Plan For Graduate and Professional School
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 advisor 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.
- 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:
- 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
- Clarify your interests, set tentative goals and start looking for programs
- Determine what you want to study and for how long you want to go to graduate school
- Understand the differences between master's, professional and doctoral programs
- Keep in mind that application timelines will differ from program to program
- Meet with faculty members to learn more about advanced degrees and begin to cultivate references
- Seek relevant employment or research experience
- Begin to research financial aid opportunities and deadlines
- 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 events
- Things to consider when applying for schools: geographic preference, curriculum, competitiveness, cost, reputation, public vs. private, research/internship opportunities, etc.
- Talk to friends and family for their perspective; speak with current students and/or alumni of programs you are interested in
- Hone your list of schools/programs
- Start thinking about when you will study for and take your entrance examination
Senior Year - Prepare
Entrance Exam Preparation (3-6 months before applying)
- Decide when you want to take your entrance exam
- Allow yourself 3 months prior to the test date to prepare
- Prepare for admission test and take practice tests
- The following sites provide information on test preparation services: KAPLAN Test Preparation, GRE Test Prep
Application Preparation (3 months before application due date)
- Create a schedule of deadlines, including application deadlines, financial aid deadlines and test registration dates
- Think about appropriate people to write recommendations and contact each with the deadline for submitting references
- Begin crafting your personal statement
- 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 graduate and business schools to contact you about interviews
After Application Submission
- Prepare for your interviews
- Wait for acceptance letters
- Investigate all needs-based financial aid options to supplement merit-based aid
- 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