Thinking about applying to graduate school?
As you likely know, graduate school is for those who feel that their education would be more complete if they delved deeper into a particular topic or field of study. It’s also for people who are passionate about a particular field of study who need to earn an advanced degree in order to take the next step in their careers.
Graduate schools often admit students directly after completing their undergraduate studies. Other times, a school prefers that students have relevant work experience before they are admitted. This is especially true in design and MBA programs.
It’s a good idea to understand your reasons for pursuing a graduate education. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What career would I like to pursue and does this career require an advanced degree?
- If so, do I need a master’s degree or a PhD?
- Can I handle school for another two to six years or do I need a break?
- Do I really know where my passion lies and what degree is the best for my career goals?
- Do I want to study a certain discipline just for the love of it?
- Can I afford to attend graduate school?
- If cost is an issue, should I attend school part-time and work or attend school full-time and take out loans?
- Is it possible to go to work for a company that may be willing to pay for some or all of my grad school?
Applying to Graduate School
- What to look for in a Graduate School
- Olin's Top Graduate Programs
- Applying to Graduate School
- Interviews and Open Houses
- Funding Graduate School
What to Look for in a Graduate School
What is most important to you in a graduate school? Is it the name of the school? The location? The research taking place in the labs? The faculty? All of these factors are important to consider and you should look for a program that offers more than a good education.
What you can actually do with the knowledge you gain is much more important than the title or degree you possess when you graduate
Look for a graduate program that allows you to delve into specialized topics that you find interesting and that will take your career in a certain direction
Look for a program that integrates research or internships into the curriculum
The U.S. News & World Report determines the top graduate schools each year and includes both the rankings for individual departments within schools and statistics on incoming students. This may help you to determine whether you are an eligible candidate.
You can also use this tool to help you compare Masters Degree Programs.
Olin's Top Graduate Programs
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Stanford University
- Cornell University
- Harvard University
- University of California
- Babson College
Tips for Applying to Graduate School
After you’ve made the decision to attend graduate school, you will need to determine what items are necessary for your application. These typically include:
- Application fee
- College transcript: Request that an official copy be sent from the Registrar to each institution where you apply
- Letters of recommendation: Generally you need three, and at least two must be from professors if you’re applying directly from undergraduate school. The third can usually be from a professor, research or work supervisor. Your recommendations should be from someone who knows you well as an individual and as a student. The most important thing is to have a recommendation that stands out and fully convinces the school about your accomplishments, suitability to the program and potential.
- Personal statement (and sometimes a statement of purpose): The personal statement is an opportunity for the school to get to know you on a more personal level. What makes you unique? Do you have any special circumstances or have you overcome any obstacles that define who you are? Your essay should give the committee an idea of who you are and make them want to learn more about you. The statement of purpose (SOP) lists your qualifications. Include why you’ve chosen to apply to the institution and what kinds of research you are interested in, and express what you will bring to the program. It’s usually more tightly focused on the future. In a SOP, you talk about your plans for study in a given field along with your short- and long-term career goals.
- Admission test scores: Depending on the program you are applying to, you will most likely need to take another standardized test. Post-Graduate Planning has books with practice test information and questions.
Additional online resources:
- General Record Examination (GRE): The GRE is the most widely required exam for admission to master’s and PhD degree programs. Be sure to check whether the programs you are applying to require the General Test (similar to the SATI) and/or a Subject Test (similar to the SATII). Check the GRE website for registration, practice tests, dates and locations of exams. The Olin GRE Code is 3953.
- Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT): Business schools around the world require candidates to take the GMAT to be considered for admissions. Check the GMAT website to choose a location and to make an appointment to take the test. The Olin GMAT Code is 2824.
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT): The LSAT is required for admission to most American and Canadian law schools. Check the LSAT website for registration, practice tests, dates and locations. The Olin LSAT Code is 3422.
- Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT): Most medical schools in the United States require candidates to take the MCAT. The MCAT requires online registration. Free sample tests and preparation guides are also available online.
Note: Many MBA programs are now also accepting the GRE in place of the GMAT. Check the requirements to determine if your schools are on the list.
Interviews and Open Houses
It’s possible that your graduate school will invite you to interview or attend an open house. Be sure to dress in professional attire and prepare to speak intelligently about the program. Know which projects the faculty members are working on. Be able to answer the following questions:
- Tell me about yourself
- Why do you want to attend X institution?
- What are your short term and long term goals in gaining a degree in X?
- Where did you attain your undergraduate degree, and why did you select that institution?
- Tell me about your past research experience
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
If you’d like to visit the campuses, contact the institution to see if they host applicants. (Many schools will only host admitted students.) If you have a friend at that institution, he or she may be able to give you a private tour and introduce you to faculty. The more contacts you can make during your application process the better. Let faculty know that you have done your research and that you are interested in them! If they are impressed with you, this could help your chances for admission.
Funding Graduate School
Funding for graduate school comes in many forms. You will need to first apply for the FAFSA. This could provide you with grants or loans. It’s worth the time it takes to do research; there is funding available, but often you have to apply for it and those applications may take a bit of work.
Common funding sources:
- Graduate/teaching assistantship in exchange for working in an office or teaching courses at the institution
- Research assistantship in exchange for working in a lab
- Departmental scholarships
- Additional Scholarships and Fellowships - Additional funding sources can be found through looking online or at scholarship websites.