Prepare for Graduate School

Deciding to attend graduate or professional school is a big decision that takes careful planning. We can help you create a plan for successfully applying for the next step in your education.

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Exploring Graduate and Professional School Options

Graduate or Professional school is a significant investment in your future, and 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. Then, reflect on your goals and priorities and how they may or may not fit with the various programs.

Consider the following before beginning the application process:

Type of Programs

Reflect on whether you want to pursue a Master’s or Doctoral Degree. A Master’s degree is shorter (1-3 years) while a Doctoral degree is longer (4-10 years) and more specialized to a narrow topic. Research different graduate programs, their faculty, classes, and opportunities for professional development. Are you looking for a program that focuses on practical training or emphasizes research and theories? Think about your ultimate career goals, and how each degree will help you develop the skills needed to be successful.

Location and Environment

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.

Size

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.

Timing

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 often 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.

Standardized Tests

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. 

Personal Statement

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.

Planning for the Application and Interview Process

Make sure that you plan ahead for the application process by researching deadlines and requirements for each program. Staying organized will help you successfully complete the application process. Once you’ve submitted your applications, the next step is often an on-campus interview with some or all of the other applicants. It is important for you to prepare for your interview in order to stand out as the best candidate.

Network

To successfully interview you have to do your research about the college or university, the department, faculty, and the classes. Read through their websites, talk to current students, and reach out to alumni through LinkedIn. Learn what skills and personal qualities successful graduate students possess, and be prepared to explain how you have those qualities. Networking is an important part of preparing for the application process, so gather as much information as possible.

Prepare Your Stories

It is important to practice interviewing ahead of time. Think about the skills you will need to be successful in the graduate program. What stories and examples can you provide that demonstrate those skills? Look over your resume and think back to your previous experiences for some ideas. When in doubt, use the S.T.A.R. method:

  • Situation: What was the situation? Set the stage for the interviewer.
  • Task: What were you asked to do? Explain the problem you had to solve.
  • Action: What action did you take? Describe the skills you used.
  • Result: What was the result? Summarize the impact of your actions.

Professional Dress

For an on-campus interview, you’ll want to dress in business attire. For men, this means a suit, tie, and dress shoes. For women, this means a suit or skirt suit, dress shoes, and appropriate jewelry. Your hair should be neatly groomed, and you should use minimal amounts of cologne or perfume. Consider the environment and climate where the campus is located. There will likely be a campus tour, and you’ll want to wear shoes appropriate for the weather. Make sure that you are comfortable in whatever you wear.

Ask Questions

At the end of each interview, you will probably be asked “What questions do you have for us?” You always want to have some questions prepared for the interviewer. You might have interviews with faculty members, program coordinators, department heads, and current students. You will want to prepare different questions for each group of people.

Send a Thank You

After your interview, be sure to thank your interviewers for taking the time to interview with you. This could be either in a hand-written note or email. Personalizing the email based on the conversation during the interview can remind the interviewer of who you are as a candidate and what skills you discussed. Writing thank you notes will make you stand out as a candidate, so make sure you take the time to write them!

Decision Time

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? Think back to what you considered a priority or goal in the “Explore” section. 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.

If you don’t hear from the graduate school by the date they listed as the acceptance date, then reach out to the coordinator or contact person. Politely ask where they are in their decision making process, and if you are still a candidate. You can also ask when you should expect to hear from them. You can also follow up with a school if you have an offer from your second or third choice school, but haven’t heard from your first choice yet and need more information about your candidacy.

This is a big decision to make, and so you should take the time you need to make an informed choice. Ask for more time if needed, but only if you are still considering that school as an option. Be aware that you could be holding that spot from someone else for that program.

Once you make your decision, congratulate yourself- you did it! Make sure you communicate with the department regarding any paperwork or transcripts you need to send. Reach out to your new cohort members, faculty, and colleagues. Get ready to begin the next step of your educational journey.

Resources

Attend the following CRC events to explore graduate school options:

  • Grad School 101
  • Graduate and Professional Schools In-Person and Virtual Fair

Learn about different graduate schools:

Explore opportunities for graduate school funding:

Attend the following CRC events focused on gathering documents for your graduate school application. Check the events page for details:

  • Personalizing Your Personal Statements
  • Navigating the Graduate School Application
  • Mapping Professional You: Creating an Effective Resume, Cover Letter, and Interview (Gator Professional Series)

Use the following handouts as guides:

  • Resume Writing
  • CV Writing
  • Personal Statement

Prepare for standardized tests through print and online materials, or through prep courses:

Other UF Resources:

If you’ve received multiple offers and are having trouble making a decision, make an appointment with a Career Planner to discuss your options with a career advisor.

If you’ve gone through the graduate school application process and are changing your plans, make arrangements to meet with a career planner to explore other career options, such as a Gap Year, internship, part time employment, or other opportunities.

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