Applying to Graduate School
Choosing a Program - Things to Consider
Tips for Applying to Graduate Schools
Components of the Application
Find/Research Graduate Programs
Financial Aid Resources
Career Services Resources
Making the decision to attend graduate school can be both exciting and overwhelming. You might have lots of questions – is graduate school right for you? It is best to go right away or take some time off? The truth is there is no one right answer. It is a very personal decision based on your academic and career goals.
If you have done research and know that a graduate degree is required to help you achieve your goals or enter your chosen career field, then applying to graduate school is the obvious next step. Other reasons for attending graduate school may include a strong interest in a field of study and desire to increase your knowledge base. However, if you are thinking about graduate school simply because you do not know what you want to do after graduation or feel that staying in school is the better or safer option in today’s job market, you may want to rethink why you are continuing your education. Graduate school requires a lot of focus and dedication, so it is important to have a clear understanding of what you are hoping to gain from the experience and what your career goals are after you obtain the degree. Before you apply, you may want to talk to a career counselor or a faculty member to determine if graduate school is the best choice to meet your goals right now. In fact, many career fields do not require a graduate degree to be successful, and some companies may pay for your graduate degree later after you have been working in the field for a few years!
There are hundreds of graduate programs throughout the country, so narrowing down your options can be a difficult task. While looking at program rankings such as US News & World Report may be helpful as you get started, consider them with a critical eye. The criteria used to evaluate programs in rankings such as these may not always match your needs and goals. In addition, many smaller programs (such as those at private institutions or smaller universities) may not even participate in these surveys. Therefore, it is important to assess graduate programs according to your own values, needs, and priorities. Consider the following:
Location: Where do you want to go? Are you planning on staying at St. Cloud State or somewhere else in Minnesota? The Midwest? Or are you looking at programs across the country or abroad? In addition to just the location of the school, you may also want to consider the type of community the institution is in - the total population, employment opportunities (for yourself and/or your partner), access to recreation or cultural activities, distance from major metropolitan areas, etc.
Institution/Program type: The type of institution where you study may play a role in the number of faculty members in your program, the number of students admitted each year, level of competition for admission, funding opportunities, and other factors. Do you want to be at a large national research institution? Regional university? Private institution?
Curriculum: Does the program you are considering offer the types of courses you are interested in? Is the program research-based or practice-based? Do the faculty members share your research interests? Do they require an assistantship, practicum, and/or internship? Do they require a thesis and/or comprehensive exams? Are you able to pursue a concentration or emphasis area within the program? How many credit hours are required? Can you pursue the program full-time/part-time?
Admission Requirements: Admission requirements vary by institution; some are more competitive while others may be more flexible. What is the minimum GPA? Do they require any specific undergraduate coursework or work experience? Is an entrance exam required (and if so, is there a minimum score requirement)? Do you need to submit a personal statement and/or references?
Cost: Tuition is just one factor to consider when looking at the cost of graduate school, though it is an important one. How much will you pay each year? Do out-of-state residents pay more? Are there graduate assistantships or tuition waivers available? What types of financial aid are available? How much is the cost of living in the city where you will be living? How quickly will you be able to pay back loans after graduation?
Class Size/Student to Faculty Ration: How many students are admitted each year? How many students will be in your classes? How many faculty members teach in the program? There are benefits to both small and larger programs, so you have to determine what the best fit is for you.
How many schools should you apply to?
Generally it is recommended that you apply to four to six graduate programs. You should apply to a few “reach” schools (highly competitive), a few “maybe/probably” schools you feel may be competitive but you should get into, and a few “safety” schools you feel you very likely would get into. Graduate school applications take a lot of time to prepare and may be expensive (application fees, transcript requests), so it is important to do your research ahead of time in order to make the best choices for your personal goals while saving time and money.
Typically, you will want to begin researching graduate schools at least one year in advance to give yourself plenty of time to identify and evaluate your options before sending in your applications. Admission deadlines vary; however, most programs with standard fall admission usually have deadlines between December and March, so it is important to get your application materials in order early! Below is a sample timeline. You may need to adjust this based on the type of program, application requirements and deadlines, etc.
General Application: This is typically the basic application required to be admitted to the institution, including your demographic information, program of interest, and academic information. Nowadays most applications are submitted online. You will also need to send your transcripts.
Personal Statement or Essay: This portion of the application is where you really get to share your background and goals. Some programs will give you a series of specific questions to answer, while others will allow you to write a more general statement. This is your chance to brag to the review committee – let them know more about your accomplishments, defining experiences, your goals, and so on. You want to stand out from the rest of the crowd! It is extremely important that your personal statement is well written. Plan ahead and proofread! Visit the Career Services Center or the Write Place for help writing your cover letter.
Entrance Exams: Most graduate schools do require at least one type of standardized entrance exam, but again, it varies depending on the program. If you are not sure if the graduate programs you are considering require an exam, it is best to contact them so you can plan accordingly. It can take several weeks or months before you get your exam scores back, so make sure you take it early and give yourself enough time to take it a second time if necessary.
Interview: Many programs require an interview, as they are trying to determine how well you would fit within the program. In addition, many graduate programs will interview you for teaching, research, or graduate assistantships at the same time in order to determine if you are eligible for funding. It is very important to prepare for these interviews in order to make a strong impression. Visit our interview preparation section on our website for sample questions or set up an appointment for a mock interview.
Resume: A resume highlights your experience and accomplishments in a 1-2 page document. Many graduate programs require relevant experience before admission, so it is important to make sure you are gaining that experience through part-time jobs, internships, research, or volunteer work. The Career Services Center can help you with your resume.
References: Graduate programs will typically require 2-3 references. It is best to include at least one faculty member and one supervisor you had while working/volunteering in a related field. If your application requires letter of recommendations, give your references at least two weeks to write them. If you only need their name and contact information, still be sure to ask for their permission to serve as a reference.
Pre-professional programs are not academic majors. Rather, they are areas of study designed to meet necessary pre-requisite courses for graduate or professional school as well as prepare you for any required entrance exams. In most cases, you will still need to complete a baccalaureate degree with a major.
If you are in pre-professional programs at SCSU, contact the individuals on this SCSU Pre-professional Program List for more detailed information about academic requirements and application procedures.