Graduate school: Is it costly? Is it competitive? Consider this: Grad school is an opportunity to examine a field of your choice with more specificity and direction. It arms students with the tools needed to infiltrate the industry of their choice.
However, factors like cost and vocational inexperience cause some to think twice about pursuing an advance degree program immediately after undergraduate education. Preparation for grad school is required at all stages—from your first year of college to your first year out of college.
Whether you are hesistant about the application process or uncertain about what program to pursue, this site will guide you towards making an informed decision.
Graduate school constitutes an advanced program of study focused on a particular academic discipline or a specific profession.
Traditionally, graduate school has been "academic" (centered on generating original research in a particular discipline), but it may be "professional" (centered on imparting skills and knowledge to future professionals) or a combination of both traditions.
How is Graduate School Different From Undergraduate Education?
Graduate school differs from undergraduate education. The quality and quantity of your academic work has higher expectations. Generally, you arrive at graduate school with the desire to pursue a course of study in a specific discipline or profession; typically, there is not a lot of room for exploration or elective courses.
Your work will be more rigorously evaluated, often by both faculty and fellow students. Classes tend to be small; interaction is expected and often necessary to excel. Most likely, you will be required to produce some type of original research. These demands are often coupled with a work experience, be it a career-related internship, grading, teaching or researching.
What Graduate Degrees Are Available?
Graduate degrees are available in almost any subject and come in three levels: Master, Specialist and Doctorate. Depending on your graduate school program and degree level desired, your program requirements and time to complete the degree will vary.
Master's degrees are offered in many fields of study. Some are designed to lead into a doctorate degree while others are the "terminal" degree for a profession (e.g., Master of Library Science; Master of Business Administration). For full-time students, completing a master's degree usually takes 2 years. As a part of a master's degree, you may be required to write a master's thesis or complete a fieldwork experience.
Specialist degrees are usually earned in addition to a master's degree. A specialist degree may require coursework, training or internship experience beyond what was required for a master's degree. This type of degree usually prepares students for professional certification or licensing requirements (e.g., Ed.S. for school principal).
Doctorate degrees are the highest degrees possible. They usually require the creation of new knowledge, be it basic or applied. In order to complete a doctorate degree, you will need to be able to conduct independent research. Including the time it takes to write and defend a dissertation, this degree may take anywhere from 5-7 years to complete.
Health Professional Schools
If you are thinking about pursuing a career in health, deciding on your role in healthcare delivery and preparing to be admitted to health professional school can be a very difficult and often an overwhelming task. Most professional schools that specialize in health careers welcome a great variety of majors and perspectives, and they all require a solid academic record, confidence in your goals and a wealth of experience outside of the classroom.
So whether you plan to be a dentist, a doctor, a nurse or an optometrist, exploring health careers by using resources available here at Texas Wesleyan can help you to get to the place you want to be.
Before making the decision to go to graduate school, it's a good idea to look at what may be behind your decision. There are no right or wrong reasons for applying to graduate school, but dropping out of graduate school may be avoided by honestly examining your motivation and by gathering information on the realities of graduate education.
Answering the questions below may help you evaluate your interests and needs for graduate school.
Why do you want to go to graduate school?
- Do you want to enter a profession that requires an advanced degree?
- Have you researched career opportunities available to undergraduates?
- Do you want a higher salary?
- Will a graduate degree really affect your salary?
- Are you stalling on making a career decision?
- Have you talked to a career counselor?
- Are you applying to graduate school because "everyone else is doing it?"
- The decision to attend graduate school is ideally based on your own criteria, including how graduate education will fit in with your goals.
- Are you applying to graduate school because you feel like you have no career options? (Have you used all job search methods?
- Have you talked to a career counselor?
- Are you delaying entry into the work world?
- Have you conducted career research or talked with a career counselor?
- Do you know what your short and long term goals are and how a graduate degree can help you achieve them?
Do you really want to be a graduate student?
- Are you willing to invest the time, energy and money associated with going to graduate school? Have you thoroughly investigated these costs?
- Are you prepared to spend the majority of the next 2-7 years studying while living in near poverty?
- Can a single topic or narrow range of topics sustain your interest for the next 2-7 years?
- Do you need a break from school?
- Will career-related work experience help you get into graduate school?
- Are you comfortable initiating and carrying out independent research?
One of the initial steps in applying to a graduate or professional school is to research application deadlines so that you can develop a timeline of when to submit test scores, letters of recommendation, personal essays, etc. Below is a timeline to help you in planning your application process:
- Begin researching available programs
- Talk to faculty/alumni/current students in the program
- Review grad school guidelines/directories
- Request promotional materials
- Visit school websites
- Start exploring financial aid resources
- Take a practice test
- Sign up for required standardized test
- Attend Career Services Graduate/Professional School Workshops
- Attend Career Services Graduate/Professional School Day
- Identify potential writers for your letters of recommendation
- Order an unofficial transcript and check for and correct any discrepancies
- Take the required standardized test
Senior Year - Fall Semester
- Write the first draft of your statement of purpose
- Request your letters of recommendation from faculty
- Order official transcripts
- Write final draft of statement of purpose
- Complete and mail your applications
- Apply for aid available through the program; assistantships, fellowships, scholarships, etc.
Senior Year - Spring Semester
- Complete and submit financial aid applications
- Visit prospective campuses if possible, and talk to faculty/students to help you make your final decision
- Follow-up with schools to make sure your file is complete
- After receiving acceptance from the school of your choice, send in the required deposit and contact other schools to decline acceptances
- Write thank you notes to people who helped you
What kind of admissions tests are there?
There are several different admissions tests, depending on where you want to continue your education. For most graduate schools, the GRE is the admissions test of choice.
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
- Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
- Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
- Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
- Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
- Optometry Admissions Test (OAT)
- Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT)
- TOEFL English proficiency test for international students
When should I take admissions tests?
It is very important to prepare for and take these tests early. We recommend that you take these tests at the end of your junior year, so that you can submit your application materials early and have ample time to retake the test if necessary.
Be sure to consult admissions deadlines, the Graduate School Timeline and a career counselor to determine your optimal test date.
When should I sign up for admissions tests?
Sign up early to ensure that you can take the test on your desired date. There are no registration deadlines for computer based tests (GRE, GMAT), but registration is first come, first serve.
The registration deadlines for GRE Subject Tests are approximately six weeks prior to the exam dates. Late registration is available for some tests for an additional fee. Special accommodation for students with disabilities can be arranged with ample prior notice.
Check with each testing organization to verify their policies.
Do I have to take a GRE Subject Test?
Check each school's admission requirements to determine which tests you need to take. Currently, GRE Subject Tests are only available for:
- Cellular and Molecular Biology
- Literature in English
- Computer Science
Subject Tests are only offered three times a year—in April, November and December. You must sign up for Subject Tests approximately six weeks in advance. Not all Subject Tests are available on every date, so check the GRE website for test availability well in advance.
Any special accommodations available for students with disabilities?
Yes. Please see the Disabled Students' Program (DSP)'s information sheet, Applying for Accommodations on Are-Graduate and Pre-Professional School Examinations.
Once you have made the decision to go to graduate school, the next step is to research programs that match your interests and fit your needs. Don't limit yourself at this point, but instead gather information on a broad range of programs.
Talk to faculty on campus and at other institutions who teach in the field you plan to pursue—they can provide you with the best information that will help steer you in the direction of good programs.
Since most universities have websites, the internet is a great resource to find information quickly and easily. Some sites will provide complete information, while others may tell you where to write to get additional information.
Contact programs directly to get more detailed program information such as courses, costs, financial aid and application forms.
At Career Services, and the campus library, you will find books, brochures, catalogs, directories and guides that list information on universities that grant graduate or professional degrees. One such guide is the Peterson's Guide to Graduate and Professional Programs, which contains both short and long descriptions of virtually all accredited graduate programs.
Conduct informational interviews with current graduate students, professionals and faculty in the graduate program you are considering to gain insider information about programs.
Read professional and academic journals related to your area of interest.
After researching your options, the next step is to decide where to apply. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating programs:
- The Reputation of the Faculty - What are their academic degrees/credentials and research specialties? What is the student/faculty ratio? Some faculty may have websites that include some of the above information.
- The Quality of the Program - This is measured by many different factors, many of which are mentioned below. Talk to several faculty members and graduate students in the field you are pursuing to get an informed view on the variety of graduate programs available. You may choose to look at graduate school rankings to help you assess a program's quality; however, you need to realize that the rankings may be based on criteria that are different from your own and that many scholars, deans and advisors question the validity of such rankings.
- Financial Cost of the Program - What are the opportunities for fellowships, assistantships or scholarships? What other sources of financial aid are available?
- The Program Requirements - You must meet requirements to be admitted into the program in terms of GPA test scores, undergraduate coursework and specific entrance examinations.
- Available Course Offerings - Are courses you need to fulfill degree requirements frequently offered? Will the course offerings help you meet your professional or educational goals?
- Facilities - Consider the quality of on-site facilities such as libraries, computer labs and research facilities.
- Employment - Where are graduates of the program working; and how much are they earning?
- Geographic Location - Will studying in a particular location help you meet personal professional goals?
- Student Life - Consider the diversity of students, student organizations, housing and campus support services.
A complete graduate school application usually consists of:
- Application Form
- Application Fee
- Official Transcripts from all institutions attended
- Test Scores
- Statement of Purpose
- Letters of Recommendation
Most programs will not review your application until all parts of it are submitted, so start preparing the application components early and send them in as soon as possible
To request your official Texas Wesleyan University transcript, contact the Office of the Registrar. For transcripts from other institutions, contact their Registrars.
Graduate and professional schools often require a written statement as a part of the application. The terminology differs, but may include "statement of purpose", "personal statement", "letter of intent", "personal narrative", etc.
Some statements require specific information, for example, the applicant's intended area of study within a graduate field. Others suggest subjects which should be addressed specifically. Still, others are quite unstructured, leaving the applicant free to address a wide range of matters. Some applications call for one statement, while other require responses to a series of six or more questions, ranging from 250 to 750 words each.
The importance of the statement varies from school to school and from field to field.
- Determine your purpose in writing the statement
- Determine the content of your statement
- Determine your approach and style of the statement
- Words and phrases to avoid without explanation
Usually the purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you are an applicant who should be chosen. You may wish to show that you have the ability and motivation to succeed in your field, or you may wish to show the committee that, on the basis of your experience, you are the kind of candidate who will do well in the field. Whatever its purpose, the content must be presented in a manner that will give coherence to the whole statement.
- Pay attention to the purpose throughout the statement so that extraneous material is left out
- Pay attention to the audience (committee) throughout the statement. Remember that your audience is made up of professionals in their field, and you are not going to tell them how they should act or what they should be. You are the amateur.
Be sure to answer any questions fully. Analyze the questions or guidance statements for the essay completely and answer all parts. Usually graduate and professional schools are interested in the following matters, although the form of the question(s) and the responses may vary:
- Your purpose in graduate study
This means you must have thought this through before you try to answer the question.
- The area of study in which you wish to specialize
This requires that you know the field well enough to make a decision and are able to state your preferences using the language of the field.
- Your intended future use of your graduate study
This will include your career goals and plans for the future.
- Your special preparation and fitness for study in the field
This is the opportunity to join and correlate your academic background with your extracurricular experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.
- Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores, such as a bad semester
Be sure to explain in a positive manner and justify the explanation. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities. In some instances, it may be more appropriate to provide this information outside of the personal statement.
- Any special conditions that are not revealed elsewhere in the application, such as a significant (35 hour per week) workload outside of school
This, too, should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and your future.
- You may be asked, "Why do you wish to attend this school?"
This requires that you have done your research about the school, and know what its special appeal is to you.
- Above all, this statement should contain information about you as a person
They know nothing about you unless you tell them. You are the subject of the statement.
There is no such thing as "the perfect way to write a statement." There is only the one that is best for and fitting for you.
Some things the statement should not be:
- Avoid the "What I did with my life" approach
- Avoid the "I've always wanted to be a" approach
- Avoid a catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done, and tells nothing about you are a person. Normally, the statement is far more than a resume.
- Avoid lecturing the reader. For example, you should not write a statement such as "Communication skills are important in this field." Any graduate admissions committee members knows that and is not trying to learn about the field from the applicant. Some statements do ask applicants about their understanding of the field.
These are some things the statement should do:
- It should be objective, yet self-regulatory. Write directly and in a straightforward manner that tells about your experience and what it means to you. Do no use "academics." This is not a research paper for a professor.
- It should form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience, such as what you learned about yourself and your field, your future goals and your career plans. Draw your conclusions from the evidence your life provides.
- It should be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances, or draw your conclusions as the result of individual experience. See below a list of general words or phrases to avoid using without explanation.
- It should be an example of careful writing. Career Service counselors can help you determine if this is so by reviewing your draft statement.
- It should get to the point early on and catch the attention of the reader.
- It often should be limited in length, no more than two pages or less. In some instances in may be longer, depending on the school's instructions.
appealing to me
I like it
I like helping people
I can contribute
meant a lot to me
Want to have a career counselor read your personal statement before sending it off with your application?
Take advantage of our Online Statement Review service.
- Submit your statement to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Within five business days (M-F), you'll receive feedback from an experienced career counselor.
- Your final draft statement may be no longer than five pages (double-spaced)
- Feedback will focus on content ONLY (no grammatical mistakes will be corrected)
- You may submit ONLY ONE statement in a given year.
Graduate and professional school statements can also be reviewed in person.
We strongly recommend that, before submitting your statement, you attend a statement writing workshop (during academic year).
- How important are letters of recommendation?
- How many letters of recommendation do I need?
- Whom should I ask for letters of recommendation?
- How do I approach potential letter writers?
- When should I approach letter writers? What if I plan to take some time off before I go to graduate school?
- How can I go about getting good letters of recommendation?
- What information do my letter writers need to write good letters?
- My GSI really knows me; can I use their letter?
- Do graduate schools care if letters are confidential or not?
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 to outweigh them.
Each institution will let you know how many letters it requires. Generally, you will be asked for three letters. We recommend that you send only the amount of letters requested. Admissions committees do not have enough time to read extra credentials.
The best letter writers are those who know you well and can provide an evaluation of your ability to perform and succeed at the graduate level.
If you are planning to attend graduate school, take every opportunity to get to know and talk with your professors; go to office hours, ask questions in class, seek advice about your career, do independent research or study with a professor whose recommendation you may want.
Graduate and professional school admissions people tell us the following make the best letter writers:
- Someone who knows you well
- Someone with the title of "Professor"
- Someone who is a professor at the school granting your baccalaureate degree
- Someone who has earned the degree which you are seeking in your graduate work
- Someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in a job or internship aligned with the graduate program you are pursuing (e.g., Public Health, Social Work, Business Administration, etc.)
- Someone who has academically evaluated you in an upper-division class
- Note: letters from family friends, political figures, and the like usually are discouraged and may, in fact, be detrimental.
First, make a list of professors and/or supervisors who will be your best advocates. Then, set up an appointment to discuss your request in person. Do not make the request via email. Be prepared to articulate your interest and reasons for attending graduate school.
Letters of recommendation are written strictly on a voluntary basis; a faculty member or employer may decline to write them. The best approach is to ask potential writers if they are willing to write you a strong letter. If you sense reluctance or the answer is no, ask someone else.
When should I approach letter writers? What if I plan to take some time off before I go to graduate school?
Professors and supervisors want to help you and are pleased to write on your behalf; however, they are usually involved in many activities. Faculty are especially busy during the months of November and December.
Be considerate and courteous of your letter writers' time and workload, and approach them at least two months in advance of your request.
If you plan to attend grad school right after graduation, a good time to approach letter writers is early fall of your senior year. If you ask for letters before this time, ask during the school year. Sometimes, professors are hard to find in the summer.
If you plan to take some time off before going to graduate school, do not wait until you want to apply to graduate school to ask for letters. Your professors could be on sabbatical, or you may not be fresh in their minds anymore.
Ask professors for a "general" letter of recommendation before you leave Texas Wesleyan and place their letters in a safe place, like Career Services.When you are ready to apply to graduate school, contact professors again, and ask them to update your letters.
Since your best letters will come from those who know you, make an effort to get to know your professors and/or supervisors.
A few ways you can do this are:
- Speak up in class
- select courses with small class sizes
- take more than one class from a professor
- Do research for a professor
- Take on optional projects (e.g., write an honor thesis or start an outreach program at work)
- Regularly attend office hours.
The best strategy you can use to get a good letter of recommendation, particularly if a professor does not have a long acquaintance with you, is to provide your letter writer with ample information about you.
This way, you will get a letter that includes concrete details about you, instead of a letter that contains only your grade or class rank, which is of limited value.
You can help your letter writers write enlightening letters by giving each of them a portfolio that includes:
- A cover note that includes:
- Information on how to get in touch with you in case they need to reach you
- What you would like emphasized in each letter
- A list of schools to which you are applying, and due dates with the earliest due date at the top
- Any other information that is relevant
- Open and close your note with thanks and acknowledge that the letter writer's time is valuable and that this letter is important to your professional future.
- Recommendation forms - make it easy for letter writers to complete forms in a timely manner, complete the following:
- Applicant information typed in
- Recommender's name, title, contact info (telephone, fax, address, etc.) typed in
- Your unofficial transcript
- A draft of your statement of purpose
- A copy of your best work in the course (with instructor comments on it), lab evaluations, projects, publications, etc.
- Your resume
- Stamped and addressed envelopes to send letters and forms directly to Career Services or schools of your choice.
Yes, you can, but as a general rule, it is better to have letters written by professors rather than GSI's. The reason for the "more senior, the better" stance is that by virtue of experience the older person may be in a better position to evaluate the student and to compare the applicant to current and previous classes of students.
GSI's often write fine letters and frequently write parts of all of letters which professors sign or co-sign. Having a GSI's letter co-signed by a professor adds to its strength, especially if the professor can add useful comments.
It is better to have a strong letter from a GSI than a letter from a professor that says little or nothing. But, the temptation to feel that since it often is easier to get to know a GSI than a professor so it is perfectly acceptable to settle for GSI letters.
Some graduate schools specifically state that they will only accept letters from professors, not lecturers or graduate students.
Other admissions officers have told Career Services that they prefer letters that provide new insight on the applicant, and with this in mind, may prefer the more specific letter, even if it is from a GSI.
If you must get a letter from a GSI, strategize with the GSI to have them draft a letter of evaluation, then forward it to the professor, using the pronoun "we" instead of "I." For example, they could write:
"We saw Mr. Jones struggle before the midterm and we were impressed with his tenacity and capacity to master the material."
Then, the letter can be signed by two people on the same line at the bottom of the page.
In addition, sometimes GSI's are willing to provide some written insight or notes to the letter writer so that the letter can be written or finished and signed solely by the faculty member.
You will need to give your portfolio to both the GSI and the professor and see how they want to do business.
In general, graduate programs prefer confidential letters. Admissions officials say that it displays more confidence on the part of the applicant if letters are "confidential" (meaning you, the applicant, cannot see the letter).
You should only request letters of evaluation from individuals you are confident will give insight into you and your abilities and will be an advocate for you.