This week’s post is in response to a few common questions surrounding the decision to pursue graduate school and the application process that students will want to consider.
Should I attend? Now or later?
That depends. If you are thinking of attending graduate school because you don’t know what else to do, because you are avoiding the job search, or you are generally unsure of your career goals, then you probably are not pursuing an advanced degree for the right reasons.
In college, the major you pursue offers a broad introduction to a field of study. In graduate school you will specialize and narrow your focus for study and research. Thus, the study of biology becomes the study of plant sciences, neurobiology, bioethics, physiology, animal science, etc; the study of psychology becomes the study of child & human development; clinical psychology, organizational psychology, applied behavior analysis, or psychoanalysis; the study of English becomes the study of writing, linguistics, literature, or humanities. Not knowing the specialization you are seeking may be a good indication you are not ready to begin graduate study.
While many LVC graduates express appreciation for the way in which their undergraduate education prepared them for the rigors of graduate school, make no mistake. The level of academic commitment, not to mention the expense, is considerable. Whether you begin graduate school immediately after college or wait several years is a personal decision. Research indicates that up to half of grad students are over age 30, so taking time off is not unusual. The important thing is to be ready for the challenges and commitments a graduate program brings.
Can I switch fields and go to graduate school in a different area?
Absolutely! But be prepared to demonstrate how your interests, preparation, career goals, experiences, and skills make you a good candidate. Graduate schools, just like employers, are looking for candidates that are the right fit, so spend some time getting to know the programs and schools that interest you. In your application, essay, and interview make the connections between your experiences and the goals of the program/school.
What do graduate schools want?
Graduate schools want to enhance the reputation of their school and program. Therefore, they want students that will finish the program, excel in their studies, and have the capacity to become important researchers and leaders in their field.
I won’t pretend to know what every admissions committee wants. But I can say that GPA, scores on graduate entrance exams, recommendation letters, and your personal statement are universally important. Tara Kuther, Ph.D. does an excellent job of sharing how and why these criteria play such an important part in admission decisions. Read about it in the Graduate School section of About.com.
What do I need to know about letters of recommendation?
An effective recommendation letter is written by persons who can discuss your skills and abilities, personal characteristics, and leadership strengths. These individuals also will need to evaluate your present academic performance and potential to succeed in the field and in the program to which you are applying.
First, be sure the persons you ask to write these letters are willing to write a positive letter that supports your candidacy. And, when I say “ask” I mean “ask in person.” This is not the time to send a quick e-mail! Rather, make an appointment to discuss your graduate school plans; don’t wait to the last minute, and be certain to provide them with materials that will enable them to write an informed letter. This includes items such as your transcript, essay, resume, and research abstracts. You also might want to include honors or awards you’ve received, relevant work and/or volunteer experience, and a description of your professional goals.
…a word about graduate school entrance exams. Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions does an excellent job preparing students for exams such as the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc. Find out about the FREE online practice test dates/times and register for them HERE.
More information on graduate school planning can be found on the Resources for Students page of the Career Services website. Also, the articles written by Tara Kuther, Ph.D., found in the About.com Guide to Graduate School are worth perusing and reading.
Sharon Givler, director, career services