Timing (When Should I Go?)
Be Honest With Yourself
When a person is struggling to decide, you will often hear these comments:
- "I don't know what to do after graduation."
- "I'll apply and use it as a backup in case I don't find a job."
- "I need a Master's degree anyway. I might as well go now."
If you hear yourself saying one or more of these comments, take a step back and re-evaluate. These are indicators that now may not be the time to attend graduate school.
Factors to Consider
As you are making your decision, think of the following:
- The commitment: Depending on your choice of study, earning your graduate degree can take anywhere from 1 to 8 years.
- The cost: Many college graduates have debt to repay from earning their undergraduate degree. Attending graduate school could mean incurring more loans and debt.
- The location: If you decide not to earn your online degree, oftentimes it will involve you moving to another town, state, or another country. Before you submit your application, ask yourself if living in that area will suit your needs.
- The timing: While some people plan to attend graduate school directly after earning their undergraduate degree, some programs actually discourage it. For MBA programs, the average matriculation age is 27. Many applicants have at least 2-5 years of professional work experience prior to entering a graduate business program. In fact, admissions committees consider professional experience a strength rather than a weakness.
Consult Your Professor
Speaking with your professor(s) should be your first resource, especially if you are interested in earning a Ph.D in the same field. Based on their experience, they can give you recommendations and direct you to other resources. It is also important to meet with relevant advisors.
Ask Others in your Field of Interest
Seek out people who already have the graduate degree that you would like to earn. Ask these individuals where they applied, which schools they considered, and ultimately chose to attend, and their thoughts on additional resources or other people they recommend you speak with.
Graduate School Guides
A few directories to help you find the right programs for you.
- Peterson's -- The Peterson’s databases include over 50,000 accredited Schools and Programs, and over 5,000 Scholarships.
- Princeton Review -- Explore featured graduate schools and programs to find those that both match your interests and are looking for students like you.
- GradSchools.com -- You can use the degree finder to search for graduate degree programs by subject area, program format, and location.
- GraduateGuide.com -- Graduate School Guide is a comprehensive directory of professional, graduate and doctoral degree programs located in the United States and Canada.
- Graduate and Professional School Fair - The Cohen Career Center hosts this fair every Fall semester.
- Check LinkedIn - Research where and when W&M alumni earned their graduate degrees.
The Program's Application and Application Fee
It it important to be clear on what the application process will entail for any given program. Familiarize yourself with the application requirements for programs you are interested in, as the process and associated fees will vary from program to program. Do this research early so you will know what is needed in advance. Please note: some graduate schools or admissions offices will offer an application fee waiver to individuals enduring economic hardship, so inquire with the appropriate office to see if this is an option.
Official Academic Transcript
Graduate programs that you apply to will request your official academic transcript. Look over William & Mary's specific options to see how you can order copies and have them sent to other institutions.
All require a non-refundable fee. Before registering for an exam, confirm which test is needed.
- GRE - Graduate Record Examination: The exam used by the majority of graduate school programs. There are two types: the General and the Subject. Check which is required by the program you are applying to. Additionally, some programs do not require it, or make it optional.
- MAT - Miller Analogies Test: The MAT is also accepted by a variety of programs. While in general there is no comparison between the GRE and the MAT, if you happen to have the option of submitting either test score to your institution of choice, it will be worth considering which test will be more to your advantage.
- GMAT - Graduate Management Admissions Test: The exam used for admissions to business graduate schools. Some business graduate schools will accept either the GRE or GMAT. Review the program's requirements before deciding which exam to take.
- LSAT - Law School Admission Test: The exam is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and happens 4 times per year. It takes between 3 to 4 hours to complete. Most law schools also use the LSAC as the centralized application system.
- MCAT - Medical College Admission Test: The exam is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). It lasts 7 and a half hours, so it is recommended you only take it once. On average, the MCAT is given 15 times per year between the months of January and September.
- DAT - Dental Admission Test: The exam is given to determine entry into dental schools, and can be taken at almost any time of the year. An applicant can take the exam up to 3 times, and further attempts require special permission.
Letters of Recommendation
Programs typically require 2-3 letters from individuals who can speak to your suitability for graduate school. It is important that your recommender can write about the quality of your work.
- Who do you ask? At least one professor; a supervisor from an internship or a job; a coach. Some applicants think a big name can help their chances, but that is not always the case. This reference needs to know about your work. Do not rely on a family member or family friend to supply a letter of recommendation. Also, have a back-up in mind in case someone declines.
- When do you ask? You should give your recommenders advanced notice and time to write the best possible letter for you. Ask at least 4-6 weeks before the date you'd like to have it. Remember that other people may be asking that person to write letters of recommendation for them too, which is why it is imperative to ask for a letter of recommendation in advance. Requesting a letter the day or week before is unprofessional and discouraged.
- Should I keep it confidential? Graduate programs strongly prefer confidential letters. It shows your confidence in the strength of application. It also allows your recommenders to impart honest feedback about your strengths, as well as your weaknesses.
- Interfolio is a program that allows your recommenders to submit their letters on a secure online system. It does involve a small fee to use Interfolio, but it's free for your letter writers to utilize.
Also known as the "Essay" or "Statement of Purpose," its importance is often underestimated. Your grades and exam scores are critical and serve as a baseline for the admissions committee. However, the personal statement can tip the scales in your favor when they are unsure whether or not to offer you a place in the program. Likewise, a poorly written statement can hurt your chances of being accepted. Take the time to proofread and find at least one proofreader to review your work before submitting it. Be ready to write several drafts prior to submitting your final copy. Read this article for helpful tips.
- Inquire about graduate and/or teaching assistantships, as well as fellowships, offered by the programs to which you apply. These funding opportunities are most often school-specific and may involve teaching, research, or administrative work. Be sure to check with each institution about the application process and deadlines, which could involve applying to specific professors, departments, or offices.
- For federal assistance and loans, applicants may complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- The federal government offers the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for individuals who will pursue a full-time public service job.
- The U.S. Dept of Education Office of Federal Student Aid provides resources to help you prepare and pay for school.
- For national fellowship opportunities, visit the Charles Center for more information.
- Consider looking at Fastweb for scholarship ideas.