What You Will Need
Once you've decided what you want to study and prepared for the application process, you are ready to apply. You will need these materials:
- Letters of recommendation
- Standardized test scores
- Statement of purpose/admissions essay
- Financial aid application/materials
Review each program’s list of requirements and deadlines to make sure you have everything. Even within universities, graduate application requirements can differ by department. Call their admissions offices with any questions.
Researching and Selecting Graduate Schools
Going to graduate school can be a good option for your academic, professional, and personal goals, but first things first—how do you know which program is right for you?
- Self-assess: Why do you want to attend graduate school? What types of career paths are you planning to pursue? What values, skill sets, environment, and relationships will help you thrive as a student and professional? These are key questions to ask yourself when starting your graduate program search. GECD Career Development Specialists offer career appointments to address questions just like these and help you assess your goals—set one up on CareerBridge if you’d like someone to bounce ideas off of or learn about other factors you may have not yet considered.
- Allow enough time: For such an important process and decision, waiting a few weeks before application deadlines to get started will not do you any favors. Allow at least one year before you apply to review websites, gather information, set up standardized exam times, and reach out to individuals who could provide insight into your graduate school options. Take a look at the Application Timeline to understand the big picture of applying to graduate school.
- Know your industry: So, what exactly do professionals in your chosen career path actually do every day? Interview individuals in the field you are considering—current students and recent alumni perhaps will be able to reflect to most accurate information regarding career paths and the nature of the field. Ask if you can shadow them for a few hours. Ask if they had it to do over again, would they choose the same path. More resources about informational interviews can be found in Chapter 2 of the Career Development Handbook.
- Track your exploration: Cast a wide net for your search—start with broad keywords for your internet searches, take a look at programs overseas, read up on schools you may not have heard of before. Yes, rankings can be helpful to get the research ball rolling, but there are countless elements to what makes a program the right choice for you. Go to the websites of at least 20 to 30 schools and do a little reading. As you learn more about each program, gather your data in a compare-and-contrast spreadsheet with the name of each option in one column and your most important factors (location, cost, potential advisors, student support mechanisms, institutional culture, etc.) across the top. What you find may surprise you—after this in-depth research you may determine programs and schools to be of much greater interest than previously thought, and, conversely, programs originally high on the list may lose their luster.
- Collect firsthand experiences: What does it feel like to be on that college campus? If you don’t do a campus visit, you could be unpleasantly surprised when you show up for orientation, and by then it's too late. Your graduate school will be your home for up to the next 8 years—ask yourself: Will you be comfortable with the physical and cultural environments? Are the facilities up to snuff? Will you feel at home there? You’ll be able to know this if you can see for yourself. Speaking with students currently enrolled or recent graduates can also provide you with answers, so draft a short list of questions, get in touch with them (you may be able to find some contacts through the MIT Alumni Directory), and request a few minutes of their time. Have them be entirely candid with you, since what you hear may surprise you and be quite influential in your decision-making.
Overall, this is an opportunity to decide what is important to you. Prioritize your wants vs. your needs to make well-formed choices about your next steps.
Top Criteria to Consider when Selecting a Graduate Program
Consider what programs will be the best match for you, based on your career interests/goals and the degree you will earn. Some aspects to consider are:
- Quality of the program
- Course offerings in your area of interest
- Department and faculty strength and reputation
- Faculty/student ratio
- Program costs: tuition, fees, books, supplies, and living expenses
- Time to completion of degree
- Internship or field-work opportunities
- Quality of research facilities, laboratories, and libraries
- Financial aid resources
- Career success of recent alumni
- Connections with alumni
- Degree requirements: credit hours, comprehensive exams, thesis, fieldwork
- Geographic location
- Years of experience suggested pre-enrollment