Selecting a graduate school is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. Explore the information below, check out the Graduate and Professional School Series, and attend our Graduate and Professional School Fair to assist throughout the process.
Talk it out with your advisor, family member, professor, or the Office of Career Services.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What are my reasons for going?
- Will my career path require a master’s or PhD?
- What degree will I pursue? A master’s or a PhD?
- Am I ready to pursue this degree?
Research Your Field of Interest
Not all schools and programs in a given field are the same. To find your fit, you’ll want to research your area of interest and explore what each school and/or program has to offer. Do your research and don’t forget to use your network to help in your decision. A few factors to consider are whether you want a master’s or PhD: accreditation of the school and the program you’re looking into, its ranking, and the faculty teaching in the program. Resources that can help in your research include: U.S. Accreditation, U.S. News and World Report, the Peterson Guide, LinkedIn, alumni, current professors, and us.
What to Look For in a Graduate Program and School
When you are looking at schools and programs, consider some of the following:
Career Goals - What is your goal and will a graduate degree help you?
Degree Program – What courses are taught? What type of research will you conduct?
Location – Where are you willing to live while attending school?
Faculty – Who are the faculty and what are their backgrounds? What kind of research have they done and how many publications do they have?
Facilities – Are the labs, research and computer facilities up to date? What facilities are available to graduate students?
Reputation - Consider the reputation of the program and the faculty at each college. Another ratings site is phds.org
Campus Environment – What size is the school and the program? Try to visit the campus and speak with faculty, current students, admissions and financial aid representatives. Does the campus environment feel comfortable to you?
Graduate Internships – Are internships a required part of the degree program? Ask where students have done their internships. Does the school help with finding these opportunities?
Application requirements – Find out the admissions requirements (GPA, test scores, etc.) What is the application deadline? Is a personal statement or essay required?
Placement information - Ask to see the placement information for past graduates of the program to find out the placement rate, the types of jobs and which companies graduates worked at upon graduation, and salaries graduates received.
Cost – Create a budget for each school, including tuition, room & board, books, fees and living expenses and determine if you can afford to attend each college you are considering.
Financial Aid – Check with the Financial Aid Office at every school to learn what they offer to graduate students.
Graduate Admissions Test
Check with every college to find out which admissions test is required. This will depend upon the college and the program to which you are applying. Some programs do not require a graduate admissions test. You can find out what is required by reading the application materials for each college or by calling the Graduate Admissions Office.
Make sure you practice the tests before taking them! Practice tests are offered by the web sites for the different tests, as well as books that you can borrow from the Career Services Office. Part of the decision for acceptance to a program will likely depend upon your test scores. Many Kaplan test prep materials have been moved to their online platform and most information is available to download. Visit: bit.ly/kaplanwhatsnext2016 to unlock access to customized content, including an ROI calculator, tips for test day success, a free study guide, and career earnings and options.
- GRE – Graduate Record Examinations which include a general test known as the GRE, subject tests and a Writing Assessment
- GMAT - Graduate Management Admissions Test – for business school applicants
- LSAT - Law School Admissions Test – for law school applicants
- MCAT - Medical College Admissions Test – for medical school applicants
- MAT - Miller Analogies Test - given in the form of analogies; tests general information on a variety of subjects
- TOEFL – Test for English as a Foreign Language and TSE - Test of Spoken English – these tests may be required if your native language is not English
Many graduate admissions tests are offered throughout the year and can be taken on-line. It is good to take them early, to have the scores to submit with your applications or if you want to take the tests over to improve your scores.
Personal Statement Essay
Most graduate schools will ask you to write a personal statement or essay as part of the application process. This is an important part of the application which will be read by an admissions committee in the academic department to which you are applying. The committee members will look for your well thought-out goals for pursuing graduate school and your passion for this field of study. They also will look for anything unique about you that will make you a strong graduate school candidate. It can be the deciding factor in whether you are accepted or not, so always understand the importance of this statement/essay.
In your statement, you can:
- Show how well you articulate your thoughts. Are you a clear and logical thinker?
- Demonstrate your writing ability and your communication skills
- Describe your strengths, interests, skills and experience
- Tell your short and long-term goals
- Tell why you are interested in this specific graduate program
- Provide more information about you as a person, which can give you the edge over other candidates
- Be specific about your research interests and how that school’s program of study matches with your interests
- Explain any noticeable weaknesses in your records
Take the time to write your statement well. Make sure you have a professor read your statement and give you feedback before you submit it. The ESF Writing Resource Center can assist you with writing and editing your personal statement/essay.
Grad School Preparation/Application Timeline
Spring / Summer before Final Undergraduate Year (Note: earlier deadline for Medical School applications)
- Start to identify programs and colleges of interest
- Research college web sites for degree information & on-line applications
- Make note of deadlines for each college
- Determine graduate entrance exam requirements and begin to prepare
- Investigate national scholarships
September / October before you start graduate school.
- Continue to research programs
- Take appropriate standardized tests
- Write draft of personal statement / essay
- Research financial aid, assistantships, scholarships, etc.
- Request letters of recommendation from faculty members and supervisors
- Attend graduate school fairs and events
November / December before you start graduate school
- Finalize personal statement / essay; have it critiqued by a faculty member and/or visit the SUNY-ESF Writing Resource Center
- Complete applications
- Submit requests for official transcripts to the Registrar’s Office to send with your applications
- Continue to research financial aid opportunities
- Submit applications at least one month before deadlines; earlier for colleges with rolling admission deadlines this can help with early acceptance decisions and financial awards
- Write thank you notes to each person who wrote a letter of recommendation for you
January / February / March / April before you start graduate school
- Contact schools to set up a visit and interview with academic departments of interest
- Fill out the FAFSA Financial Form. Fill out any other Financial Aid form the schools require
- Check with all colleges prior to their deadlines to make sure your application has been received and is complete
- Review acceptances / wait list offers
- Make decision and notify college you have selected – send your deposit
- Withdraw applications from all other colleges
Graduate school is expensive and financial aid is an important part of the decision making process. Check with the Financial Aid Office at each college to determine the types of funding available for which you are eligible. Funding is often provided by the academic departments.
These typically offer a tuition waiver or reduction and some level of stipend for living expenses.
Teaching Assistantships: You assist a professor in class or you teach a class of your own. Typically involves working 10 to 20 hours per week.
Research Assistantships: You assist a professor with some type of research. The work is often related to your own research interests.
Other Assistantships: There may be graduate assistantships available working in offices such as Financial Aid or Career Services. You may help students, assist with office work or present to groups of students.
Resident Assistantships: Some colleges offer a stipend, room and board, or both to have graduate students work as assistants in undergraduate residence halls.
Fellowships / Scholarships / Grants
These are cash awards usually given to students with special qualifications, such as academic excellence, athletic or artistic talent. They do not have to be repaid. They typically include a stipend for living expenses and cover the cost of registration fees and tuition. The only requirement is that you typically must keep your grades up and make satisfactory progress towards your degree.
This is not offered at every graduate school. This type of financial aid is for students with financial need. Check with the Financial Aid Office about requirements and to determine if you are eligible if it is available.
A loan is a form of financial aid that must be repaid with interest. There are several different types of student loans, including Stafford Student Loans, Perkins Loans and Plus Loans. Many private lenders offer loans. These are based on pre-set policies and formulas and on the student’s financial need. For more information check out https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/loans
Employer Financed Schooling
Some employers will provide partial or full tuition reimbursement, depending upon the relevance of the course work to the employee’s job and the grades that the person achieves in these courses. If you are employed, check with your employer or human resources department to see if this benefit is offered.
Links-Financial Aid for Graduate School
- Paying for Graduate School
- Paying for Graduate School in New York
- FAFSA - Complete your FAFSA on-line
- Guide to Prestigious Scholarships
- Guide to Graduate School Financial Aid
Law School Interest
In cooperation with Syracuse University, ESF offers pre-professional advising to students interested in pursuing law as a profession. Students interested in pursing a law degree should contact ESF’s pre-law advisor is Dr. Tristan Brown.
ESF’s Pre-Law Program: This site should be your first stop if you are interested in pre-law at ESF. The site offers a timeline and links to helpful resources.
Law School Admissions Council (LSAC): The LSAC administers the LSAT a required test for law school applicants. Information regarding the test, including registration, format, and practice questions, and other helpful law school resources are available here.
Make sure to visit the Graduate and Professional School Fair page to explore institutions that will be here in the fall.
Medical School Interest
Students interested in pursuing a medical degree should contact Dr. Lee Newman, ESF’s advisor for pre-health professions.
Pre-Health at ESF: This site offers information regarding pre-health advising at ESF including frequently asked questions and links to other resources.
Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC): The AAMC administers the MCAT, a required test for medical school applicants. Information regarding the test, including registration, format, and practice questions, and other helpful medical school resources are available here.
Make sure to visit the Graduate and Professional School Fair page to explore institutions that will be here in the fall.
Additional Graduate School Application Information
- About Graduate School: Lots of articles and advice
- Applying to Graduate School
- GoGrad: Preparing for Graduate School
Inspired in part by: Syracuse University Career Services, Cornell Career Services, UC Berkeley Career Center, and RIT Career Services