Deciding

Thinking About Graduate or Professional School?

The Graduate School Decision
As you ponder what to do with your life, you will have to make many decisions. One is whether to further your education beyond your bachelor's degree. Do you want to pursue a master's or doctoral degree in a graduate or professional school?

To decide, you need to concentrate on what you want to do, identify graduate programs that you would consider attending, and learn about the processes of gaining admission to graduate school and obtaining financial assistance. Deciding whether to go to graduate school requires extensive planning.

Career Options with a Graduate Degree
The decision to go to graduate school is a crucial point in your career planning. Students who want to go into a specific professional field may find that an advanced degree is a required credential. For other careers, you may find that it is not necessary.

So, do some career research! Talk to people in the careers that interest you. Review career information in the university and public libraries.

Making The Decision
The first step is to make an honest evaluation of your own strengths, both intellectually and in terms of personality. Although there is no ideal profile for graduate students, intelligence, initiative and self-discipline are crucial qualities for success. Strong motivation and persistence are very important. The ability to establish good working relationships with other people is also important, since one's career in graduate school depends heavily on following the guidance of one's faculty mentors.

Financing a Graduate Education
How to pay for graduate school is the major question for most people. There are three basic ways to do it, depending upon the kind of program in which you are interested. They are: fellowships and traineeships, teaching and research assistantships, and loans. Fellowships, traineeships, and teaching assistantships are generally reserved for doctoral students.

Choosing a Graduate School
You need to do your research carefully to choose the school that will best suit your needs and talents. There are several general directories listing graduate programs, and they are quite different. Benedum Library and other area university and community libraries will have these directories.

One way to do research on graduate programs is to talk to faculty members about where they did their graduate work and what they know about graduate programs in their fields.

An important point to determine is what the program prerequisites are. For some professional degrees, work experience is often as important as academic prerequisites. For the research degree, however, there almost always are specific areas of subject matter and specific skills you have to have mastered at the undergraduate level.

Another important factor to determine is the selectivity of the program to which you want to apply: how many apply and how many are accepted? This is the point at which to be very honest with yourself concerning your own academic background and intellectual potential.

How to Apply to Graduate School
For graduate school, you apply to a specific program or department, even though you may send your materials to an admissions office. Your application is evaluated by faculty both at the program or department level and at the institutional level.

If possible, you should visit campuses where you are interested in studying. Call the appropriate department in advance to see if you can make appointments to visit with faculty members.

A general rule of thumb is to apply to at least two or three departments that have programs that fit your interests. The process can be time consuming, but if you do it thoroughly, the chances are better that you will get accepted to the program of your choice. It can be expensive if you apply to many institutions because most charge an application fee in the range of $20 to $50.