The majority of students who are not accepted into graduate programs have demonstrated a vague vision of their professional and personal future. Studies have shown that students who are not sure why they are pursuing graduate degrees often do not complete their studies – think of all the time and money lost!
Therefore, the very first step in applying to graduate school is to answer the question, "why do you want to go to graduate school?" Your answer will serve two purposes: 1) it helps graduate programs select the most appropriate students and 2) it helps you match your goals with the best graduate programs.
If you are considering graduate school as an option in your future, there are three areas of research you should conduct to clarify your goals and prepare you for the application process. All areas are equally important for achieving success and personal satisfaction in graduate school.
1. Explore yourself! Thorough self-assessment will help you decide whether to go to graduate/professional school and what you would like to study. Contact the Center for Career Services to learn more.
2. Learn about various fields of study. As you narrow your focus, consider that various programs within a field may have very different theoretical focuses. Investigate the research interests and theoretical focus of various faculties. Which perspectives interest you most? You also need to find out what constitutes the necessary degree in any given field. For example, in social work or the arts it is often a master’s degree; whereas in clinical psychology, it is usually a doctorate.
3. Explore specific graduate programs. In gathering information, be sure to focus on finding answers to the following questions:
- What is the typical class size? Are there small seminar classes or large lectures?
- How extensive are the library holdings, computer labs, and other research facilities?
- What is the average length of time for degree completion?
- Can you attend the program part-time?
- Are most of the students in the program working full-time?
- What kind of financial support is available?
- Are graduate assistantships or fellowships available?
- What percentage of recent graduates found jobs within their chosen fields? How soon after their graduation?
After you have identified the graduate programs in which you are interested, e-mail the school or individual department and the financial aid office for more information. Consider consulting with Marymount faculty or alumni who may have been through the graduate school process recently in the same fields regarding their knowledge of the programs you have identified. Also, check with the program to determine if they have a list of alumni who might be willing to talk to you.
Once you have researched these questions, you will be more certain about your direction and better able to choose programs that accurately meet your needs. Completing personal statements on applications will be easier and will reflect your sense of direction. Application reviewers select students whose goals match the goals of the program and with a clear sense of purpose, you are more likely to complete your degree.
While your undergraduate experience may be an appropriate time for self-exploration, graduate school is typically not. By definition, graduate school requires you to focus and develop expertise in a specific area of knowledge. Since completing an advanced program can take up to eight years and may cost many thousands of dollars, it is a commitment that should be implemented with a well-organized plan.