honest evaluation of your strengths, both intellectually and in terms of personality
Qualities for success in graduate school
Evaluate your career objectives
Deciding to go to graduate school because you do not know what else to do, and spending years and thousands of dollars is not a good idea. It is too much work and too hard to keep going if you aren't really interested. If you don't have a clear idea, wait until you do.
Questions to ask yourself
Is graduate school right for you?
Only you can answer that question. Don't take the decision lightly. Consider your interests, goals, dreams, and abilities. Assess your skills, competencies and weaknesses with brutal honesty. In-depth soul-searching is unpleasant, but vital to making a choice you can live with for the next two to seven years. Consider the following questions:
Going to graduate school affects the rest of your life. There are both pros and cons to continuing your education. Seek information from multiple sources including the career or counseling center, your family, graduate students and professors. Take your time with it. Most importantly, trust your judgment and have faith that you'll make the choice that's best for you.
*Adapted from Council of Graduate Schools
When should you begin researching programs?
Start early. You may follow the suggested timeline, but most students will finish researching programs by the beginning of their last year of undergraduate study so they can complete applications during the fall of their senior year. Most application deadlines are between January and April for fall admission but some may be as soon as November. Application deadlines for assistantships and other financial aid for graduate programs are usually earlier than the deadlines for the programs. Remember, you need to give your test scores time to arrive and your references time to write their recommendations.
How should you evaluate programs for consideration?
Consider what is important to you and to your success. For example:
When at all possible, visit the schools you are seriously considering. Talk with or e-mail graduate students already in the programs. Find out about the relationship between students and faculty. Will you get what you need out of the program?
How should you begin researching programs?
You may begin your search for the right graduate program by using several of the online graduate school search engines. Gradschools.com and Petersons.com provide a great start in the process. The Education and Social Science Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a listing of various tools for researching the rankings of graduate and professional programs. Information on graduate schools is also available in the Career Resource Center, 22 SCC.
Keep a list of the schools and the criteria you will use to evaluate the programs. This will assist you in the process. Use a worksheet to assist you with the details.
The application to graduate or professional school typically contains five equally important elements:
This is the form that asks for the essential information that the institution will use to file and keep track of your application. Fill it out clearly and accurately. Be consistent in spelling out your full, legal name on all forms and correspondence.
Request an application form, download the application or be prepared to fill out the form online. Each school's application is different, so pay close attention to the form and its instructions. If you fail to follow instructions or if you fail to include a piece of information, you might eliminate the chance for your application to be compared against other applications.
The Personal Statement, sometimes referred to as the "Essay", is probably the most critical part of the application. It is your first chance to provide the admissions committee with subjective information about your qualifications and your reasons for choosing a particular program/career. The statement provides the faculty assessing your application information regarding your motivation, intellectual skills and suitability for study in their program.
What are your intentions for graduate study? Do you write clearly? Do your interests really fit those of the department or school? Are there things about you that set you apart from other applicants and make you particularly desirable as a student? You will want to discuss what makes you a unique individual - to present yourself as an applicant who deserves a closer look. They know nothing about you that you do not tell them. YOU are the subject of this statement.
After you have written your personal statement, have it reviewed by our professional staff.
Letters of recommendation are required for almost every graduate school application and are a very important part of the application process. Usually grades and test scores factor in most heavily; however, your letters of recommendation could be the deciding factor in the admission process. Strong letters of recommendation can strengthen your application and if there are deficiencies in your application, they can help outweigh them.
For more information and suggestions regarding requesting letters of recommendation, visit Letters of Recommendation.
Graduate programs require official transcripts of all college work that you have undertaken. Request your transcripts early, to avoid any delay. Your grade point average is a strong indicator of your ability to do graduate work, and admissions committees consider it carefully. They will look not only at your cumulative GPA, but also at the grades you earned in your major, particularly at upper division courses in that subject. Patterns of improvement could be significant if you did not start out strongly.
When looking at the requirements for admission, you need to determine if you need to take an admissions test such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), or a test appropriate to your professional area such as the LSAT for law school, MCAT for medical school, GMAT for business school, or PCAT for pharmacy school. Be certain to prepare effectively, register early and submit your scores well before the deadline. For more information, visit our Testing page.
*Adapted from Graduate School and You, Council of Graduate Schools