If you are interested in graduate school, you should carefully consider how it will help you attain your personal and career goals. Graduate degrees are often required for employment in some fields. For example:

  • Careers in higher education
  • Careers in psychology, social work, nursing, and secondary school teaching, which require professional licensing
  • Careers with a laboratory-science component or fieldwork.

You may pursue a graduate degree as a way to change careers or seek advancement in your job. Or you may go to graduate school simply for the love of the subject matter and your wish to pursue it in greater depth.

There are many good reasons to go to graduate school, so make sure you have one. Some students go to graduate school for the wrong reasons-they have not chosen a career, or they think that a graduate degree (regardless of the field) means they will make more money when they graduate. Graduate school is not the place to figure out what you want to do with your life. It is too expensive and time consuming.

You should begin with an honest period of self-assessment where you clearly define the reasons why you want to go to graduate school and how it will help you in your career aspirations.

Graduate schools consider a number of factors in their admission decisions. Assess your credentials to see if you are a competitive candidate.

Traditional Criteria
Your undergraduate GPA and your GRE or GMAT scores are the traditional criteria used. Schools are looking for students in the top third of their class with above average (and sometimes well above average) GRE scores. If you have a 2.0 GPA, then you do not have a good chance of getting into most graduate schools.

GPA in Your Major
Graduate work is specialized study in a single field, therefore your performance in your major may be more indicative of your ability to succeed in graduate school than your cumulative GPA. For example, a chemistry major might have a very high GPA in their major and a lower GPA outside of it, which is okay. Schools might also focus on your performance in your junior and senior years as more representative of your abilities.

Research Experience
Research experience is of critical importance in the sciences. Schools will consider your research experience as one way to evaluate your candidacy. The awarding of research assistantships may be based on the quality and extent of your undergraduate research.

Whether you like it or not, your performance on standardized tests is critical to your chances of admission and to your chances of getting a scholarship. You should be as prepared as possible going into these exams because your competitors for a place in the entering class certainly will be.

Senior Thesis
Your senior thesis should be a showcase of your very best academic work, and it could reflect your ability to perform at the graduate level.

Letters of Recommendation
These should be from professors in your department who are familiar with your academic abilities.

Personal Statements/Statements of Purpose
Personal Statements provide an opportunity for you to communicate that you are a focused, dedicated student who has clearly thought through your decision to go to graduate school.

Include relevant work experience, internships, volunteer work, extracurricular activity, academic honors, and awards.

Schools are looking for something outstanding and distinctive-for evidence that you can perform high-level, scholarly work, whether that is in a lab or in the classroom

The difference in admission between graduate school and law school is that graduate school admission is often a far more personal process. Your application goes to the academic department to which you are applying, and the department accepts or rejects your application, not the admission office.