Attending graduate or professional school is a major undertaking that requires planning, research, and a significant commitment of time and money. Most people pursue an advanced degree in order to gain entry to an occupation or to improve one’s opportunities in a career field. Others hope to make more money or pursue a goal of life-long learning. Whatever your reasons, there are many issues to consider.


The following information can help guide your planning and research as you consider graduate or professional school.

  • Make sure your career and educational goals are well-thought out. Think seriously about why you want to pursue an advanced degree. Examine your interests, values, abilities and motivation. What degree and what program will help you attain your goal?
  • Are you prepared for the hard work, long hours of study, possible loss of income and additional financial debt?
  • Do you have the appropriate educational background and/or experience to be admitted to your desired program?
  • Are you thinking about graduate or professional school only because you don’t have another plan?
  • Visit with faculty at your institution to learn more about graduate programs in their discipline.
  • An appointment with a career coach in the Pomerantz Career Center may help you explore your options.
  • Visit the UI Graduate College website to learn about programs at Iowa.
  • Consider taking CCP:2001 Graduate Admissions 101 to help prepare your applications.
  • Are you considering graduate school for a career in higher education? Research salaries on the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources site, as well as through Chronicle Data.


The next step is to research graduate and professional school programs in order to identify schools that will meet your academic needs.

  • The following web sites will assist you in identifying programs. They contain a wealth of information about hundreds of programs and the issues involved in deciding to attend, applying and steps to assure success: Visit program websites to learn about faculty as well as current and past students.
  • Are you interested in applying to graduate school outside of the United States? The following websites will assist you in identifying programs.
  • Schedule a personal visit to learn more about a program and the university community.
  • Investigate the costs and the kinds of financial assistance available from each school. 
  • Create an Application Tracking Grid - note the tuition, special aspects of the program, opportunities for experience, exam requirements etc. 
  • Once you have identified programs to apply to, make sure you record what parts of an application the school wants and have all the parts compiled:
    • Transcripts - Your academic record proves how academically disciplined you are and whether you have the pre-requisite courses for admission,
    • Test scores - Standardized tests function as a part of a weighted admissions formula or a cut-off score for applications. Regardless, scores predict how likely you are to succeed during your first year of graduate school.
    • Statement of Purpose or Intent - Your essay(s) demonstrate your motivation, fit for the program, and writing skills.
    • Letters of Recommendation - Recommendations provide a 3rd party perspective on your soft skills, personality, and likelihood of success.
    • Fees - Vary by school.  Sometimes waived if you are low income (Pell Grant Recipients, etc) or are in a special program (Peace Corp member, McNair Scholars, etc).
    • Portfolio or Audition - If entering a creative field, they want proof of your skills and may ask for writing samples, pieces of artwork, videos, or a live audition.
  • Applying to schools abroad can be a different process. These links help you understand the pros & cons of graduate school outside of the United States and to expect a different admissions process, education system, and cultural adjustment.


Once you have generated a list of potential schools, determine the application requirements for each program.

  • Contact schools to request application materials and determine deadlines.
  • Prepare for and take the required admission test:
    • GRE - Graduate Record Examination
    • LSAT - Law School Admission Test
    • MCAT - Medical College Admission Test
    • GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test
    • PCAT - Pharmacy College Admission Test
    • DAT - Dental Admission Test
    • OAT - Optometry Admission Test
  • The University of Iowa Evaluation & Examination Service provides coordination and administration of many national standardized examination programs. Some are administered via computer, some are paper-based, and some are both. Visit their website for more information.
  • Request letters of recommendation and transcripts
  • Write your personal statement - Tips for Writing Your Statement of Purpose
  • Keep records of your applications
  • Prepare for a personal interview if necessary


Junior Year - Research

  • Consider enrolling in CCP:2001 Graduate Admissions 101 1 s.h., an online course offered through the Pomerantz Career Center covering "Preparation for graduate school application and admissions process; graduate entrance examinations, how to select a graduate program, graduate school applications and personal statements, securing a graduate assistantship, and graduate school interviews."
  • Clarify your interests, set tentative goals and start looking for programs
  • Understand the differences between master's, professional and doctoral programs
  • Determine what you want to study and for how long
  • Meet with faculty members to learn more about advanced degrees and begin to cultivate references
  • Seek relevant employment, service, internship or research experience
  • Start to create a long list of disciplines and programs that interest you; use program websites to help you get started, request brochures and attend live or virtual open house event
  • Identify the application timelines and note deadlines for each program 
  • Begin to research financial aid and deadlines at each of the programs
    • Contact Honors at Iowa to learn about scholarship competitions that include institutional endorsement
  • Consider geographic preference, curriculum, competitiveness, cost, reputation, public vs private, research/internship/practicum opportunities etc.
  • Talk to friends and family for their perspective; speak with current students and/or alumni of programs you are interested in
  • By the end of the year, hone your list of schools/programs to 6-12 including some that are reach programs, some that you have a 50/50 change of admission, and some you are fairly certain you will gain admission into.

Summer Before & Senior Year - Prepare & Apply

Entrance Exam Preparation (3-6 months before applying)

  • Schedule your entrance exam and leave enough time to study and retake it if you do not do well
  • Allow yourself 3 months prior to the test date to prepare
  • Prepare via practice tests, flash cards, work books, online materials and/or courses. A few examples include:
    • PHIL:3902 Workshop: Analytical Skills for the LSAT 3 s.h.
    • PHIL:3904 Workshop: Analytical Skills for the GMAT 3 s.h.
    • PHIL:3906 Workshop: Analytical Skills for the MCAT 3 s.h.
    • PHIL:3908 Workshop: Analytical Skills for the GRE 3 s.h.
  • The following sites provide information on test preparation services: KAPLAN Test Preparation

Application Preparation (3 months before application due date)

  • Create a schedule of deadlines
  • Begin crafting your personal statement 
  • Have Career Coaches and Academic Advisors, mentors, faculty and/or the Writing Center provide feedback on your essay
  • Meet with recommender
  • The following resources may be helpful when writing admissions essays:
  • Follow the application directions explicitly, and have someone familiar with you (and the application process) review your application before submitting
  • Wait for schools to contact you about interviews once you have applied

After Application Submission

  • Prepare for interviews
  • Wait for acceptance letters and prepare for campus visits
  • Continue to investigate all need and merit-based financial aid options
  • Continue to engage in activities that enhance your application and apply to gap year programs and jobs as a parallel plan
  • If you are wait-listed, be patient; let the program(s) know that you are still interested in admission and continue to engage in activities that enhance your application

Funding Resources

Is a Gap Year Right For You?

Do you want or need to take a year or two off before applying to graduate school? Do you need a break to figure things out before continuing your education? Use this time strategically and productively! Build skills and gain experience to improve your candidacy.

There are many types of Gap year experiences for you to consider, such as: 

  • Fellowships
  • Service Programs
  • Jobs/Internships
  • Experiences Abroad

More information about these experiences can be found here