Preparing for Graduate & Professional Schools
Continuing your education beyond your bachelor's degree is a big decision. There are lots of factors to consider, from cost and location to whether the advanced degree is necessary for your chosen career path. The Career Center is here to support you as you determine if graduate school is necessary and find programs. We can also answer questions about application materials, entrance exams, and letters of recommendation. You can start this process at any time by taking a look at our Graduate School Planning Handout or, for more detailed information on continuing your education at a UC Campus, review the UC Office of the President's guide to Graduate Studies at UC: "What's Next?"
The Graduate and Professional School Team
Once you've determined graduate or professional school is in your future, know that there is a network across campus to support you on your journey! The Career Center provides individual support in appointments and invites Graduate School Admissions Representatives to campus to share more about their programs and how to stand out as an applicant throughout the year. The Academic Resource Center offers tutoring and assistance with writing personal statements and writing samples. The Health Professions Advising Center provides information and application assistance to students considering careers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, and other allied health fields. Remember that faculty, TA's, graduate researchers, as well as many staff have attended graduate school and can share more perspectives and experiences that may be useful as you consider your options.
Is graduate school right for me?
What You Should Know Before Graduate School
An important first step before deciding to pursue further education is to think about your career goals. What jobs are of interest to you, and what are the qualifications you will need? You may find that an advanced degree is required for entry-level positions. You may also find that an advanced degree is necessary for later stages, but that entry-level positions in your field of interest focus more on experience than education. If you are still considering a few career paths or are not sure how to find out what requirements are, you could wind up wasting time, money, and energy in a program that may not be the best fit for your career goals and interests. If you are needing support in this process, the UCR community is here to help:
- Meet with your Career Specialist to discuss your interests and goals, as well as how graduate school may fit into them.
- Talk with UCR Faculty and Graduate Students about their work and their decision to go into academia/research.
- Get involved with undergraduate research. There are many opportunities and you can learn about them at the Undergraduate Research Office, and find current research opportunities with faculty at the Undergraduate Research Portal.
- Talk to masters and doctoral level Alumni working in business, education, or industry and ask if they would take the same path again.
- Faculty make admissions decisions, not the people working in admissions offices. Speak to faculty about what they look for in prospective graduate students, especially if you would like a seat in their next MA/MS or PhD class.
- Talk to family and significant others about your desire to continue your education. Even if they never attended college, they will be able to help you understand the kind of financial and emotional support you can expect.
Misconceptions about attending graduate school
- I need to pursue a graduate degree to find any kind of job in the sciences or psychology. This may not be true. While some career paths in the natural and behavioral sciences require post-graduate education, many do not. Most science and liberal arts fields have career paths with only undergraduate training.
- Since I don't have much experience, but I am a successful student, a good strategy is to go to graduate school to better equip me for the job market. Many students find after earning a graduate degree with no experience, it is actually more difficult to find a job.
- Grad school is a great way to increase my earning power. The impact of education on salary varies widely by industry, so while this may be true for some careers, it does not apply to all situations. On top of that, the cost of attending school and lack of income while you are enrolled could outweigh the potential earnings even with the degree.
- My family and friends say that I should go to grad school now, while I am still in the "study mode." There is no research that suggests that grad students do better immediately after completing their undergraduate degrees. If you are the least bit "burned out" on school, imagine how you will feel three, four, or five years from now. The same is true if you are feeling at all uncertain about your chosen area of study. It is better to take time away and know that you are interested in furthering your education than to go straight into a program that you later find out does not appeal to your interests.
- My undergraduate GPA is really not good enough for Medical (Law, Dental, Pharmacy) School, so a master's degree will help "fix" my GPA. Most professional schools consider ONLY undergraduate records when making admissions decisions, so even an amazing graduate GPA will not make an impact. You may increase your competitiveness by gaining more experience or enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program. Contact admissions officials before you invest in a graduate program.
Finding a program that will meet your needs
Search online databases for grad programs:
- PHDS.ORG is a cool site that allows you to define your search according to major, diversity, financial support and number of other variables. It is highly customizable and will provide an interesting and personalized search.
- US News & World Report ranks graduate programs each year. Remember that there is a certain subjectivity to rankings and that the retirement or transfer of two or three faculty could change the face and ranking of a department overnight.
- Petersons.com good place to start your search, The My Peterson's Planner feature organizes and expedites your search. A flexible and robust search engine allows you to search by discipline, state, and degree level.
- GOOGLE, BING, and YAHOO. Seriously, there is no substitute for a comprehensive search engine and great search terms like, "graduate programs biology" or "How do I choose a graduate program in computer graphics." Use your imagination and devote some time to surfing for info.
Attend the Career Center's Graduate and Professional School Information Day Fair to learn more about programs of interest and speak with admissions representatives to learn how to stand out in your applications.
Professional organizations and accrediting organizations are great source for information. These organizations often review graduate programs to ensure that students graduate with the skills needed to be successful in that particular field. Medical schools must be accredited before they admit any students, but law schools, counseling programs, and others do not. Applicants who graduate from non-accredited programs may be less competitive than those who do. As an example, APA.org will give you a list of all accredited doctoral programs. The American Economic Association not only lists programs, but resources for preparing, post-grad compensation, and job prospects. ExploreHealthCareers.org gives substantial capsules of careers related to advanced degrees in the health sciences. Try the professional organization in your area of interest.
Once you have decided that graduate school is in your future and found programs that will suit your needs, you will start to notice that each school has a different application, including deadlines, fees to apply, and how many letters of recommendation you need. Find a method that works for you to stay organized and on track. The most common application pieces are:
- An application form. Some schools may have a departmental AND institutional application that are required to complete your application.
- Transcripts. Typically your unofficial transcript will be accepted as part of your application, and your official transcript will be needed before enrolling.
- A Personal statement or statement of purpose. The application reviewers will want to know why you have chosen this career path and how the particular program will help you reach your career goals. The Academic Resource Center and your letter writers can help with this process.
- An application fee. Fees vary by program, but often can be waived if you apply early or reach out to the admissions representatives.
- A Financial Aid application. Most schools now use the online FAFSA and use this information when determining eligibility for need-based funding.
- Letters of Recommendation. It is common to need 3-5 letters of recommendation. Each program may have different requirements regarding who can write them (faculty members, TA's, supervisors, etc.). If you are taking a year off and would prefer to receive letters before you graduate or shortly after, Interfolio can maintain these for you online.
- A personal or telephone interview. These are more common for doctoral programs, but not required by most Master's programs.
- Test scores. Depending on the field and program, entrance exam(s) may be required as part of the application. If an exam is required, keep track of the cost to take the exam and to send your scores to the schools. Plan ahead to give yourself enough time to study and receive your score before the application deadline. Below are the most common entrance exam websites:
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE - General and Subject Tests may be required)
- Miller Analogies Test (MAT)
- Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Dental Admission Test (DAT)
- Optometry Admission Test(OAT)
- Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
Funding my degree
The tuition and fees tends to be higher for graduate programs than for undergraduate programs, and typically the tuition for an in-state public institution is lower than that of a private or out-of-state public institution. Programs that focus on research may have institutional funding associated with on-campus employment, such as teaching assistants, research assistants, and graduate assistants. In addition to direct income to you, they may also cover some or all of your tuition and fees. There may also be fellowships and scholarships offered by the department, university, or from external sources like the National Science Foundation.
Some programs offer limited or no financial support, which may mean that you will need to take out loans. Remember that while undergraduate loans may be subsidized, loans to pay for graduate education are unsubsidized so interest begins accruing immediately.
Regardless of if you know if you will obtain funding, it is a good idea to complete the FAFSA to ensure that you receive the aid you are eligible for.