Questions to Ask Before Grad School
- What are your career goals, and do you think those goals could change?
- Will a graduate degree advance you in achieving your goals?
- Are you prepared to invest the time and effort required in obtaining a graduate degree?
- Do you have the financial resources available to attend?
- Are you mostly motivated by your desire to postpone entrance into the job market?
If you have a clear vision about your career after graduation and graduate school is the next step towards that vision, continue your research. If you are unsure, take some time for self-assessment to better understand what you are looking to do in your career, both short-term and long-term.
As a Suffolk student or alumni, you can make an appointment with a career advisor in the Career Development Center to discuss graduate school options or work on a goal statement for your application.
It is important to evaluate graduate programs with your academic and professional goals at the forefront of your decision-making. Do you know what kind degree you should seek to reach your professional goals? It may be helpful to seek the advice of your undergraduate faculty members and industry mentors to help decide which graduate programs would be a good fit for you.
- Terminal Master’s Degree: This professional degree provides you with a specific skill set needed to practice in a particular field such has education, business, data analytics, and many more. This is generally considered a final degree and involves some type of internship or practicum experience.
- Research Master’s Degree: This will provide you with significant experience in research and scholarship and can either be final or a step towards achieving your PhD.
- Professional Doctoral Degree: This includes the JD for practicing law and the MD for practicing medicine.
- Research Doctorate or PhD: These programs involve coursework and a major research project that culminates in a dissertation. This is an extensive program of study, taking at least four to six years to complete.
Other strategies to finding the right program include:
- Networking with alumni from the programs you are considering so that they can share their perspectives on the value and demands of the programs
- Researching programs extensively. Explore course offerings and faculty members’ backgrounds and areas of interest or research. Ask yourself if the curriculum and academic focus of the program align with your academic and professional goals!
- Explore the career development opportunities available to you. Is there an internship or practicum experience in the curriculum that will be beneficial?
- Decide if the program is a good practical fit for you. Look at the competitiveness of the program, the test score requirement, the undergraduate requirements, the length of the program, the cost, and the location. One or more of those factors may indicate the program is not a good fit for you personally.
12-18 months before your target start date:
- Research graduate programs of interest and learn about entrance requirements, tests, and deadlines.
- Seek input about appropriate graduate programs for your area of interest from colleagues, mentors, professors, and a career advisor in the CDC.
- Begin studying for standardized tests that are required for your prospective program of study (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, etc).
6-12 months before target start date:
- Narrow down your list of prospective graduate schools and remind yourself of application deadlines and requirement
- Begin writing your personal statement of academic and professional goals, keeping in mind any specific admissions criteria or word count. Make an appointment to have a career advisor review and edit your statement.
- Identify professors or supervisors who would write you a strong letter of recommendation, request the letter, and provide them with necessary instructions to complete the recommendation (and a deadline!).
- Take your standardized test, allowing time to take it more than once if necessary.
- Explore funding sources including financial aid, grants, scholarships, loans and fellowships and make any necessary applications.
- Arrange for your transcripts to be sent.
- Submit your applications prior to the deadline, making sure all components are complete.
2-6 Months before target start date:
- Prepare for any entrance interviews you have
- Arrange to visit your accepted schools (admitted student days are usually April/May)
- Ensure your financial aid loan and grant applications are completed.
- Ask to speak with alumni of the program for advice on how to succeed in the program and how to leverage your graduate degree after completion.
- Interview for any fellowships to which you've applied.
Make sure that each of your applications is complete and every component is submitted. Most of your applications will require the following:
- Application Form
- Personal Statement/Goal Statement
- Official Transcripts
- Letters of Recommendation
- Official Test Scores (if required)
Some programs may have additional requirements, like a writing sample or an interview, and you need to make sure you complete those components as well.
Not all graduate programs require you take and submit test scores, but many do. Be sure to research which test(s) will be required for admission into your chosen programs of study, and what range of scores the program is looking for.
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test)
- GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
- MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test)
- LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)
- TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language)
Whatever standardized test you take, you should prepare either on your own with test guides and sample questions or through a local prep class, where instructors will provide you with test-specific strategies and approaches to help you succeed. If you are considering formal test preparation, you could utilize any of the programs listed below:
When choosing individuals to write your letters of recommendations, you should make sure they are individuals who know you and how you work and will speak positively about you. Ask faculty members, advisors, internship supervisors, and workplace managers who can comment on your work, your skills and your career or academic goals. A few tips when requesting recommendations:
- Request your recommendations, in person if possible, at least 1-2 months in advance
- Try to select a variety of people who can comment on you in different ways.
- Provide your recommenders with background about why you want to pursue graduate study and what you hope to gain. Give them a copy of your resume and maybe a copy personal statement.
- Ensure the recommender knows how to submit their letter (online instructions vs. mail) and when the letter is due.
- Send your recommenders a thank you note!
A statement of purpose, or a goal statement or personal essay, should be a concise summary of your career aspirations and an opportunity to explain how you arrived at these goals and how your entrance into this specific graduate program will help you reach them. This is an opportunity to make a strong connection between you and the curriculum of the program. The personal statement tells your academic and professional journey. Pay attention to the requirements of each school: some have specific questions they want you to address and some are general; some have a word limit and others do not. As a student or alumni, you can always make an appointment to review your personal statement with a career advisor.
Questions to consider when writing:
- How did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about yourself in the process?
- What people, experiences (academic, professional, or personal) have influenced your career aspirations?
- What have you accomplished in your field of study thus far? What are some specific lessons learned through your work or study?
- What makes you unique? What are some hot topics or issues in your chosen field and how do those influence your goals?
- What specifically about this program will help you attain your professional goals?
- What would your short-term and long-term goals be after finishing this degree?
Other Considerations in writing your statement:
- Provide enough person detail for them to get to know you and your goals, but not too personal that the reader loses sight of your professional focus and abilities. Be sincere!
- Make sure you have done your research on the program – the more specific you can be in relating your goals to the program’s focus, the better.
- Use specific examples – work you have done or classes you have taken. The more specific, the more they will know about you and your background.
- Write clearly and concisely. Your writing ability will be considered, although how much is dependent on your chosen field of study.
- Be consistent throughout your statement; it should have a distinctive voice and theme. Similarly to your resume, the statement is a demonstration of your professional brand!
The financial aid landscape for you as a graduate student will look different than it did when you were an undergraduate. Application procedures and available programs vary from school to school, so it is important that you reach out to your prospective schools’ financial aid offices to learn what options are available to you.
Types of financial assistance for graduate study:
- Graduate Fellowships/Assistantships: Most graduate schools offer graduate fellowships for administrative or research work and provide tuition assistance, a stipend, and healthcare for 16-30 hours of work. Often, these fellowships are competitive and you must apply to them well in advance with a cover letter and resume detailing your qualifications for the fellowships. There may be a more formal application to fill out and you may have to submit your undergraduate transcript. This is a great financial opportunity, but will also provide you with networking opportunities and potentially experience in work related to your field of study
- Grants/Scholarships: These awards could come from your specific academic department, the University, or an external source and often include tuition assistance and/or a stipend. These are often based on academic achievement. Contact the financial aid office of the schools to which you are applying and see what options are available to you.
- Federal Loans: You are eligible for federal loans for financial aid in graduate school just as you were for your undergraduate school. Be sure to complete your FAFSA application by the required deadline, and check in with the financial aid office of the institution to make sure there are no other requirements to be eligible.
- Private Loans: If you are not eligible for federal financial assistance, you can seek a private loan that will be non-need-based and unsubsidized.
- Other Sources: You may be eligible for specialized funding through service programs like AmeriCorps or through military branches. Many large employers also offer tuition reimbursement for graduate school if the program of study being pursued is related to your career field. This reimbursement is often capped at a monetary level per year and may very well require for you to attend part-time. If currently employed, you should check with your employer's benefits office for details on this.
Scholarship and Financial Aid Resources