Exploring Graduate and Professional School Options
Graduate or professional school is a significant investment in your future, so you want to make sure the school you attend is the right fit for you and your goals. It is important to conduct thorough research about the different schools, programs, and options that are available. It is also equally important to reflect on your goals and priorities and how they may or may not fit with the various programs.
Is Graduate Study Right for Me?
Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether graduate study is the appropriate next step in your professional development.
- What is my interest level in this field?
- How will graduate school advance my career/is it required?
- Am I willing to put in the time and effort demanded of graduate study?
- Is it more valuable to continue my education directly from my undergraduate degree or should I gain some more hands-on experience before applying?
Consider the following before beginning the application process:
Type of Programs
Reflect on whether you want to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree. Earning a master’s degree takes a shorter amount of time (1-3 years) while a doctoral degree is longer (4-10 years) and more specialized to a narrow topic, and in most cases a master’s degree is required to pursue the doctoral degree. Research different graduate programs, their faculty, classes, and opportunities for professional development and to help determine what your educational goals will be.
Location and Environment
Pursuing graduate education can possibly affect where you will live for a great period of time. Reflect on where you would like to live for the next several years. Depending on your industry, certain locations might give you better access to networking opportunities and experiential options than others. Consider your priorities, such as proximity to family and friends, climate, rural vs. urban settings, etc.
Consider the size of the department and cohort. How many faculty members are available for teaching and research? Reflect on your preference between small and large class sizes.
Many students choose to take time off, or a “Gap Year” between their undergraduate and graduate education. There are benefits and drawbacks to taking time off. Taking time off allows you to work in your intended field and solidify your career interests and goals before committing to a long degree program. By working first, you can also save money before going back to school. However, not taking a gap year can help you continue the academic momentum you built as an undergraduate. Reflect on your priorities and your overall plan for the next several years.
Funding Graduate School
Graduate and professional school can be expensive, but there are many ways to receive funding for your education to reduce the cost. Graduate assistantships often provide partial or full tuition reimbursement, and many times include a stipend. Grants and fellowships are other ways to find funding for research positions. Private scholarships can also help reduce tuition costs. As you research various programs, ask about these funding sources and the process for applying and receiving financial support.
I’ve Considered All the Options, What Do I Do Now?
Create your list of schools in which you’d like to apply. The number of applications varies between students and depends on the time and costs associated with applying. For each school determine what materials are needed and start pulling those documents together.
Some common documents include:
Resume or CV
Your resume or CV should highlight both academic and experiential opportunities. You should follow normal guidelines for your industry, and focus on the skills you will bring to the cohort and the department. Find more information on the Resumes and CV page.
Many graduate programs require you to send your scores for their preferred exam as part of your application. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a common test for graduate school. The LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and DAT are other common exams for law school, medical school, business school, and dental school, respectively. Be sure to research which exam is required by the graduate program, and schedule your test time and location well in advance to give yourself time to prepare.
The personal statement helps demonstrate how you will fit into the graduate program. Some programs will give you a specific topic to address, and guidelines on length. Make sure you answer the question and follow all guidelines. Other programs will simply ask for a personal statement and leave the topic open to you. In that case, you’ll want to talk about how you developed a passion for the field, what specific skills and expertise you’ve developed, and how you will contribute to the program. Always tailor your personal statement to the program in which you are applying, and make sure it is free of spelling and grammar errors.
Letters of Recommendation
You should ask at least three people who can speak to your various skills to write your letters of recommendation. At least one of those people should be a faculty member who can speak to your academic abilities, though some schools might require more than one. Contact these people early, and stay in touch throughout the process and ensure they are aware of the deadlines. These letters take time to write, and many faculty members are often writing for several students. Contacting your references early ensures they will have time to write you an in-depth letter of recommendation.
After you interview with the different schools, you’ll want to reflect on your experience. Which programs did you like, and which didn’t seem like a good fit? Which programs satisfied those priorities? Rank the schools that you applied to in the order of preference. Reflect on which programs you would like to attend the most. This is a big decision to make, and so you should take the time you need to make an informed choice.
Attend the following Career Connections Center events to explore graduate school options:
- Grad School Exploration Month – various workshops and events geared to educating undergraduate students about preparing for graduate school
- Graduate and Professional Schools Fair – an annual fair where several programs from around the country visit UF to connect with undergraduate students interested pursuing graduate education.
Learn about different graduate schools:
- Graduate Guide
- Graduate School Tips
- Grad View
- Peterson’s Graduate Search
- The Princeton Review
- US News and World Report (Program Profile and Rankings)
For more information regarding graduate school, download our Preparing for Graduate School Guide.