GRADUATE SCHOOL GUIDE

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1 GRADUATE SCHOOL GUIDE COMPLETING THE GRADUATE SCHOOL APPLICATION PROCESS Career Services University of Pittsburgh 224 William Pitt Union /06

2 Graduate School: To go or not to go? Reasons to go to graduate school: A graduate-level degree is required to enter the career field you have chosen Going to graduate school can help you to advance within your chosen field You have a strong interest in a subject area and wish to continue your studies for personal satisfaction Reasons not to go to graduate school: You don t know what you want to do and think graduate school will help you to discover your interests Graduate school is a safe place to be while you choose a career field You are afraid that you can t or won t find a job after graduation You don t know what you can do with your major or undergraduate degree Before you even begin to consider graduate studies, it is important that you have chosen your career field and your occupational goal. Graduate school is very costly in time, money and effort, and is not a good place for you to figure out your career goals. If you re stuck because you don t know what you want to do, or what you can do, with your undergraduate major, speak to a Career Counselor or Career Consultant within Career Services. For additional information on making the decision to go to graduate school consider these websites: Drew University s Guide to the Graduate School Decisionwww.depts.drew.edu/career/students/grad Berkeley University of California- To go: that is the answer! So you know what you want to do with your life, and your plans need to include graduate school. The first thing you will need to do is select the programs to which you plan to apply. The schools you will select depend on a number of different factors, including: Schools that offer your program: obviously, you won t be attending a college or university that does not have the program that interests you. Consult these resources to create a list of possible schools: Career Services Career Reference Room (238 WPU) Internet, especially websites of professional organizations and accrediting bodies Peterson s Guide to Graduate Schools Professors in your area of interest Professionals working in your chosen field Family and friends DISCOVER (on

3 Once you ve created a list of schools, you ll need to narrow your choices. Here are some factors to consider: Quality of the program: this includes faculty, students, program services and placement rates. It s important that you consider the education and research interests of the faculty, as they will act as your teachers and advisors throughout your graduate program. Make sure they are frequently available to speak with students, and they are knowledgeable about the subject you wish to study. Also look at the students who are currently enrolled in the program. What kind of academic background do they have (majors, test scores, QPA s)? Is the student population diverse? Do the students primarily attend part-time or full-time? Are the services of the program readily available? This may include opportunities for research, internships and employment while you are enrolled. Also look at placement rates for each program you are considering; do graduates find employment? Where? Are placement services available? These are all things that will factor into the quality of the program. School environment: remember that you will be spending at least 2 years (if not more) at this school. What living factors are important to you? Is the school large or small? Urban, suburban or rural? What is the climate like? If you are relocating a family or partner, you ll need to see what services are available to them in the community, too. All of these things will help you to determine if a school is right for you. Financial aid: this is one of the most important things you need to explore before you apply and enroll in graduate school. Graduate programs are costly can you afford to attend? Don t assume from the beginning that you can t if you re not independently wealthy, but you will need to examine the resources available to you, including: Loans money you can borrow, but must (eventually) pay back. Scholarships, grants and fellowships money that you may be awarded and don t need to pay back. Ask about these monies early; many programs will give preference to Ph.D. candidates, but it s worth it to ask if you are going for your Master s. Teaching and research assistantships money you receive in return for work that you perform. These may include assisting a professor in teaching a class, or performing research for a member of the faculty. Assistantships may include a tuition waiver, a stipend or both, and provide great learning opportunities while you re still a student. Internships some graduate programs do offer (or require) internships as a part of the program. In addition to giving you experience, you may also receive financial support for this experience. For additional information on choosing a graduate school consider these websites: Graduate School Guide- ScholarStuff s All About Graduate Schools- World Wide Graduate School Directory- Ph.D s.org-espcially for science, math and engineering students- Peterson s Guide to Graduate School- U.S. News and World Report s Program, Ranking and Search Aidswww.usnews.com/usnews/edu/gra/rankings/rankindex_brief.php Graduate School Guide

4 The Application Process Once you ve decided on the programs that are a good match for you, you ll need to narrow your list to about 6 or 7 schools. Sort these further into these 3 categories: Dream/Reach Schools: you have a small chance of being accepted Competitive Schools: you have a pretty good chance of being accepted Safety Schools: you are confident in your chances of being accepted Now you ll need to begin the official application process, which you should start a year to a year and one-half before the semester in which you plan to enroll. Most programs accept students for the fall semester, although there are some programs that will admit for the spring. If you plan to begin graduate studies in the fall semester after you finish your senior year, you need to begin in the summer before or the fall of your senior year. Most application deadlines will fall between November and March, and filing early is a good idea, especially if the program accepts people on a rolling basis. Adhere to all deadlines!! TIP: If you think you ll have a problem meeting the deadlines of the programs, set your own deadline that is earlier than the school s deadline. Application Requirements The application form: Each school will have its own application form that you will need to complete and submit to the school. These applications may be electronic (on the school s website) or paper. You may have to complete 2 applications one for the graduate admissions office and one for the specific program or department in which you plan to study. Be sure to type all applications and proofread for grammar and spelling errors before you mail them. TIP: Make copies of your applications to keep for your files before you mail the original applications to the schools. For additional information on how to complete a graduate school application consider this website: How to Apply to Graduate School Graduate admissions test: Most graduate programs will require a standardized test for entry into their programs. You will need to check with each program to see which test they require (or prefer), but most programs will want scores from the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). The GRE General Test measures general verbal, quantitative and writing skills, and can be taken through the Office of Measurement and Evaluation in G33 CL on most days by appointment. The GRE Subject Test measures knowledge in one particular subject area, such as biology or history. Some programs will require both the General and Subject Tests, while others will only want the General Test. Business schools will want to see scores from the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), which measures general verbal, mathematical and analytical writing skills. Law schools, medical schools, dental schools and pharmacy schools have their own required exams consult with the Career Consultants in these areas for more information. Regardless of which test you must take, it is very important that you prepare in advance. Practice tests and study books can be purchased - 4 -

5 at most bookstores and there are prep courses available through Kaplan and The Princeton Review. Do not use the actual test as a practice test, thinking that you can always retake the test and get a better score. Graduate programs will see your scores from all of the times you ve taken a test, and some programs will average the scores together. Practice tests exist for a reason, so practice before the real test! For additional information on graduate standardized tests consider these websites: GRE/Graduate Record Examinations- GMAT/Graduate Management Admissions Test- MCAT/Medical College Admissions Test- LSAT/Law School Admissions Test- Kaplan Online- Educational Testing Service- Official transcripts: All graduate schools will require official transcripts from each college or university that you have ever attended. This includes schools at which you have taken summer courses and community colleges, even if you transferred the credits and they appear on your Pitt transcript. Contact the Office of the Registrar to obtain your transcripts (or have them sent directly from their office), and be prepared to pay a fee for each one. Also be sure to allow the Registrar ample time to complete your request. TIP: Get a copy of your transcript for yourself, and review it to make sure it is correct. Essay or personal statement: Most programs will require that you write an essay as part of the application process. Topics may vary, but will likely be open-ended. You will need to make your essays clear, concise and personable. This is your opportunity to humanize your application and make yourself stand out from the other applicants, as most of what the admissions committee will see about you (and everyone else) is very standardized and impersonal. You should address why you want to be considered for admission and why you are a good candidate for their program. TIP: Have other people proofread your essay friends, family, faculty (if they are willing), the staff at The Writing Center and your Career Consultant. For additional information on writing graduate school application essays consider these websites: Writing the Personal Statement- The Writing Center at Rensselaerwww.rpi.edu/dept/llc/eritecenter/web/gradapp.htm Writing a Personal Essay for Graduate and Professional Schoolhttp://departments.colgate.edu/diw/gradschool.htm Letters of recommendation: Letters of recommendation are simply that letters written by faculty or advisors that can recommend you for admission to a graduate program. When choosing people to write your letters, select only those who know you well, and can attest to your academic abilities, personal qualities, accomplishments, skills and potential for completing the graduate program. When asking for letters, it s a good idea to schedule an appointment to talk to the writer, and bring copies of your transcripts and resume that you can leave with him/her. Be sure to let your writers know about the deadline for the letter, and allow them plenty of time to complete the letter and get it through the mail. Also be sure to thank them (in writing) once the letter has been sent

6 TIP: Give your letter writers pre-addressed, stamped envelopes in which to send your letters to the graduate schools. For additional information on letters of recommendation consider these websites: Hanover s 8 Steps to a Good Letter of Recommendationhttp://psych.hanover.edu/handbook/rec_letters2.html Hanover s How to Receive an Unenthusiastic Letter of Recommendationhttp://psych.hanover.edu/handbook/peeves2.html Getting a Good Letter of Recommendation Letters of Recommendation- Decisions, Decisions Choosing the Right School for You Once you have been evaluated by each school s admissions committee, you will receive a letter, letting you know of their decision. If you have been admitted: Congratulations! You now have to decide which program you would like to attend, and need to notify the school of your choice. Most schools will give you a deadline by which you must tell them if you will be attending, and you will need to let them know in writing. If you cannot make a decision by their deadline, call the school to explain your situation and discuss your options. If you have been waitlisted: Keep in mind that you will still being considered for admission if someone who has been admitted chooses not to attend. It s hard, but be patient, and keep in touch with the school to remind them of your interest and ask about your status. If you have been denied: Unfortunately, you will not be attending that program, but stay positive, as you still may be accepted by other schools. If you have been denied by all of the programs to which you have applied, you will need to ask yourself some hard questions: Do you want to reapply next year? What can you do to improve your application? Some schools will give you some feedback about this and suggest taking additional courses, getting more experience or providing additional letters of reference. Is this the right program or field for you? If you were denied admission for reasons you cannot change or overcome, you ll need to do some thinking about how realistic your goals are, and about what your next step is in your career path. If you need to talk this over, visit Career Services and speak to a Career Counselor or Consultant. Unless you have applied through an early decision program, you will probably hear about your status sometime during the spring semester of your senior year. Choosing your school out of many offers of admission can be very exciting, but also stressful, since you do need to make a commitment to just one school. Many people you know will offer their advice, but remember that the decision can only be made by you. You may find a school visit to be helpful as you are making your decision. Seeing a campus online is good, but seeing a campus in person is much more helpful. Does this place really - 6 -

7 feel like it could be home for a few years? In addition to open house days, you may also want to visit the campus on another day; open houses are designed to impress you, but to really get a feel for the school, you need to see if it s actually like it was during the open house. While you re there, interact with as many people as possible, including faculty, students and administrators. Take a tour of your own, and make stops at the library (you ll be spending a lot of time there), the classrooms and the cafeteria. Don t forget to ask questions if you have them, and try to picture yourself as a student there. This is a good time to trust your instincts if you have a gut feeling that the school is not a good match for you, figure out why. Although it seemed like a good fit for you on paper, you may choose to go somewhere else. The Decision Has Been Made! You ve chosen, and you know the school you picked is the right one for you. Now there are just a few more details to consider: Housing: Although you ll be spending a lot of time in class and at the library, you still need a place to sleep and keep your stuff. Some schools offer graduate housing on-campus, and some don t (which means that you ll need to find an apartment close by). Check with your program to see where students usually live, and see if the school has an off-campus housing office to help you to find a place in your price range. You may need to visit the school again to do this, but it s worth the trip. Financial Aid: There are a variety of ways to generate funds for your graduate education and research. Be sure all your financial aid papers have been filed and received by the school. In addition to loans other funding sources include: scholarships, fellowships and grants. For additional information on funding options consider these websites: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)- https://fafsa.ed.gov Financial Aid Info Links- Peterson s Guide to Financial Aid- Graduate Scholarships- GrantsNet- US Department of Higher Education- Graduate and Professional Fellowships for Minoritieshttp://imdiversity.com/villages/channels/grad_school/gs_fellowcontents.asp Rhodes Scholarships- Marshall Scholarships- Fulbright Grants- National Science Foundation Fellowships- Mellon Fellowships- Javits Fellowships-for humanities, social science and artswww.ed.gov/offices/ope/hep/iegps/javits.html Jack Kent Cooke Scholarships- Michigan State University Libraries- Nationally Coveted College Scholarships, Graduate Fellowships and Postdoctoral Awards- i.com/ The National Academies- Yale University

8 Relax: After all of your hard work, you deserve to relax for a little bit; take a vacation, celebrate your graduation, spend time with friends and family and enjoy yourself before this new chapter in your life begins. Timetable for Applying to Graduate School-by Tara Kuther. Ph.D., You should begin the application process no later than the summer before your senior year of college, or at least a year before you start to graduate school. Many students who have had graduate school in mind for most of their undergraduate careers start much earlier. This timetable is approximate, but it offers an idea of the steps you must think about and, roughly, when you must complete each step. No generalized chart provides the specifics that you need to meet your personal timeline. As you refine your own timeline carefully examine each application for deadlines. They may vary significantly. Keep your timeline updated and follow it. Summer/September? If you have not done so already, take the necessary standardized test for admissions.? Gather graduate program brochures and narrow your choices.? Consider which faculty members to ask for letters of recommendation. September/October? Research sources of financial aid.? Carefully examine each of the program applications. Note any questions or essay topics that will require your attention.? Write a draft of your statement of purpose.? Ask a faculty member or the career/grad admissions counselor at your school to read your essays and provide feedback. Take their advice!? Ask faculty for letters of recommendation. Provide faculty with a copy of your transcript, each program s recommendation form, and your statement of purpose. Ask him or her if there is anything else that you can provide to help them. November/December? Arrange for your official transcript to be sent to each program to which you apply. Request that the Registrar hold your transcript until the fall grades are in.? Finalize your essays and statement of purpose. Do not forget to seek input from others.? Apply for fellowships and other sources of financial aid, as applicable.? Check and record the due date for each application. December/January? Complete the application forms for each program. Scan the form into your computer or use a typewriter for a neat and clean application form. Reread your essays and statement of purpose. Spell check!? Mail your applications.? Relax and breathe!? Most schools send a postcard upon receipt of each application. Keep track of these. If you do not receive a postcard or letter, contact the admissions office by or phone to ensure that your application has been received before the deadline

9 February? Depending on your field, start planning for the admissions interviews. What questions will you ask? Prepare answers to common questions.? Fill out the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. You will need your tax forms to do this. March/April? Visit schools to which you have been accepted.? Discuss acceptances and rejections with a faculty member or the career/graduate admission counselor at your school.? Notify the program of your acceptance.? Notify the programs that you are declining. Resources consulted for this booklet: Good Luck!! Graduate School Handbook. (1997). Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. Rold, C.L. (1998). Real Life Guide to Graduate and Professional School: How to Choose, Apply For and Finance Your Advanced Degree. Pipeline Press, Inc.: Chapel Hill, NC

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