Thinking about graduate school in engineering next fall? Learn about why you might consider further study and how to get started.

Why go to graduate school?

  • The kind of work you want to do (e.g. structural engineering or automotive engineering require at least a master’s degree)
  • More money [*] (See the August issue of Chemical Engineering Progress » for the annual salary survey.)
  • You want a career in research and development
  • You want to teach engineering
  • Like being a student (learning, the schedule, etc)
  • Fame?
  • Can’t get or don’t want industry job now

[*] When controlling for other variables, Chemical Engineering Progress » found that a master’s degree was worth 4% more than a Bachelor’s, an MBA was worth 8% more and a PhD was worth 11% more. Chem. Eng. Prog., Aug 1998, pp. 109-112.

Options for graduate school

  • MS-CEP » (Based on practical work experience. An uncommon degree.)
  • MS (Can be thesis or non-thesis. Some companies will pay for this.)
  • MBA (Usually requires work experience first. Some companies will pay for this.)
  • PhD (Requires a dissertation.)
  • MD/PhD (A very long program, but the PhD tuition waver usually pays for medical school.)

Which graduate school?

  • Identify possible grad schools by rankings, research and other factors (e.g., location)
  • Get catalogs
  • Read catalogs
  • Narrow list
  • Apply
  • Get accepted
  • Visit

Q: How do I get accepted?

A: Have a great application.

Graduate school applications are evaluated based on:

  • GPA
  • GRE
  • Research experience
  • Letters of recommendation
  • List of honors and awards
  • Statement of purpose
Take the time to write a great application.


  1. You typically will get an offer of $19,000–$25,000 per year, plus tuition waver.
  2. They will pay for you to visit the school.

Why apply for fellowships?

  1. External funding may favorably influence your choice of advisor at some schools.
  2. Prestige (helpful when applying for jobs later on)
  3. Supplemental income. Most schools will provide an additional stipend if you have external funding.
  4. Some fellowships pay fees and/or travel expenses.

Questions for the visit

  1. How does advisor selection work? How many students get their first choice?
  2. What are the job prospects like for graduates? Describe the job placement/recruiting services. (This one is very important and often overlooked.)
  3. Are you glad you came here?
  4. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before you came here?
  5. Do you like living here?
  6. How many students leave with an MS? Why?
  7. What is the department climate?
  8. What are the guarantees for support (stipend) after the first year?
  9. Is support automatically cut off after a certain number of years? How many students don’t graduate by then?
  10. What is the average number of years to a PhD (department-wide, and for the specific professors you might like to work for)?
  11. What are the requirements for the degree you are interested in? (MS required before PhD, language competency required for PhD, number of courses required, etc.)
  12. What are the registration fees students must pay out of pocket each semester/year?
  13. What is the timeline to graduation (when do you take qualifier, MS, prelim, PhD, etc.)?
  14. How many students flunk qualifier each year? Is it routinely used to eliminate students?
  15. What are the requirements for TA duties?
  16. Are the grad students happy?
  17. What is the intensity level for studies?
  18. What outside interests/activities are pursued, both individually and collectively by grad students (department intramural sports teams, meeting at the bar for happy hours, parties, etc.)?
  19. How do the grad students like their relationship with their advisors? Talk especially to students of professors that interest you.
  20. Is health insurance available? Approximate cost?
  21. What is the general cost of living (apartment rates, etc.)? Do most students live on or off campus? Is parking available or a good bus system? For how much?
  22. What do you do for fun around here?
  23. Tell me about the local _________. (Churches, movie theaters, parks, bowling alleys, concerts, travel, etc.)

Application timeline

  • Take the GRE » early. Since it takes four to six weeks to get your scores back, you want to allow plenty of time to retake the test if you need to. Practice!
  • Choose schools to apply to in spring of junior year through November of senior year.
  • September - start NSF » application.
  • Dec.1 - some fellowship deadlines.
  • Jan. 1 - have all of your applications in.
  • January to April - visit schools.
  • April 15 - make your decision.

The grad school experience

  • 1–2 years of classes
  • 1–2 years of TAing - variable
  • PhD qualifying exam - written, typically first year
  • Master's - second to fourth year (also depends on thesis)
  • PhD preliminary exam - oral, third to fifth year
  • PhD thesis defense - fifth year (usually, maybe more)

To find a comprehensive list for college entrance exams—GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT and SAT—go to Test Prep Center ». You should find hundreds of pages of free test-prep material, including test dates, strategies, solved problems, extensive math and verbal review and more. 

Letters of Recommendation

If you need a letter of recommendation from one of the engineering faculty, please use the Student Recommendation Form.

GRE - Graduate Record Exam (Required)

The General Test is offered year-round and nationwide in a computerized, interactive version from the Sylvan Learning Centers. Information Bulletins for the GRE tests are available at the Registrar's Office.

The computerized version of the GRE is offered more frequently at the Sylvan Learning Center on Burton near East Paris, and students should just call them for information and appointments.

Feel free to contact Diane Vander Pol, Calvin's GRE Supervisor, for any questions you may have or visit GRE Online at »

Another site to check out for the GRE is »

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