Grad school step-by-step

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Thinking about graduate school? Not sure where to start?
Use this six-part guide to help.

Step 1 Research programs

Ask these questions when deciding what to study:

Which field?

You don’t need to choose the field you majored in during your undergraduate studies. While graduate school programs require a bachelor’s degree, they often do not specify a certain undergraduate major.

Which focus?

  • Consider the length of the program.
  • What career opportunitied will you have?
  • Research what schools have to offer.
  • Pick a field of study you’re interested in.

Which degree?

Three factors to consider

  • Time
  • Money
  • Commitment

What’s the difference between a
master’s & a doctorate

Still lost about what to study for graduate school? Set up an appointment with a career coach on Handshake.

Step 2 Research schools

Keep these factors in mind when searching for the graduate school that's right for you:

  • Location & size
  • Cost & financial assistance
  • Satisfaction of current students
  • Program focus & areas of specialty
  • Your interest in a particular faculty’s current research
  • Quality of program
  • Reputation of program & faculty
  • Research facilities
  • Opportunities for teaching, research, or field experiences
  • Student:faculty ratios

Plan to do research during graduate school?
It’s important to learn about & contact prospective faculty before applying. You should send those faculty an introductory email that states your shared interests, references their research, & includes your resume/CV.

Step 3 Entrance exams

You may have to take an entrance exam before being accepted.
Figure out what exam(s) you need to take & begin preparing as soon as possible.





If you need to take a standardize exam, plan to spend several months preparing before it. There are several tools to consider with a range of costs. Some of the most commonly used tools are offered through Kaplan, Princeton Review, & Peterson’s. When deciding which tools are right for you, consider cost & your academic history.

Study guides

Study guides offer content review and/or practice questions & tests. They also generally discuss strategies to perform your best on the exam.

Practice tests

Practice tests offer a chance to get the full experience of immersing yourself in the standardized exam. Before test day, take at least one full test using the time limits set for the exam.

Preparatory courses

On-line & in-person courses offer a more structured review of the content & strategies to excel on an exam.

Step 4 Apply

Note deadline(s)

Keep a checklist

Review before submitting


Your essay should include:

1. Who you are.

2. All requirements.

3. Your motivations.

4. Proper grammar.

Get your essay edited!

Letter of recommendation

Have a few people write a letter of recommendation/reference.

Get people to write your letter(s)

Be sure they...

  • Know you well.
  • Can discuss your skills & abilities.
  • Are aware of your involvements & plans.
  • Have time to write the letter for you.

Keep these things in mind

The letters should...

  • Accurately express your skills & abilities.
  • Come from a wide range of writers.
  • Be requested in person.
  • Not take your time to review.

Step 5 Interviews

Some graduate schools require an on-campus interview before acceptance.

Interviewing with a graduate school can be similiar to interviewing for a job.

The Career Center offers practice interviews with a career coach. Use our office to practice and prepare.

Step 6 Evaluate offers

Make a list of pros and cons for each school to which you’ve been accepted. If haven’t already done so, you may wish to visit the campus. Consider the following:

  • People: Can you see yourself getting along with the students and faculty?
  • School: How would you describe the culture, reputation, and location of the school?
  • Cost & Aid: How do tuition and the regional cost of living compare to scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships, or loans that you’ve been awarded?



Cost & Aid


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