Graduate School—How do I do it?!

By Emily Carle

In today’s world, it can feel like a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. Many students may feel the need to get a master’s degree just to stand out in the workforce only to be overqualified for entry-level positions. Also, many career paths today require a graduate degree simply to get started out. For example, to be a librarian, one must earn a Master’s in Library Science.

The most important step in making a decision about graduate school is research. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Should I Choose Graduate School?

1.      Does my desired career field require a master’s degree?

Go to professional association websites for information about careers in a desired field.

Popular choices

Library Sciences: American Library Association, http://ala.org

Public Relations: Public Relations Society of America, http://www.prsa.org

Communication: National Communication Association, http://www.natcom.org

Journalism: Society of Professional Journalists, http://www.spj.org

Graphic Design: AIGA, http://www.aiga.org

Law: America Bar Association, http://www.americanbar.org

Business: Association of MBAs, http://www.mbaworld.com or American Marketing Association, http://www.marketingpower.com

Higher Education: NASPA, http://www.naspa.org or ACPA, http://www.myacpa.org

2.      What programs should I apply to?

Just like applying for undergraduate admission, many of the same factors apply in graduate school application.

Caliber of the Program: Traditionally the number one starting point in the application process. US News & World Report always publishes the Grad School Rankings of over 1,200 graduate programs in the United States. Their website  lists the top programs in everything from Education to Engineering to Economics. Once choosing a desired program, US News & World Report gives advice on the application to grad school, paying for grad school, as well as information on the GRE.

Degree Requirements: After picking some top choices of programs, do some research and find out what comes along with the degree.

  • How many years?
  • How many credit hours?
  • Extracurricular requirements?
  • Assistantships/Internships?
  • How much research is involved?
  • Master’s thesis?

Again, every university’s program varies, even if it’s within the same career field. Make sure you understand what you want out of it. For example, if a program requires their students to instruct a course, but you don’t want that experience, it may not be the right program for you.

Funding: As in undergraduate programs, finding out how students pay for their education plays a large part in the deciding factor. If you know you want to have funding assistance, look into programs tuition costs as well as their scholarship possibilities. Many programs allow students to work part-time in an assistantship to help cover tuition and other costs.

3.      What steps do I need to take to apply to graduate school?

Entrance Examinations:

Many programs require an entrance exam along with the traditional application. For many programs, the GRE is standard. This encompasses fields like education, social sciences, public affairs, and humanities. Other programs have more specific tests. Business requires GMAT, Law requires LSAT and the Medical field requires MCAT, DAT, or OAT. The Princeton Review outlines what is required for each of these examinations plus it includes links to scheduling the exams as well as resources for students.

Application Requirements:

Typically, the graduate school application is much more in-depth than an undergraduate application, and for good reason. Graduate programs are more selective and after four years of college and a bachelor’s degree, applicants should be ready for a more rigorous application.

The most important aspects of a graduate school application would be the recommendation letters and the essays or personal statements. These two pieces say the most about you as a student; the references tell about you from another person’s perspective while the personal statement should show part of your personality and your desire for graduate school.

  • When it comes to finding your references, make sure you talk to each of them individually and explain your career goals. Also, provide them with a copy of your resume and your personal statement so they know exactly where you are coming from and how to highlight your biggest accomplishments.
  • For an essay or personal statement, check with the program to see if they have any specific requirements. Usually questions are similar, so it always helps to have a rough outline of points and then write one specifically for the program to which you are applying.

Application Deadlines:

Unfortunately, these deadlines vary greatly between programs and schools, so be sure to check with each program you’re considering to see what deadlines they require. For programs requiring an assistantship or internship position, typically deadlines will be earlier.  Conversely, there may be programs you can apply to just weeks before classes start. Whenever you apply though, be sure to call or email the department and confirm your application materials were received.

Waiting for Acceptance:

Many programs will give you a general idea when you should hear back from them in regards to your acceptance. Remember: this is not an overnight process! Often times, schools put together committees to review applications and decide on their top students. Programs can be selective and unfortunately they cannot accept everyone. If you feel like you should have heard one way or the other or the deadline has passed, you can call and check on the status of the applications. Even if they cannot tell you specifics over the phone, they should be able to give you a better idea of a timeline.

4.      Wrapping it Up

The most important part of any graduate school decision is do your research; decide what program you want, where you want the program to be and what you want out of the program. Make sure you visit any prospective school and meet with faculty and current students. There are some places that are perfect on paper but it can be a different story once you’re there!

If you aren’t sure about grad school right now, don’t stress. Take time in the workforce to see if that fits your style. If you’re dying to get back to school once you start a full-time job, it’s time to consider graduate school. Some programs prefer work experience, so it won’t hurt to take time if it’s best for you.

Remember there is no wrong or right decision! It takes a little bit of soul-searching, but it’s all about what is best for you and your career goals.

To start off your research, check out some of CCI’s very own master’s degree programs!

School of Communication Studies:

Master of Arts in Communication Studies

Concentrations: Interpersonal Communication, Mediated & Mass Communication, Health Communication

School of Library and Information Science:

Master of Science in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management

Master of Library and Information Science  

School of Journalism and Mass Communication:

Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication 

Concentrations: Media Management, Public Relations, Reporting-Editing, Journalism Educators, Broadcasting, Newspaper, Convergence.

School of Visual Communication Design:

Master of Arts in Visual Communication Design

Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design

Emily is a senior communication studies major and a marketing assistant for the College of Communication and Information.

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