Graduate/Professional School Plan

Evaluating Your Options

Do the research

  • Petersons Guide - This guide assists you in finding the schools which offer your program. It is arranged by graduate program. Each school's listing will give you the following information: address, degrees offered (M.A., M.S., M.B.A., M.Ed., PhD, etc.), enrollment numbers, applications received and percentage of those accepted, entrance requirements, financial aid offered, and contact person.
  • Graduate School Guide (free to all students) - It is a very good resource to use if you need to stay in a particular state for graduate school. Each school's listing will give you the following information: address, programs and degrees offered, tuition, and contact information.
  • Check graduate school rankings, although keep in mind that these are very biased and should not be taken too seriously. U.S. News rankings can be found at

Obtain graduate school materials

  • It is essential that you have a catalog from the schools and programs of interest. However, preliminary information and applications are online, particularly with larger schools.
  • Request application and financial aid materials at the same time you request the catalog.

Narrow down your options

  • Read the materials you've received from the schools to learn about their class sizes, specialties, entrance requirements, and faculty research areas.
  • Do a reality check of your qualifications and the schools' admissions criteria. For example, if a program requires a 3.5 GPA and a 1300 GRE score, but your GPA and test score aren't quite that high, you probably shouldn't apply to that school. You must be realistic when applying to graduate school; otherwise, you'll suffer disappointment and rejection as well as waste money by paying application fees.
  • Use personal fit rather than rankings to select your top choices. Just because a graduate program is ranked number one by U.S. News and World Report, does not mean that it is the program for you.
  • Narrow your choices of schools and programs down to about ten (three is minimum). Apply to these schools early in your senior year, preferably in your fall semester.
  • Pay close attention to the entrance requirements of a school as well as the specialty of the programs. It doesn't hurt to include one or two schools which are a "sure thing." These include schools that have score and GPA requirements which are far lower than your own and schools that accept far more applications than they reject. By checking the number of applications received versus the number of acceptances, you can ascertain how competitive a program is and the likelihood of your acceptance. (This information is available in the Peterson's Guides.)
  • Consider applying to similar programs that aren't exactly what you want. For example, if you desire a career in clinical psychology, think about applying to some counseling psychology graduate programs. It is very difficult to get into clinical psychology programs, while counseling programs are much less competitive. Likewise, if medical school is your desire, consider some medically related Masters and PhD programs. They are much easier to get into, and you can reapply to medical school at a later date.
  • Visit your top two or three choices, if possible. You learn so much more about a school and its graduate program when you are actually there.

The application process

To whom are you applying?

  • In most cases, you must apply to the graduate college of the university rather than to the department directly. You must be informed about what degree you seek and in what program or major department (meaning, you are pursuing an M.A., M.S., a PhD, counseling psychology, theater arts, education, etc...). Remember, there are differences between degrees, programs, and major departments.
  • In some rare instances, your application will be sent directly to the department. Just be sure that you double check address information in the college catalog and on the application be sure that you are sending your information to the correct place.

Strengthening your application

  • Schools do look at things besides your entrance exam scores and your grade point average. Make sure your essay is very strong.
  • Involvement in some activities and leadership positions while at UE is very important. Schools will appreciate a 4.0, but they also want someone who can interact with their peers.
  • Get some practical experience. Plan to do an internship prior to your senior year, so it appears on your application. Try to find a summer job in the career field in which you wish to pursue.

Graduate admissions essay

What do schools seek from the graduate school essay? It depends! Most schools want to know that you've researched the graduate program and it fits well with your future goals.

  • This essay must be PERFECT. Make sure you have several people proofread this essay before you send it. Current professors, employers, or career service staff are usually willing to be proofreaders. Not only must it be typographically error free, but it must be grammatically correct.

Taking the Appropriate Test

Make your decision

If you have been accepted to more than one graduate program, you must decide which one is right for you.

  • Pay close attention to the number of students accepted into your program. (Some are very large and some are very small - which is a better fit for you?) Also, compare the number of applicants versus the number of acceptances. This can tell you the popularity and competitiveness of a program.
  • Pay attention to the specialty of the program. Each graduate school catalog usually has a career section to let you know what types of careers their graduates end up with. Do these fit your career goals?
  • Discuss career goals with faculty of the graduate program to see if their curriculum fits your needs. Faculty will be honest with you - they are not paid to do recruiting. If their program is not a good fit for you, they'll tell you.

What happens when you're not accepted into a graduate program or not accepted into the program you really want?

  • If you are careful about selecting schools which admit students who are academically like you, then it is more likely that you will be accepted into a program. Likewise, applying to a large number of graduate schools betters your chances of admission.
  • Sometimes, however, students are not admitted to a graduate program. There are many reasons for this, including failure to do any of the above, as well as a bad fit between the program and the student. Don't give up hope. There are many things you can do to attempt to make your second shot at graduate school a success.
  • Ask an admissions counselor or a faculty member at the graduate school why you were not accepted into the program. Ask them to be candid, as you would like to correct whatever is wrong.
  • Consider taking additional undergraduate courses to either raise your GPA, or to fulfill graduate program entrance requirements which you are lacking.
  • Sit out of school a year or two. Get a job that is in the area you wish to pursue. The real-life experience will help you the next time you apply to graduate school.
  • If your admissions test scores are the reason you didn't get accepted, consider retaking the test. Make sure you practice and study for the exam this time. Don't just assume that it will be easier the second time around.
  • If you are admitted to a graduate program that's not exactly the one you want, consider going anyway. This is an excellent way to get some graduate courses under the belt, as well as a new start on your GPA. The extra courses may help you score better on graduate admissions tests, and spending one year in a graduate program could lead to a great GPA. Be sure to reapply for the actual program you want early in the spring semester, so that you have your fall grades to send with your application.

Graduate/Professional School