The purpose of seeking a graduate degree varies from individual to individual, with the most common reasons including:
- The desire to complete advanced course and field work in a specific subject
- Interest in a profession that requires specialized training
- Currently working in a career that requires further education to advance in the profession
Whatever the reason you are deciding to go back to school or continuing with education, this step must be well planned and taken carefully. Going to graduate school is a tremendous investment of time, energy, and financial resources, and you must make sure that investment will advance your career in the desired direction. Preparing yourself to make this decision is a multiple step process. First, you must look within yourself at your current pathway and your proposed destination. You will need to analyze your strengths, weaknesses, financial situation, and social/family circumstances. You will also need to prioritize your needs. Then set short- and long-term goals to help you keep your eye on the prize.
Evaluating and selecting graduate programs is a process that involves a great deal of research and consideration. The following criteria should be examined when investigating each graduate program prior to and during the application process:
- School's reputation
- Program's reputation
- Faculty (credentials, research/publications, advisor process)
- Research opportunities (if applicable for your field of interest)
- Internship and post-graduate placement
- Class sizes
- Length of program
It may be in applicants' best interest to apply to several graduate schools. Consider applying to one or two “dream schools” that you don't quite meet the criteria for but may have a chance of being accepted into, a few schools for which you meet the school's median GPA and standardized test (i.e. GRE) score criteria, and one or two “safety” schools where you are almost certain that you will be accepted but that also meet your educational needs and goals.
Graduate school application criteria typically includes your undergraduate GPA, GRE (and/or other) test scores, essay/personal statement, internship/job experience, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular/leadership activities. Be sure to research each graduate school's specific admissions requirements and deadlines, as they may differ somewhat even for similar programs (i.e. if you are planning on entering graduate school to pursue an advanced degree in one of the psychology fields, you will notice that some programs require you to only take the GRE general test, while others require both the GRE general test and the GRE Subject Test in Psychology).
Review the below websites for further information on preparing for graduate school, application tips, and standardized test information:
- http://web.mit.edu/career/www/guide/graduate.pdf - comprehensive graduate school information
- http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/grad-school.html - graduate school advice for undergraduates
- http://gradschool.about.com/od/admissionsadvice/a/overview.htm - admissions information
- http://www.gre.org/ - GRE (Graduate Record Exam) information