Graduate School Guide
Deciding to attend, looking at and applying to graduate and professional schools can be very different from your undergraduate experience. Often, more focus is placed on the department or program you are interested in, as opposed to the school. Here is an overview of some things to anticipate and assist you in applying to graduate or professional school. To help navigate this process, make an appointment today with a career development specialist to talk about your options, put together your application materials or practice interviewing skills. Call (316) 978-3688.
Finding the Right Program
Make a connection! Contact the programs you are interested in and ask questions. If you have the time and resources, visit a campus and talk to current students. Just keep in mind this is your first opportunity to be memorable; make sure to be professional.
Here are additional resources to help you find graduate programs in your field of interest.
- Princeton Review
- U.S. News & World Report (view the annual rankings of graduate programs)
- Guide to the Best Online Master's Programs
- Most Affordable Online Colleges Offering Master's Degrees
- Faculty and research – what is the focus of the program you are applying to? Does it align with your background and future career or research goals?
- Practical experience opportunities – does the program you are considering offer real work experience through teaching, research, assistantships, rotations or internships?
- Cost – graduate tuition is often different than undergraduate tuition. Be sure to ask about any special program such as an in-state tuition, live-on opportunities or employment or internships available to your program. Ask about insurance, a gym membership, meal plans or other types of services that could be included in your funding package.
- Funding – in addition to filling out a FAFSA, apply for department-specific scholarships. Also ask about working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Grader, Research Assistant or other position that would help offset costs.
The Application Process
Be sure to look into each program’s requirements and deadlines. For some programs, you will submit two applications: one more general application to the college or university and a second to the specific department or program to which you are applying. Some fields, such as Medical School or Occupational Therapy, use a national system where you apply once for all programs. Talk to the advisor at your current school, in addition to working with your contact at the school(s) to which you are applying, to ensure you have completed all the steps of the application process. Below are some tips on things that are commonly asked for as part of the application process:
Resumes and Curriculum Vitae – Programs will usually clarify if they want a resume or curriculum vitae or if they will accept either. A resume is a one-to-two page brief summary of your skills, education and experience. A vitae is a longer resume with more detail and a stronger focus on your academic, teaching and research background. Call to make an appointment or stop by during our walk-in hours to meet with a Career Counselor to help craft or provide feedback on either your resume or vitae.
Personal Statements – Also called Statements of Purpose, Statements of Academic Interest, Statements of Professional Goals, or some other title, this document is meant to give the admission committee a sense of who you are, why you are interested in the program, what your long-term goals are and how you are a fit for this particular program. If you are applying to multiple programs, you might be able to draft one generic personal statement to be slightly altered for each program you apply to. If you do, be sure to read admission requirements to ensure you are answering any specific questions a school is asking.
Personal statements can be hard to write, especially when you're getting started. Here are some tips for writing personal statements:
- Make an appointment with our Career Counselor to help talk through your ideas and draft and outline.
- Answer some key questions before you start writing:
- What is the main idea you want the admissions committee to walk away with?
- Why are you interested in this particular program?
- How are you a fit for this program?
- What makes you unique?
- What are your long-term goals, and how does this fit into them?
- What academic, professional or personal experiences are you proud of?
- If it is easier to talk things through, try recording yourself. Then, play back the recording, and type out what you said.
- Have lots of people read and provide feedback about your personal statement.
- Take advice into consideration, but recognize that your personal statement is ultimately yours and should reflect your story and experiences.
Application Essays or Cover Letters – In addition to a personal statement, which is a bigger picture summary of you as an applicant, some programs will ask you to answer specific essay questions. Make sure you follow directions, answer the question(s) asked and stay within length restrictions. Other programs, which include teaching, assistantship or internship positions, may ask for a cover letter. If you are able to, find and review the job responsibilities or position description. Focus on what experiences, skills and traits you have that align with the position you are applying for.
Letters of Recommendation/References – Each program differs on how it handles references. Some will simply ask for contact information, some will ask for a free form letter, and some will provide a specific form or template for a recommendation letter. When you consider who to ask to be a recommender or reference, consider people who will be able to knowledgeably talk about your skills or abilities. Although prestigious or well-known faculty can be helpful, be sure that they are able to speak specifically about why you would be a good fit for a program. Always ask your recommenders if they are willing to act as references, and keep them updated on where you are applying. Finally, plan ahead, and be sure to give your references plenty of time to complete a recommendation letter or form.
Entrance Exams – Certain disciplines require entrance exams. Many (but not all) programs require entrance exams. Be sure to check to see which, if any test is required for your program. Sometimes programs will list a specific score as a cut off, but often programs will simply include your score as another piece of your application to be considered. Below are a list of entrance exams and links to more information:
- GRE (Graduate Record Examination) (WSU's Counseling and Testing Center offers workshops to help students prepare for the GRE.)
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- DAT (Dental Admission Test)
- OAT (Optometry Admission Test)
Writing Sample – If the program you are interested in asks for a writing sample, be sure to select something you feel is your best work, not necessarily the work you got the highest grade on. Ask if there are specific guidelines for the type of sample you submit. If there are not, consider choosing something that not only shows off your writing skills, but also your analytical skills in a field that is relevant to your program.