Exploring Graduate School

Exploring Graduate School

Is Graduate School Right for Me?

Do I really love the field enough to obtain an advanced degree?

Take some time to investigate your field of interest before applying. Talk to alumni or professors in the field and read resources on the subject. Enthusiasm about your field will help you keep up with demands of graduate life.

Is an advanced degree required to enter a particular profession or obtain a certain level within the field?

Some careers in medicine, law, psychology, education and science/technology require an advanced degree. A graduate degree can also enhance your earning power—and can influence how far and fast you will advance—in a variety of fields. Determining why you would like to obtain a graduate degree (e.g., more knowledge, increased pay, greater advancement potential, etc.) in the beginning can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration in the end.

Do I have the financial resources to cover the cost of graduate school?

Saving money for a few years, or obtaining loans, grants, fellowships or assistantships, are a few options to pay for graduate school. Undergraduate students should note that, although costs of attendance may be significantly higher, often FAFSA awards will much greater for Graduate study. You may even find certain foundations that provide funding for graduate school in your field. Make sure to inquire about funding through the graduate department you are interested in applying to, as well as professional associations and the SF State's Financial Aid Office.

Do I have the motivation to stay in school for one to seven more years?

Some people find that taking time off after college to "discover themselves" and/or gain work experience helps them to more clearly define their career goals. They may also develop a better perspective on life and have renewed energy to invest in more education. Moreover, some graduate schools, such as business, won't accept students without some prior work experience in the field.

Am I going to graduate school for the right reasons?

Some students want to continue school because they don't feel ready to meet the demands of "real life" or are not clear as to what career to pursue. Graduate school is a large commitment of time, energy and money. Most Bachelor's graduates who continue school because they lack career direction will only find themselves that much more lost when they finish. You would do best to take time to evaluate your reasons for graduate school before committing to a program.

Do I want to go to school full-time or part time?

Some programs require you to attend full-time and it may be difficult to get some types of financial aid without attending full-time. Attending school part-time does allow you to work in the field, earn money and complete your degree, but over a longer time period. You may even work in an organization that is willing to reimburse your graduate school costs, so keep this in mind when looking for employment while you are in school.

Do I have the personal qualities and skills that are needed to be successful in graduate school?

Intelligence, initiative and self-discipline, as well as time management skills, focus and persistence are critical to graduate work. Most graduate programs will require that you maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. The ability to establish good working relationships with fellow students, faculty and internship mentors is also important.

Should I attend right out of undergraduate school, or work a few years?

If you decide to attend graduate school directly out of college, you will most likely still be in 'study mode.' Many students also find it easier to finance graduate school when there aren't other major financial obligations such as marriage, mortgages or children. Undergraduate loans can be deferred when attending graduate school, too. Going to graduate school after a few years of work, on the other hand, allows time to earn some money and gain some experience in your field. Both decisions are good depending on the time, money, experience and energy you have to dedicate to graduate school.

Choosing a Graduate School

Once you have decided to attend graduate school, the next step is to research and select graduate schools you want to apply to. Consult faculty members and individuals who have knowledge of the field you are interested in. Consult reference materials online. Review department homepages on the internet. Email individual graduate departments and ask them to send you detailed information on their program and school. Ask about joining email lists associated with such programs. Visit the schools you are considering. Departments sometimes hold orientation sessions to educate interested students about their program. Make an appointment to speak with a department chair and/or students already in the program.

Evaluating Graduate Schools

Here are some guidelines to use when evaluating which graduate program is right for you:

  • Admission requirements usually include your GPA, work experience, classes, test scores, etc. You may want to choose one or two schools that you feel confident about getting into, and one or two more competitive schools.
  • Look at the courses of the program. Do they meet your educational and professional goals? Is a thesis or final exam required? Is there practical experience or internship included? How long is the program? Programs can vary in credit hours from one school to another.
  • What is the reputation of the school in general and what is the reputation of the program within the field? Is the program accredited, and if so, by whom? How many of the graduates find employment in their field and does the department assist students with this process? What kinds of employment do students find?
  • What is the student/faculty ratio? Are the faculty members accessible to the student? Are the faculty members committed to teaching, research or both? Identify a faculty member who has research interests similar to your own if you are attending graduate school for research in a specific discipline.
  • In what geographic area would you like to attend school? Do you need to be close to family and/or friends? Would you like the school to be in an urban or rural setting? How available is housing?
  • What is the cost of the program? How much financial assistance is available in the form of assistantships, loans and fellowships?
  • Some departments are small, tight communities. Others are impersonal and comprised of mostly commuter students. Visit your graduate programs to determine if they are compatible not only with your learning styles but also with your social needs. Don't overlook the opportunity to contact student organizations to speak with students currently enrolled in your program.

Admission Requirements

Application and Fee

The application should be neatly typed and received by the deadline. If the schools you are applying to have rolling admission, you should apply as early as possible. Even schools with regular admission process like to see applications submitted in advance of the deadline.

Admission Test Score

Each institution has its own requirements regarding admission tests, which can be found in school catalogs or on the school web site. For more on grad school exams visit the SF State Testing Center, HSS 206.External Link

Official Transcripts

Most schools ask that an official transcript be sent directly from the registrar of each college you have attended. The transcript serves as proof of your receipt of an undergraduate degree, the courses you took and grades received.

Grade Point Average

The standard GPA needed for acceptance to most graduate schools is a 3.0. If your GPA is below the admittance standard, work on enhancing your personal statement, admission test scores, or gain some relevant work experience.

Letters of Recommendation

Have employers or professors use the forms enclosed in the application and give them information on what your professional interests and goals are (a copy of your personal statement or resume is helpful). Admissions officers like to see specific examples of different facets of the applicant—statements about your skills, accomplishments and character.

Personal Statement

The purpose of the personal statement is to give you the opportunity to articulate your goals and reasons for applying to graduate school. Plan time to research and create your statement; make sure to visit with a career counselor and/or your professors for feedback.


Some schools require an interview for acceptance. If the school does not require an interview, it would still be advantageous to schedule a meeting with a faculty member or chairperson from the department to which you are applying. This meeting will provide you an opportunity to find out more about the school and program.

Application Timetable

Summer Before Senior Year

Evaluate various possible graduate programs. Call or write schools to request catalogues, or view their homepages on the Internet. Determine test requirements, application deadlines, test dates, etc. Meet with faculty members and career counselors to discuss programs. Sign up for required standardized tests. Prepare for tests by taking practice tests.


Take standardized tests. Write draft statement of purpose. Research financial aid sources, fellowships, and assistantships. Meet with a career counselor to go over the draft of your statement of purpose. Request letters of recommendations from faculty members.


Order official transcripts from Office of the Registrar. Finalize statement of purpose. Mail applications. Even if the deadlines are later, it is good to get the applications in early. Apply for fellowships, grants and assistantships.


Check with all institutions before their deadlines to make sure your file is complete. Contact schools about scheduling a visit and or interview. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you are applying for need-based financial aid, you may have to file a copy of your federal income tax returns.


Discuss acceptances, rejections, and other career options with a faculty member or a counselor at SF State Career Center. Send Thank You Letter Examples to people who wrote your recommendation letters, informing them of your success.

The Graduate School Interview

The graduate school interview is an opportunity for both the school and the student to learn more about each other.

In the interview, the school will determine:

Are your personal attributes are as appealing as your academic record? Do you have the personal attributes to overcome deficiencies if they are apparent in the application?

In the interview, you will be able to:

Sell yourself as a viable candidate Familiarize yourself with the campus, its facilities, and members of the student body Obtain firsthand answers to questions about the school that may not have been answered The interview is an opportunity to "show your stuff" and convince the admissions committee that you are a student who belongs in the program and at the institution!

Questions Asked by Graduate Schools

The following are possible questions asked by graduate schools in an interview: Why did you choose this graduate program? What are some of the reasons that you have chosen this profession? What do you think it takes to be successful in it? Tell me about your experiences in your field of interest. Tell me why we should choose you over the many other applicants. What are your long-range goals? Describe three of your strengths and three weaknesses. What are some of the rewards and some of the frustrations of this profession? What was your most rewarding college experience? How do you spend your spare time? What are your hobbies? Tell me about yourself.

Questions Asked by Potential Graduate Students

Some questions a student may ask in an interview: How many students will be in my entering class? Who selects the thesis/dissertation committee? How much is the stipend? Is the support offered in the form of a teaching or research assistant? What are the provisions for housing, day care, health insurance etc.?

Preparing for the Interview

Some things to consider before going into your graduate school interview: Establish a rapport with the interviewer from the very outset. Walk in with a greeting, a smile on your face and a firm handshake. Make sure to express your appreciation for the interview upon leaving. When interviewing, remember to look your interviewer in the eye, breathe, and relax. If you feel you don't answer a question to the best of your ability, don't let it ruin the rest of the interview. An interviewer's impression will be based on much more than one question! Whenever possible, avoid simply answering, "Yes," or "No." Take time to discuss the pros and cons of the issue in a brief, concise manner that demonstrates your ability to think critically about various issues. Avoid controversial subjects and don't raise sensitive issues. Take time to prepare answers to typical questions that may be asked in an interview. Practicing mock interviews with friends or a career counselor can provide critical feedback and suggestions to refine your responses. Practice makes perfect!

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