Applying to Graduate School

To help you with graduate school planning, here are the key considerations, important steps to take, and resources to use.

When to Go

There are many considerations to factor into your decision about when to go to graduate school. To help you with this decision, think about the following:

Field of Study: Graduate school is concentrated, advanced study in one academic area. Be sure that you have identified your professional goals are and which graduate field of study best fits those goals. You will need to be able to articulate your goals clearly and to connect them to your chosen field in your application essay.

Professional Experience: Some graduate programs prefer candidates who have at least one or two years of work experience prior to applying. Be sure to explore the requirements of your field.

Financial Issues: Paying for graduate school is a serious financial commitment. You need to be sure you have the proper financial resources for this investment.

Personal/Family Issues: Each person is unique in terms of how personal and family issues might affect the decision about when to attend graduate school. It can be more challenging to attend graduate school later in life because of the need to balance school with children, work, and elderly parent obligations. It is important to assess your personal situation before making your decision.


Before leaving Suffolk:

  • Identify 2-3 professors (one can be an administrator) who know you well--your work, your aspirations, and your personality--and have an initial conversation with each about serving as a recommendation writer.
  • Stay in touch with them, updating them on your work activities and professional goals. This will ensure that they will write an effective recommendation when the time comes.

12-18 months before your target start date:

  • Begin to explore graduate schools online.
  • Seek input about appropriate graduate programs for your area of interest from work colleagues or mentors and former professors.
  • Start to study for whichever standardized test matches your graduate school study (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, etc). Attend a test prep course if you feel it will be useful.

6-12 months before:

  • Narrow your school choices to the top 3-6 programs and check the deadlines for your applications.
  • Draft, edit and finalize your essay(s).
  • Send guidelines and deadlines to those who are writing your recommendations.
  • 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.
  • Finally, submit your applications at least one week in advance of the deadline.

2-6 Months before starting:

  • Arrange to visit your accepted schools.
  • Attend a class to get a feel for the academic process and teaching style of each school.
  • 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.
  • Find out where graduates of the program are employed.
  • Interview for any fellowships to which you've applied.
  • Ensure that your loan and grant applications are being processed.

Finding the Right Schools

Resource #1: People

Professional colleagues and mentors: Ask for their ideas on programs/degrees/schools which they feel will prepare you best for your goals. Find out who they like to hire--graduates from which schools and programs. See what they think you should learn from a graduate program and what kinds of additional experiences they feel make a graduate program most beneficial (internships, fellowships, research, study abroad), given your goals.

Undergraduate Professors: Having been graduate students themselves, most of your professors are well-versed on the different graduate programs, their reputations, and how they are structured.

Program Alumni: Similarly, alumni from the graduate programs you are considering can share their perspectives on the value and demands of the programs they experienced.

Resource #2: Directories

There are many online and print directories that you can consult including:

Peterson's - Find a Graduate School or Program

Graduate School Catalogs online

Graduate School Profiles

Grad Schools Directory

Admissions Process

Application Requirements

Resume/Curriculum Vitae (CV): Be sure to review our tips on developing your resume so that it will be professional and targeted for your chosen graduate program.

GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, MAT, etc.: Be sure to take the appropriate standardized test far enough in advance of the application deadline and find out the typical scores that your chosen schools are looking for. Also take into consideration preparation and practice time, the test schedule, and enough time to take the test more than once if needed. There are many options for test preparation and practice. Online resources include:

Letters of Recommendation:

  • People who know you well are best. Ask professors, advisors, internship supervisors, and workplace managers who can comment on your work, your skills and your goals.
  • Be sure your recommenders are supporters who will speak positively about you.
  • Try to select a variety of people who can comment on you in different ways.
  • Don't wait until the last minute. Give your recommenders plenty of lead time.
  • 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 of your application essay or statement of purpose.
  • When appropriate, provide necessary stamped envelopes and forms.
  • Send your recommenders a thank you note!

Essay: Your essay must make an impact from the beginning. Stay within the suggested word count provided on the application. An admissions counselor will read it quickly and your job is to be clear, focused, sincere and compelling. Keep these points in mind:

  • Be clear, well-organized, and straightforward. Don't be afraid to edit.
  • Focus. You should be able to articulate definitively why this particular course of graduate study will help you reach your professional goals. Don't wander into asides. Make your case and be direct.
  • Be yourself. Share personal interests and values if they are related to your goals. Write in your own authentic style.
  • Be compelling. Speak from the heart. Show that you are excited and enthusiastic about how graduate study will help you fulfill your goals. Discuss what you want to learn and experience.
  • Proofread your essay carefully and ask an advisor or career counselor for feedback.

Official Transcripts: Be sure you request your transcripts in time for it to arrive in advance of the application deadline.

Financial Aid

As mentioned in When to Go, there are fewer sources of financial aid for graduate education than there are for undergraduate education. However, it is well worth your while to investigate the financial aid options out there. Here are some sources and resources for this investigation:

Tuition Reimbursement: Many large employers 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. You should check with your employer's benefits office for details on this.

Graduate Fellowships/Assistantships: Most graduate schools offer graduate fellowships for administrative or research work. A graduate student may work for the school for 16-30 hours per week and receive tuition remission and/or pay for this 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. If you are interested in this option, you should investigate it at least 9 months before you hope to attend school so that you can get your application in on time.

Grants/Scholarships/Loans: Contact the financial aid office of the schools to which you are applying and see what options are available through the school. Additionally, there may be independent scholarship to which you can apply. Here are some resources for identifying independent financial aid sources-


Peterson's Graduate Scholarship Search

CollegeNet Scholarship Search

College Board Scholarship Search

Financial aid for LGBT students

Foundation Grants to individuals 

Finally, for exploring loan forgiveness, here are a couple of websites to investigate:

Financial Aid

Tuition Reimbursement: Employers sometimes offer tuition reimbursement for graduate school if the program of study is related to your career field. This reimbursement is often capped at a monetary level per year and may require you to attend part-time. Check with your employer benefits office for details.

Graduate Fellowships/Assistantships: Most graduate schools offer administrative or research fellowships. Fellow typically work 16-30 hours per week and receive tuition remission and/or pay. These fellowships are often competitive and must be applied for. There may be a more formal application to fill out and you may have to submit your undergraduate transcript. Be sure to explore this option at least 9 months before you hope to enroll.

Grants/Scholarships/Loans: Contact the financial aid office of the schools to which you are applying and see what options they have available.

Independent scholarships:

Making a Final Choice

Once you have received your acceptances, you must make a final choice about which school to attend. Again, there are a number of considerations you must weigh to choose the graduate program which will be the best fit. Here are some steps to take and considerations to factor into your decision:

Visit the school and sit in on a class or two. The Admissions Office should be able arrange for this. It will allow you to assess how classes are conducted, the kind of teaching styles you will encounter and the makeup of the student body. This will help you answer that all-important question of "fit".

Ask to speak with alumni from the school. See how they leveraged their education in their careers, get information on where they are employed and on how active the alumni network is.

Circle back to your professors and recommenders for their perspectives.

Sit down with the financial aid office. Plan out in detail how you will cover your tuition and what any loan repayment schedule might be. While paying for school will hopefully not be the ultimate determinant of your choice, you should compare the financing options from one school to the others.