Tips for Researching and Applying to Graduate or Professional School
Once you have decided to go to graduate or professional school, the next step is to research different programs and schools to find a few that match your interests and goals. Because this can be a long and time consuming process, the best time to begin gathering information about graduate or professional school is during your junior year. There are many ways to obtain the information you need.
Talk to your professors
Make them familiar with your interests, academic background, and goals. They may know of schools that have programs that may be of interest to you. Also, talk to the graduate school advisor in your major or in your area of interest. Each department has a contact person for graduate school information.
Set up a visit with a member of the Career Services staff
At Career Services you can meet one-on-one with a professional staff member to get advice about your graduate/professional school search process and get help with resumes, cover letters, personal statements and applications.
Visit the reference section of the library
There are many resources available on general graduate school programs and specialized guides for programs in fine arts, women's studies, the sciences, business, law, etc. The following are just a few examples.
- Peterson's Guides
- Guide to American Graduate Schools
- Barron's Guide to Graduate Business Schools
- The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools
- Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology
- Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical Psychology
The library also has graduate school catalogs from schools across the country available on fiche. If you have any questions, contact Joan Parks, Library Reference Services, at 863-1311.
Surf the web!
The internet has many sites that may be helpful. Here are a few that can link you to graduate and professional schools:
Once you identify potential schools, write or call the school's admissions office to request information. Be specific on the information you request. The following may be helpful to obtain:
- Graduate Catalog
- Admissions Application
- Financial Aid Application
- Scholarship/ Fellowship/ TA information
- Housing Information (if necessary)
It is also important to contact the department to obtain information on the program you are interested in studying. Check if the department has additional admission requirements, applications, deadlines, etc.
As you sift through all the information you have compiled, think about the key characteristics you hope to find in a graduate or professional school. Here are some things to look for:
Is the program compatible with your interests and capabilities? What specializations are available? Does the program offer practicums and internships or does it focus on theory and research?
Research the faculty! What are their credentials (areas of interest, degrees, course offerings, research, publications, etc.)? Take some time to read what they have written in your field of interest. Does the department have any known scholars in your field of interest?
By whom is the school and program accredited? Is the program of interest relatively new at the school or is it well established? Is the program nationally ranked?
Does the school have the facilities you need or want for your graduate work (labs, libraries, computer centers, etc.)?
What is the size of the school and the department? What is the faculty/student ratio? Consider the pros and cons of large vs. small schools and departments (i.e. larger schools can have better library, smaller schools can provide more personal attention).
What is most desirable in terms of geography and climate? Do you prefer to live in the city or a small town? Also, consider the cost of living in the area and the cultural/recreational opportunities that are available.
How much are tuition and fees? Is it affordable?
What types of financial assistance are offered by the school and department (scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, loans, etc.)?
Job Placement Statistics
What is the "placement rate" of last year's graduates? What kind of job positions do these alumni hold? What kind of companies, organizations, schools, etc. have graduates secured jobs in? What services are provided to assist graduates in seeking employment?
Once you review all of the information, narrow down the number of programs to which you wish to apply. It is important for you to become familiar with the application procedure for each school. Make sure you read over the entire application before filling it out.
To make sure your application is complete and turned in on time, be organized and get an early start. Have a file folder for each school that contains a copy of all the letters you have sent to the school and all the information you have received from it. On the front cover of the file folder, list all the necessary deadlines (application for admission, departmental application, financial aid application, etc.). It may also be helpful to have a checklist of the material required to process the application. Most schools have the following application components:
- completed application - graduate school admission and departmental
- entrance exam scores
- application fee
- personal statement
- letters of recommendation
- financial aid application
As you fill out the admission application, remember that it is a reflection of who you are. Be neat, concise, and clear!
The Personal Statement
By reading the personal statement, admission committees get to know you as a person and get a sense of your ability to write and follow directions. If the application has particular questions for you to answer in your statement, be sure to answer them. If you don1t, admission committees may think you can1t follow directions or that you don1t understand them. It is also important that you do not give information that is redundant to information found elsewhere in the application (i.e. lists of accomplishments, awards, etc. Provide them with information that will give them an opportunity to learn something about you that they may not be able to learn from the other application components. In your statement, you may want to discuss:
- how does the program fit into your professional development goals?
- what will you do with the degree you are pursuing?
- how did your interest in the field evolve?
- how have you prepared yourself to succeed in graduate/professional school?
Do not write a general personal statement. The personal statement should be tailored to the particular school and program you are applying to.
The personal statement weighs heavily in the application process. Be sure that you spend time revising the statement. Have friends and professors proof read your personal statement. It should be grammatically correct with no mistakes in spelling or punctuation. Personal statements are most effective when they are concise, well written, and professional in tone.
For more tips on writing your personal statement, the following resources are highly recommended in addition to contat Career Services:
- Graduate Admissions Essays - What Works, What Doesn't and Why by Donald Asher
- How to Write a Winning Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School by Richard Stelzer
Letters of recommendation
Request recommendations from faculty who know who you are and what you are about. Ask faculty members for a recommendation at least one month before you plan to submit the application. Meet with the faculty member to discuss your general undergraduate program, your scholarly interests, and your career goals. It may also be helpful to supply the faculty member with a copy of your resume and personal statement. The more specific the letter of recommendation is, the greater weight it tends to carry.
Most schools require that you take one or more standardized admission exams. The GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT are the most common. As part of the application requirements for most graduate schools, applicants take the GRE. It is strongly encouraged that you take the GRE in June between your junior and senior year. This will ensure that you meet early deadlines for fellowships and graduate school applications and would allow you to retake the exam if you wanted to improve your scores. If you plan to apply for fall semester admission, you should take the GRE no later than the October or December exam dates. Some programs and universities also require the GRE subject test. The best time to take the subject test is in December of your senior year.
Preparing for the entrance exam
Begin preparing for the entrance exam at least 6 to 8 weeks before the exam date. Try to study at least 30 minutes a day. This is more effective than cramming before the exam.
The following sites have test dates, study tips, sample questions, and other information on the GRE and other entrance exams.
General information and registration bulletins are available in Mood-Bridwell Hall, Room 235. Call Sue Smith, Testing-Certification Coordinator, for more information at 863-1476.
Some notes about financial aid
Remember to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1 of the year you plan to attend graduate school.
Talk to fellowship contacts at Southwestern University for information on national fellowships you may apply for.
FinAid, the Financial Aid Information Page is a web site you must spend some time browsing! It's a very informative and comprehensive guide to financial aid. FinAid also provides links to 5 scholarship and fellowship databases. Just fill out a profile form online and receive a listing of financial aid you are eligible for. Search them all for free!!! Databases include:
- SRN - Scholarship Resource Network
- ExPAN Scholarship Search
Contacts for Graduate Programs
Dr. Fred Sellers
Dr. John Delaney
Dr. Alisa Gaunder
Dr. Bob Bednar
Dr. Jimmy Smith
Dr. Romi Burks
Dr. Tim O'Neill
Dr. James Kilfoyle
Dr. Kerry Bruns
Dr. Melissa Johnson
Studio & Art History/
Prof. Mary Visser
Dr. Therese Shelton
Dr. Suzanne Chamier
Dr. Rebecca Sheller
All Department Faculty
Dr. Don Parks
Dr. Jacqueline Muir-Broaddus
Dr. Kerry Bruns
Dr. Elain Craddock
Dr. Dirk Early
Dr. Maria Lowe
Dr. Helene Meyers
Dr. Rick Roemer
Dr. David Olson
Dr. Daniel Castro
Dr. Kathleen Juhl
Latin American Studies
Dr. Eric Selbin
Dr. Bill O'Brien
See the Fellowships web site here.