Graduate School (Master’s and PhD)
The decision to attend graduate school, and how soon after the completion of your bachelor’s degree, will be dictated by your individual situation. If you’re not sure, be sure to read the Graduate and Professional School Overview page. Once you’ve decided to pursue a Master’s or PhD in an academic discipline it’s time to tackle the application process.
How to get started
Ideally, your focus on the graduate school application process should start at least one full year in advance of when you would expect to see yourself beginning the graduate program.
To begin, you must identify your interest. Although you may know you want to continue your education, you may not be sure of exactly what area you want to pursue. Career Services staff may be able to help you assess your interests, values and other goals goals to identify your desired program of study. To take personality, interest, values and/or skills inventories and meet with a Career Services staff member, call (512) 863-1346 to schedule an appointment.
Next, you need to identify programs where you would like to apply. Two helpful resources are the websites www.gradschools.com or www.petersons.com. Peterson’s Graduate Programs in… series is also available in the Career Services Resource Center. It lists institutions alphabetically by area of interest and also contains a summary about each institution and a web address for more information. University websites offer details on program information, application materials and information about financial aid and housing.
The GRE Search Service is a free, web-based service that matches prospective graduate students with participating graduate schools as well as with fellowship sponsors and non-profit organizations that promote graduate education.
If you match the recruitment profile of a participating institution/organization, you will be sent information about graduate programs, admission requirements, financial aid opportunities, fellowships, and other education opportunities. You will automatically be included in the Search Service when you register for a GRE Test. Anyone considering graduate study may also register for the FREE GRE Search Service without registering for the GRE. See www.gre.org for more details.
Every October, Career Services offers Getting Into Graduate School, a free event for all students interested in getting advice from SU faculty, entrance exam specialists and/or graduate admission counselors. Other support services may include free practice entrance exams and practice interviews, which can be tailored to graduate school admission. For details on these events, contact Career Services or see www.southwestern.edu/careers/.
It’s a good idea to consult with your advisor and/or professors in your area of interest. They may be able to provide suggestions about schools to consider as well as some important information about the reputation of the school or the quality of the faculty teaching there. Graduate students who are currently enrolled in programs are also a valuable source of information. Since they have recently gone through the process, they may be able to share their experiences with you.
Additional information resources are available on our graduate school links page.
What Graduate Schools Are Looking For
Typically, graduate schools will evaluate you in five different areas: grade point average, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose and experience. Each institution’s departmental faculty decide upon admission requirements for its prospective students. Therefore, you may find other factors taken into consideration as well (e.g. personal interviews or writing samples).
The GPA is a standard estimate of your aptitude to be academically successful in graduate school. GPAs are calculated in a number of ways: cumulative, by major or using the most recent units earned. You will need to check with individual institutions to see how they handle GPA calculation.
The Graduate Record Exam is required by most universities in the United States. It is used not only for purposes of admission but also sometimes used (in conjunction with other criteria) to award fellowships, teaching assistantships and research assistantships. The general exam tests you in three areas: verbal (analogies, antonyms, sentence completion and reading comprehension), quantitative (quantitative comparison and problem solving covering arithmetic, algebra and geometry) and analytical writing (‘present your perspective on an issue’ writing task and ‘analyze an argument’ writing task).
The GRE is administered via computer at testing facilities across the country and offered numerous times throughout the year. Score reports are mailed to recipient institutions 10-15 days after you complete the test (provided you complete the writing tasks on the computer). You may elect to hand-write the analytical section, but your scores will take 4-6 weeks in that case. You will need to check with individual schools who may also require the subject exam in your major area.
For detailed information about test fees, test center locations, preparation materials, the search service, etc. see the comprehensive GRE website at www.gre.org. Additional preparation help, including materials and prep classes, is offered by vendors such as Kaplan and Princeton Review.
Letters of Recommendation
Getting these letters, which are very important in the application process, seems to cause the most stress for students. Typically, you will need to contact three writers. Depending upon the requirements of your program they may be from faculty, internship supervisors, employers or others who can confidently discuss your potential for graduate-level work. Be sure to give your references plenty of time to write the letters. For help figuring out how to approach potential references, contact Career Services.
Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose (sometimes referred to as the “essay” or “personal statement”) is your opportunity to state who you are, where you are coming from and where you are going professionally. The statement is typically 2-3 pages (typed, double-spaced) and should be an essay of the highest quality. Graduate Admission Essays by Donald Asher is available in the Career Services Resource Center to assist you in getting started in writing your personal statement. Additionally, critiques of your essay may be arranged by appointment with a Career Services staff member. Your advisor or a faculty member may also be able to assist you. For more information, please download “Write the Right Personal Statement.”
Admissions committees are interested in knowing how much and what types of experience you have had in your field. A curriculum vitae is the format used in academic and research circles to document and summarize your experience. The statement of purpose then lets you expand that summary in more depth. You might include internships, independent study research experiences, capstones, applicable employment, laboratory assignments, etc. Such opportunities demonstrate that you have the experience and commitment necessary as you pursue your professional goals.
Typically, these awards consist of research and teaching assistantships, tuition fee waivers and fellowships. Awards are usually based upon merit rather than financial need and are instrumental in recruiting candidates to their programs. The application process is usually included as part of the admissions application. The deadline to apply for these awards, however, is often much earlier than program deadlines (usually early January).
Federal and State
Applying for this assistance is a separate process in addition to applying for admission. At some schools, applying for Federal aid and institutional support are combined. In all instances, you will be required to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. You will only need to complete one FAFSA as there is a section you can use to have the data sent to multiple institutions.
Some schools may require a supplemental application. This usually occurs when schools combine the awarding of Federal and institutional aid. This may not be a free service, so check with each school to make sure it is required. For comprehensive information online about financing graduate school, including downloading the FAFSA, see www.finaid.org.
This body encompasses local, national and international organizations, foundations and corporations. Funds are available to support graduate education in a number of ways. Fellowships primarily provide for living expenses and, in some instances, payment of tuition and fees. Recipients benefit from these funds as they are usually free to utilize them at the college of their choice. Career Services offers several publications, including the Worldwide Graduate Scholarship Directory, in the Resource Center to help you locate funding opportunities. Application deadlines vary, so start your investigation early. Career Services Write Your Own Ticket program each Spring features information about high-profile graduate fellowships.
Timeline for Fall Applications
The “ideal” timeline for applying to graduate school upon graduation from SU begins the spring of your junior year.
Begin the exploration process via Career Services, the Internet and by talking to faculty at SU and on other campuses. Pave the way for asking for letters of recommendation.
Prepare seriously for entrance exams. Start a draft of your statement of purpose.
Take entrance exams. Complete your statement of purpose. Finish gathering letters of recommendation. By the end of the fall semester, turn in all applications to meet priority deadlines for funding and admission.