Preparing for Graduate SchoolThere are really five main steps in graduate or professional school application process. Read below to learn more, and remember that Career Services is here to help you with every step along the way. To schedule an appointment with a career advisor, log in to SoIC Careers.
Decide if Graduate School is right for you
Step 1: Decide if Graduate School is Right for You
Graduate school is expensive, so it is important to give careful thought and consideration to whether or not to (and when to) attend. Even just the testing and application process can be pricey, so the more forethought you can give your decision, the better off you will be. Ask yourself the following questions before making the decision to pursue an advanced degree.
- Have you spent some time really thinking about YOUR vision for your future?
- Are your career goals well defined?
- Are you sure that attending a particular program is the correct path to that particular career?
- Do you need an advanced degree for the career you aspire to?
- Have you done some “hands-on” work in your field of choice that has exposed you to the realities of the field?
- Do you have enough experience to make a graduate degree helpful to obtaining employment after graduate school?
- Are you prepared for the rigor of graduate study?
- Are you excited about the prospect of being a student for several more years?
- Can you manage the expense of a graduate education, including the year(s) of income you will lose?
If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to the questions above, this might not be the best time for you to pursue an advanced degree. If you’re struggling with any of these questions, please contact Career Services.
Identify and research graduate or professional programs
Step 2: Identify and Research Graduate or Professional Programs
As a student in the School of Informatics and Computing, you are likely looking at graduate school opportunities in related fields. You might even be looking into graduate programs offered at Indiana University. The most common graduate degrees pursued by bachelor’s degree graduates from the SoIC are: Information Systems, Human-Computer Interaction Design, Computer Science, and Information Systems Technology. Others go into programs that include Mathematics, Statistical Science, Biomedical Science, Sports Marketing, etc. Whether the program you are considering is on this list or not, Career Services can help you learn more. As you consider a graduate degree, take the following things into account:
Degree Type: Do you plan to pursue a master’s degree, or a PhD? Perhaps you want a Master of Science, or maybe a Master of Business Administration. You might have the opportunity to obtain a master’s degree in one year, while many programs require two. A doctoral degree will take much longer.
Program of Study: What specifically do you want to study? Talking to alumni or other people in your network who have obtained the degree you are considering or who have the type of career you would like can be very helpful, but make sure you talk to more than one. You might find that there is more than one degree program that can get you to where you’d like to go.
Geographic Area: Do you have limitations and/or preferences on where you want to be geographically? Where is it most important for you to attend graduate school? Is there an area of the country that is most beneficial to your research interests? Do you have a personal reason for wanting to be in a particular area?
Admissions Criteria: Are your current G.P.A. and admissions scores between the 25th and 75th percentile for that particular school or program? These are the schools that are in your range. Some will be more of a challenge than others, but a list of schools in this range will give you a target list.
These are the most general questions with which to start. As you get more into choosing specific programs to which to apply you may also want to consider individual program features, flexibility, reputation of program, faculty and their research areas, etc. These criteria are discussed further in Step 4: Choose THE Best Program for You.
Below are some helpful links for researching graduate schools, but current faculty members can also be a great resource. Remember the general criteria above when trying to limit your searches.
Take admissions tests and complete applications
Step 3: Take Admissions Tests and Complete Applications
This part of the process requires a high attention to detail. Keep all your application materials together, read them carefully, and develop a system to track what is needed for each program you are applying to and when you sent your materials in.
Test Information & Registration
The first part of this step is studying for, registering for, and taking your standardized test. Depending on which type of graduate program you choose, you may need to take a different admissions test. It is most likely that you would be required to take one or more of the following:
- GRE Online The Graduate Record Exam is the admissions test used for most graduate programs. The GRE General Test includes three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. You can take the GRE General Test as either computer-based or paper-based. For computer-based, your scores will be available roughly 10-15 days after your test date. For paper-based, it will be approximately six weeks after your test date that your scores will be available. You can find information on test centers and how to register here.
- GRE Computer Science Major Field Test You might also be required to take the Major Field Test for Computer Science, which consists of 66 multiple-choice questions.
- Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) If you plan to pursue a business degree, you might need to take the GMAT.
Preparing for your admissions test is critical. Being familiar with the format and style of the tests and refreshing your skills in writing, as well as analytical and quantitative reasoning will lead to a better score.
The sites below will also offer you information on test preparation courses and programs.
There are two main rules when it comes to applications. Follow the rules and adhere to deadlines. In some cases, the earlier you complete your application is complete, the better your chances for admittance. Although each application is different they typically have four key sections: Application Form & Resume, Reference Letters, Personal Statement, and Transcript Report.
Application Form & Resume The application form is pretty straight forward and will ask you information similar to that of college applications. Most applications are on-line and can either be filled out and then printed or submitted electronically. Most graduate school applications will be found on the individual university sites. In many cases, a resume is required as part of the application. Applications for graduate study are usually due between December 1 and March 1 prior to the fall of admission.
Personal Statement Personal statements vary widely from application to application. Some ask you to respond in point to a series of questions while others provide a list of questions they would like you to cover in a single essay. It is very important that you answer all questions and adhere to the length guidelines provided. The essay is used to determine several criteria including writing style, motivation, program fit, and clarity of career goals. These are all important to graduate institutions in determining the likely hood of program completion. You should write several drafts of your personal statement, and many eyes should review it before you submit it. Make sure a faculty member and/or a Career Services advisor reviews it for you.
Recommendation Letters Choose your references wisely, and make sure you carefully check the instructions for each application to be sure you’ve selected the correct mix of recommenders. Choose faculty members, staff advisors or supervisors, internship or employment supervisors that know you very well and that you know will speak highly of you. Once you decide who you would like to ask to write a letter of recommendation for you, you should ask him or her as soon as possible, preferably in the summer prior to your senior year or in the first month of classes. You should provide each of your recommenders with the necessary forms (filled out properly), an addressed and stamped envelope, and a copy of your resume (unless otherwise instructed in your applications). If your personal statement is completed, include that as well. You should give your recommenders at least one month advance notice for each recommendation, although the first one they write will require the most amount of time.
Transcripts To complete your graduate school application, you will need to request official transcripts from the registrar’s office. It’s important that you allow enough time for your transcripts to be processed, keeping in mind that you’re likely not the only student applying to graduate or professional school in the late fall or early spring. You’ll find all the information you need here.
What now? Once you’ve completed and mailed your applications (or submitted them online), it is important to call the graduate admissions office and in many cases the graduate program itself to make sure that your materials have been received and your application is on file.
Choose the best program for you
Step 4: Choose the Best Program for You
After you’ve negotiated the application process and received your acceptances, it’s time to decide on which program is the best fit for you! Before you applied, you should have narrowed your choices to only those schools you would be willing to attend, so now your analysis should get a bit more specific. Consider the following criteria in making your decision.
- How flexible is the program? Are there opportunities to take elective courses?
- Can you minor in an area of key importance to you?
- Does the program offer opportunities for practical experience?
- What is the student-faculty ratio?
- What is the background/reputation of the faculty who teach in the program?
- Are there faculty members with research areas similar to your interests?
- Is the faculty diverse both socially and academically?
- How accessible and available are the faculty to students?
- Will you have a good sized cohort?
- Is the student body diverse socially, geographically, economically?
- Is the retention rate good? Do most students who begin the program finish completely?
- Are there organizations for students and opportunities to socialize outside of class?
- How up-to-date is the technology? How comprehensive are the labs and other learning facilities?
- Are there specialized research facilities available for graduate student use?
- What types of positions do graduates of the program secure after graduation?
- Where, geographically, are these positions?
- What percentage of new graduates have secured employment within the first year after graduation?
- How will the school and/or program help you with securing employment? What services are available?
Find ways to fund your future education
Step 5: Find Ways to Fund Your Future Education
Funding for graduate or professional school can come from many different sources. The most popular are described below:
Graduate Assistantships: Graduate assistantships usually take the form of teaching or research assistantships. They are typically salaried and half-time (20 hour per week) positions in your graduate department. Ask your department about these opportunities.
Fellowships and Scholarships: These really come in two types – institutional and private. Check with your graduate program for fellowships or scholarships for which you might be qualified. Be sure to do this well before application deadlines as many programs require earlier deadlines for fellowship and scholarship applicants. For information on fellowships and scholarships from private sources, see the link below. But again, look early since application deadlines can be as early as 18 months prior to the time you begin graduate study (that’s the spring of your junior year if you want to go to graduate school right after you complete your Bachelor’s degree.)
Resident Assistantships: Many larger universities hire graduate or professional students to be residential coordinators. This position typically pays a salary and room and board. It’s a great deal, especially if you’re attending school in an urban area. If you’ve worked as a RA as an undergrad, your chances of securing one of these positions is much better. Check with the residential life department at your graduate institution for these opportunities.
Loans: Be prepared. This is one of the #1 ways that graduate and professional students pay for their graduate education. The government allows graduate students to take larger loans than undergraduate students. See the FAFSA website for more information.
College Work-Study: Even graduate and professional students qualify for work-study. The pay is hourly and similar to what you make as an undergrad, but if you have the time, it’s a better alternative to larger loans.
It’s important to fully research all issues related to financing your graduate or professional education prior to entering. Contact the financial aid administrators at any program you are considering to gain a complete understanding of the student aid process at each school. Following are some great links to more information on graduate and professional school funding.
- FinAid: The Smart Guide to Financial Aid At this FREE site, students can find links to other scholarship search services as well as "calculators" for estimating an individual's need for financial aid. General information on the "how-to" of applying for aid is also available and updated regularly.
- FAFSA Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at this site. It's a good idea to prepare this form in advance, since it is used to determine your eligibility for all government including loans and work-study and many non-government aid programs.
- E-Student Loan Shop for the best loans with the site's LoanFinder, which allows users to compare lenders. The site asks for preferences (on payment terms, deferment options, etc.) and uses the information you provide to find matching lenders.
- Sallie Mae Graduate student loan information.
- Collegiate Scholarship Search
- Nationally Coveted College Scholarships, Graduate Fellowships, and Postdoctoral Awards
- US News & World Report