Determining whether to continue your education via a graduate program can be an exciting, but challenging decision. For many areas of work, the value of a specialized education cannot be denied. However, students must be careful not to make this leap into specialized study before having a thorough understanding of career objectives and future goals. As is the case with any major life decision, students thinking about graduate school need to do a realistic assessment of the pros and cons associated with pursuing an advanced degree. The Career Services staff can help you work through many different questions that you’ll need to ask yourself before making the commitment to pursue additional studies after graduating from Hendrix.
Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What are your career goals?
- Where do you want to be in five years? Ten?
- Is a particular graduate degree necessary to get there?
- Is graduate study a common requirement in your chosen field? Talk to people in the fields you are interested in. How did they get there? Is graduate school the only or best route to the career you want?
- Have you considered other options? Compare your options. These include going directly to graduate school, working for a year or more (gap time), traveling or exploring for a year or more, or working in lieu of graduate school.
- Have you gained any hands-on experience in your chosen field? Internships, summer jobs, or mentorships within your field will test your interest and strengthen your application. Some graduate schools prefer applicants who have a year or more of applied experience (e.g., MBA programs and medical schools).
- Do I have the financial resources to go?
Contact the Career Services Office to schedule an appointment to discuss your graduate school decision with one of our staff members. We're here to help you make the decision that is best for you. Or, if you've already made the decision to pursue an advanced degree, let us know how we can help you with the application process. In addition to helping you research and plan for graduate school, our office provides assistance in the areas of personal statements and essays, interview tips and techniques, and admission test preparation.
More information about choosing a graduate program once you've made the decision to pursue an advanced degree is below. Students considering graduate school are also encouraged to stop by the Career Services Resource Library in SLTC 238 to pick up a complimentary copy of Graduate School: A Guide for Undergraduate Students (Woodburn Press, 2010). This booklet provides valuable information on graduate school including reasons to attend, the admission and application process, and what students can expect.
Choosing a Graduate School
You've weighed the pros and cons associated with pursuing an advanced degree and have decided to enter a graduate program. The following are some considerations to keep in mind as you evaluate the schools.
- What is the school's reputation? Is the school regionally accredited?
- Does the school offer a wide variety of courses and disciplines, or is it especially strong in certain areas?
- How large are the classes?
- How many hours are needed for a degree?
- Does the curriculum include fresh, innovative ideas?
- Will the school prepare me for the changes in the economy and the workforce that will come in the next twenty years?
- Is a thesis required?
- Is there a time limit to attaining the degree?
School catalogues and websites will give you some idea of the backgrounds of full-time faculty – where they went to school, specialties, accomplishments, etc. It may help you to know that some of the faculty have interests similar to your own. Other questions to ask:
- Is the faculty well-balanced in terms of educational experience, or do most of them come from the same school or schools?
- Does the faculty have professional experience outside the academic community?
- Are some of the teachers recognized as authorities in their fields?
- What are the available opportunities for collaborating with faculty on projects that match your interests?
If possible, it's a good idea to select a graduate school where you will be challenged by your classmates. Try to select a school where your graduate admission test and GPA will not be significantly different from those of your fellow students. Also, try to visit the campus and ask current students about the graduate program you are pursuing.
Find out how many students are in a typical class. Odds are you can judge for yourself how many students are too many. Absolute size is also important. Not surprisingly, the larger schools tend to offer a larger selection of courses.
Location and Environment
For many students, a major factor in choosing a graduate school is location. Adjusting to graduate school is difficult enough without the additional hardship of "culture shock." Ask yourself if you are already predisposed to a certain lifestyle or if you are ready for a change in your environment.
One of the tests of a good graduate school is the type of services provided in assisting students with their job search needs. Here are some questions to ask about placement:
- How long does it take graduates to find jobs?
- What percentage found jobs prior to graduation?
- Where are the graduates being hired?
- What was the average or median salary of the graduates?
The Application Process
It is important to start gathering information early in order to be able to complete your applications on time. Most students should start the process a full year-and-a-half before their anticipated date of matriculation. Application deadlines may vary, but deadlines for the fall's entering class are typically in January or February. Some schools have even earlier deadlines for applicants who wish to be considered for special fellowships, graduate assistant positions, etc. Students should always pay close attention to the application deadlines and processes for each school to which they are planning to apply.
Obtaining Application Forms
Students should request the appropriate application materials they need from an admission representative with the graduate school. Most colleges and universities now have online applications or online request forms for applications, as well.
Meeting Application Requirements
- Graduate Admission Tests – Colleges and universities usually require a specific graduate admission test, and departments sometimes have their own requirements, as well. Most programs will not accept scores more than three to five years old. It is very important to be prepared for these exams, and study materials are often available when you register for the exam. Materials for these tests can be found in the Career Services Resource Library in SLTC 238 or on the test's website.
- Transcripts – Admission committees require official transcripts of your grades in order to evaluate your academic preparation for graduate study. To have your Hendrix transcript sent to graduate institutions, contact the Registrar's Office.
- Letters of Recommendation– While recommendations from faculty members are essential for academically oriented programs, professional programs may seriously consider nonacademic recommendations from professionals in the field. A good reference will meet several of the following criteria: he or she has a high opinion of you, knows you well in more than one area of your life, is familiar with the institutions to which you are applying as well as the kind of study you are pursuing, has taught or worked with a large number of students and can make a favorable comparison of you with your peers, is known by the admission committee and is regarded as someone whose judgment should be given weight, and has good written communication skills. No one person is likely to satisfy all these criteria, so choose those people who come closest to the ideal.
- Application Essays –
An essay or personal statement for an application should essentially be a statement of your ideas and goals. Usually it includes a certain amount of personal history, but, unless an institution specifically requests autobiographical information, you do not have to supply any. Your essay should reflect your writing abilities; more important, it should reveal the clarity, the focus, and the depth of your thinking. In every case essays should be checked for spelling and grammar errors.
- Interviews – You should prepare for a graduate school interview as you would for a job interview. Interviewers will be interested in the way you think and approach problems and will probably concentrate on questions that enable them to assess your thinking skills rather than questions that call upon your grasp of technical knowledge
- Submitting Completed Applications – Graduate schools have established a wide variety of procedure for filing applications, so read each institution's instructions carefully.