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If you are in a field of study that requires a graduate degree like law or medicine, or have a particularly strong interest in a subject area and want to enter the work force with a higher degree, you may want to consider attending graduate school after completing your undergraduate work. Typically, graduate schools will evaluate you in five different areas: grade point average, test scores, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and experience. Other factors may also be taken into consideration (e.g. personal interviews, writing samples, portfolios, etc). The Academic and Career Planning Center offers several resources and services to help you decide if graduate school is right for you, explore your graduate school options, and navigate through the application process.

Attending a Graduate or Professional School - Is it for You?

Making the decision to apply to graduate or professional school involves the consideration of several factors and long-term planning. The first step to applying for graduate/professional school is to do some thinking about your reasons for going. Research the career fields that interest you and the requirements for admittance. Admission to graduate/professional school is competitive; be honest with yourself about your chances of getting accepted. Graduate school can be very expensive and a big commitment. It is important that you spend some time thinking about your reasons for wanting to enroll.

Good reasons to enroll:

  1. Your career field of interest requires graduate or professional school
  2. You are interested in a particular subject and want to learn more about it
  3. You want to engage in research in a particular field

Not so good reasons to enroll:

  1. Someone else wants you to pursue a career field that requires graduate/professional school but you are not interested in it yourself
  2. You are afraid to enter the job market
  3. You do not know what else to do

Issues to Consider

  • What are your long-term goals?
  • How would graduate/professional school figure into your plans?
  • Do you have the necessary educational background and skills to elevate your education?
  • Are you prepared for the academic and financial challenges of moving your education to a higher level?
  • Are you choosing graduate/professional school because you don’t know what else to do with your life?

General Steps to Follow

  • Determine your areas of interest and skill to help you investigate your options.
  • Join a pre-professional organization to find other students on campus with similar interests and goals.
  • Find out if the graduate/professional program that you are interested in requires an entrance examination. If so, when should the exam be taken, how often is it available, and what does it cost?
  • Find information (either in print or online) about the specific programs available in your area of interest.
  • Talk with representatives from graduate/professional schools about their programs and admission policies/deadlines.

Factors to Research

  • Through visiting schools’ websites, arranging a campus visit, reading their catalogs, or contacting their admissions offices
  • Faculty: Learn about their academic training, their research interests and publications, their teaching styles, their professional involvement, and the diversity of their student body.
  • Students in the program: Learn about their academic abilities, awards won by students in academic areas, their satisfaction with the program (what they like best about that school and what they wish that they would have known before attending), and the demographics of the student body. Ask the school’s admissions office if they have any students whom you could contact to find out more about their experience at that graduate/professional school.
  • Academic programs: Learn about the school’s accreditation, admission policies, average class size, course offerings, level of academic challenge, degree requirements, faculty mentoring, internship/assistantship opportunities, the average length of time needed to complete the degree, and the job placement figures for its graduates.
  • University/area resources: Learn where the university is located in the community, what the weather is like, what health facilities are available, what is available in terms of libraries, laboratories, and computers, what the cultural and social activities are, what is available in housing, how safe the area is, and what the cost of living is.

Understand the Steps in the Application Process

  • Take the appropriate admission examination (such as the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, MAT, TOEFL). This step is often taken during the second semester of the junior year
  • Contact schools for application materials. Check application deadlines. Follow directions in case a clearinghouse situation is used (for example, AMCAS or LSDAS)
  • Obtain letters of recommendation and academic transcripts
  • Write a personal statement. An advisor from the ACPC can provide assistance
  • Keep track of where you applied, when the application was sent, and when you received a response from the school. Identify a second option in case you are not accepted into the graduate program of your choice
  • Prepare for an interview (if appropriate to the application process). You may wish to consider scheduling a mock interview at the Academic and Career Planning Center to be prepared for the interview

Making a Final Decision

  • Does the program fit your personal and professional objectives?
  • Do you believe that your financial resources will be adequate to complete this program?
  • Can you see yourself living in this geographic area for the time needed to complete the program?
  • Are you able to develop a support system for both your academic and personal life?

Applying to graduate school at USD? Graduate School Application

Need a graduate assistantship? Graduate Assistantship Application