Graduate and Professional school overview

If you don’t get accepted, talk to a career coach to determine the reasons you may have not been accepted, to revisit your goals, and to strategize a new plan. Don’t give up--many students are accepted on their second, third, and even fourth tries after gaining more relevant experience.

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Common Graduate Degrees

Graduate school provides for specialized study in an academic discipline. The two common degrees offered are the Masters of Arts/Masters of Science (MA/MS) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). The MA/MS is normally a 2-3 year program, which includes coursework and either a comprehensive examination, thesis, or practical experience. The Ph.D. may take 4-10 years to complete (depending on the discipline) and the focus is on independent, original research. In addition to these academic graduate degrees, there are professional degrees such as the MBA, MD, and JD.

Components of the Application

Components of the Application
Most graduate school applications require the following:

  • Application – online or hard copy
  • Personal statement (statement of purpose)
  • Letters of recommendation - normally three are required
  • Transcripts – required for all schools attended after high school
  • Test scores – GRE, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, etc.
  • Resume or CV – for some programs
  • Portfolio – for art programs, journalism, film, etc.
  • Financial aid forms

Time Table

Time Table
Most application deadlines fall between December and February of the preceding year (professional programs such as medical and law school have earlier dates), however, leave plenty of time to research programs and gather application materials (16 months is recommended). The following is a guideline:
Spring: Assess whether graduate/professional school is right for you
Research programs by talking with faculty
Open a Graduate Reference Letter Service file (GRLS) if appropriate
Take a free practice GRE (sponsored by the Career Center-check web site for dates)
Summer: Continue to research programs; read research articles, narrow choices
Collect graduate admission materials from programs
Register for the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.
Begin studying for the entrance exam (take a prep course if needed)
Take the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.
Request letters of recommendation from faculty 
Apply to programs
Order transcripts
Draft personal statement (have faculty and career adviser review)
Apply for financial aid
Decisions made
You may wish to make a schedule similar to the one below to track your progress.

Decide on area of study by: ___________    Order transcripts by: ___________
Select programs by: ___________ Begin work on statement 
of purpose/essays by:
Request information from 
Programs by:
___________ Take drafts to faculty for 
review and critique by:
Take a practice test for 
GRE or equivalent on:
___________ Approach letter writers by:
*Deadline for letter writers
Take a prep course or study
___________ Open GRLS file (optional): ___________
Take GRE or equivalent on: ___________ Fill out and complete 
applications by:

*These deadlines should be well in advance of the actual application deadline so you have time to follow-up and make sure they've completed the letters.

Introspective Research to Select a Clear Career Goal

Know your career objective.

The reason for attending graduate and professional school is to prepare for a specific career. Clarity about this is essential for a strong application, including a strong statement of purpose! Knowing your own values, skills, interests and work characteristics is crucial to choosing which fields and programs to pursue. Without this self-awareness, it will be more difficult to make your decisions and complete a program once you're facing the demands of graduate study! If you need assistance, come in for drop-in advising. You can use the Career Center's Career Advice Network (CAN) to find UCSC alumni who work in the fields which interest you. The Career Center library is a good resource to help you clarify your career objective. 

Researching External Resources to Select a Degree and Programs

Resources for finding out about grad schools and grad school programs:
  1. Seek advice from UCSC professors in your field. They are often aware of the top schools in the field.
  2. Talk to faculty, currently enrolled students, and alumni of the graduate programs you are considering.
  3. Use The Peterson's Guide to Graduate and Professional Programs, a comprehensive guide to all such programs in the United States. The guide includes basic information about the university, the faculty in each program, and, most importantly, contact information. Peterson's can be found in the Career Center or McHenry libraries or on-line at: Another on-line resource:
  4. Specialty Guides: For example we have, "The Best Law Schools" in the Career Resource Library. 
  5. Academic journals: The faculty of the top programs are generating articles. Find out where the authors of articles in these journals teach.
  6. Practicing professionals: Where did alumni go to graduate school? How were their experiences? Use the Career Advice Network (CAN) to start making contacts in your field. Set up information interviews and ask these people questions which will assist you in making an informed decision.
  7. Professional associations. They frequently publish guides to graduate programs or have grad school information and guides on their web sites. One source:
Topics to research:
  • Ask people who are in your field of interest what kind of training they recommend you receive and which programs they recommend.
  • Find out about the culture/locale of the programs and schools you are considering. Will you be comfortable in that environment?
  • Know the certificates, licenses, and degrees available in your chosen field and understand the different career options associated with each.
  • Find out if the prestige of a graduate school or program is important in your field.
  • If possible, visit the campuses; visit with faculty who specialize in your area of interest, meet with admissions staff, and sit in on classes.
  • Try to meet your faculty advisor before you make a final decision on admission.
Questions to ask of faculty or students in the programs that interest you:
  • What do you teach here (or what is taught here)? Programs often look the same in catalogs but are often quite different.
  • How will I be matched with an advisor? Will I be working closely with her/him?
  • How well do faculty/ does the department support grad students in this program?
  • What percent of the students in the past five years have graduated from the program? If there is a high attrition rate, what are the reasons?
  • What was the average length of time to complete the degree? What is the mean time to complete class work, research, and dissertation?
  • What does the financial support for graduate students look like year to year? (Some programs front-end load to entice students, and then the financial support fizzles out)
  • What are the job placement rates of graduates from the program in the past several years? What types of positions have they been getting?
  • What is the criteria and process for choosing TAs and RAs?
  • Have any professors in this program won awards or grants lately?