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Student in a medical lab

Graduate School Preparation

Interested in pursuing a graduate degree? PREPs is committed to helping you successfully navigate the application process.
What is Graduate School?

Graduate school is a more concentrated course of study that offers advanced programs beyond a bachelor's degree. Their programs normally focus studies in specific disciplines in order to upgrade your education, professionalism, and career opportunities. Normally, those who enroll are specifically seeking for opportunities in higher education and to pursue academic interests and careers offered beyond the normal four-year degree.

Is Graduate School Right for Me?

In some disciplines, getting a graduate degree is necessary to find a career. However, going to graduate school depends on what career you want to pursue, how much effort you're willing to put into achieving higher education, and if you have the time to be dedicated to your studies. Entering a graduate program is an important decision that can affect your life anywhere from 1 to 7 years, so it shouldn't be taken likely. Be sure you are aware of all your options, what certain graduate programs require, and if you're prepared to support yourself financial, emotionally, and mentally.

What do I want to pursue in graduate school?

The majority of people expand on their bachelor's degree by applying to the same-name programs, or something very similar. These are students who want to immerse themselves deeper into their fields and specialize in a specific discipline. However, that's not necessary. Although it's important to keep in mind that every graduate field has its own requirements, many students take graduate school as the opportunity to change their career paths or fields of study.

Explore

Depending on what your professional, educational, and career goals are, you may have to choose between a master's degree program, a Ph.D program, and a graduate certificate. By conducting research on your intended career and the opportunities available in your field, you must determine which degree will be most useful to you.

 

 

  Master's Degree PhD Graduate Certificate
Definition An academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study A research-based, individualized path of study, often times leading to careers in academia and advanced research A higher education qualification at the same level as a bachelor's degree but more limited in scope and taking less time to complete
Time to Complete 1-3 years 3-5 years 1 semester-1 year
Application to Career This degree is career-oriented and has a wide range of professional and academic applications Vast knowledge on subject, allows you to be qualified for high positions in lab research, academic, or analysis-based studies Provides supplemental education needs for professional positions
Benefits Requires less time and money; will set you apart from those with only Bachelor degrees, allows specialization within a field; works as a method to change career paths Provides academic and research tenure positions at universities; helpful in a competitive job market; fulfills requirements for professor positions; work requires original research that contributes new information to the field; meaningful contribution to field of study Quick gain of specific professional credentials in order to advance careers; building information on undergraduate degrees; gaining new skill sets to modify or change careers; serve as a gateway to a master's degree program
 

Prepare

Once you have determined that graduate school is right for you, think about how you can start preparing to be a competitive and qualified applicant for the graduate program of your choice. Some programs are best applied to once you've gained some work experience, but many are open to students right out of their undergraduate studies. Here are a few ways you can prepare for graduate school in your undergraduate years.

Do your best

The simplest way to set yourself up for successful admission to grad school and a smooth career transition is simply by working hard during your undergraduate years. By being diligent, earning good grades, and participating on and off campus, you'll attract fans--people in your network who want to help you succeed in your next steps.

Benefits of doing your best work include:

  • The organizations you've been volunteering or interning with will want to hire you if they can.
  • Your professors, club leaders, and peers will want to give you a good reference. They will take an interest in mentoring you, as an extension of themselves. They'll want you to become part of their legacy.
  • You'll have great experiences to share at your school--or job--interviews. Your accomplishments will be reflected in your resume, statements of purpose, and cover letters.
  • You'll have gained the skills and confidence you need to succeed, in school and in future jobs.
Take advantage of undergraduate life

Take advantage of being an undergraduate student and stand out! College and university campuses are full of resources and opportunities to help you succeed.

Classes:

Choose your classes wisely. Take classes based not only on requirements for your bachelor's degree, but also on what you'll need to know for grad school. For example, macroeconomics classes are prerequisites for some international affairs programs. Find out what your priority schools require before you arrive, and work on those classes now. Use your classes to learn the language, current trends, and major players in your field.

Professors:

Visit your professors outside of class. Going to office hours helps professors get to know you by name, and gives them a chance to mentor you their field. They will have connections at graduate institutions, can introduce you to programs you might not have known of, and talk to you about the realities of life in academia. Professors who know you better as a person will also be more willing to write letters of recommendation for your grad school applications.

Clubs:

Take on leadership roles among groups of people doing things you are passionate about--from media (radio stations and campus papers), to environmental activism, to pre-professional groups. Participating in a campus club is a unique opportunity to learn and lead--not easily replicated after graduation. It also demonstrates commitment to and passion for an issue, cause, or field.

Service-learning opportunities:

After you graduate, you'll have opportunities to volunteer or serve. As an undergraduate, you have the valuable opportunity to serve while being guided by a syllabus, a professor, and relevant readings.

On-campus jobs

Campuses are full of interesting paid jobs. Landing one of these jobs as a student is typically much less competitive than it will be after you graduate. Some examples: run a literary journal or edit a section of the campus paper, assist a professor with research, serve as a resident assistant for the school year or summer session, or work in departmental offices where you have close contact with professors.

Events and speakers: 
Become conversant in your field by participating in events and listening to guest speakers who play a role in your future world. This may be a wonderful opportunity to begin networking with experts in your field.

Fellowships only open to undergraduates: Fellowships can pay for graduate study, or fund a gap year experience before grad school. If you can, start looking as a sophomore or junior, and prioritize those that require student status to apply. This is yet another reason to become familiar with your career center.

Study, volunteer, and travel abroad

Most campuses have an office of study abroad with staff who can alert you to opportunities to learn in another country. International experience allows you to learn or test your foreign language abilities, hone cross-cultural skills, and see the world in a different light. No matter what your future field, expanding your horizons by spending time abroad will help bring you closer to your goals.

Gap year opportunities: Taking a year off of school, either before your first year, or some time before senior year, is another way to get the experience you need to be successful in grad school. Examples include participating in a year of service (AmeriCorps, for example), or serving as a volunteer in a foreign country through a third-party service or network.

Document your accomplishments: In addition to getting involved during your undergrad years, it is a really good idea to document your accomplishments. By keeping track of what you have done, you can later remember achievements better, be more specific in interviews about them, and show examples of what you have done rather than simply describing them. Besides, by doing the work now you'll save time later when you're deep into applying for schools and jobs!

Challenge yourself: Take on experiences, responsibilities, and tasks that you may not yet be good at, or that take you out of your professional comfort zone. If you study journalism, use a writing assignment to tackle a topic you are unfamiliar with. If you are an engineering student, try an anthropology or poetry class (or vice versa). You might discover something new about yourself that will help drive your next steps in a direction you hadn't predicted. Your worldview will expand, and you will set yourself apart from other students in your field.

Network

Building relationships is of key importance during your college years. The value of a strong social and professional network is impossible to overestimate, especially in the nonprofit sector. Nurturing new contacts, making your professional and social needs known, and connecting colleagues with the people who can help them succeed--all of these may lead to a successful grad school application or career transition for you. Learn how to network effectively!

Testing

Depending on the university you apply to and your field of interest, you will likely need to consider preparing for and taking one or more standardized tests. Typically these tests are completed in your senior year before you begin applying for graduate study, but always be sure to check with the universities you may apply to in order to determine their specific requirements and deadlines.

Most, if not all, graduate programs use the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) as their standardized entrance exam.  There are two GRE exams: The General Test and The Subject Tests. Be sure to check the graduate field and programs you're interested in to see which exams they require, how high you need to score on them, and how much you'll need to study to do well. Many sources recommend taking the graduate entrance exams starting during your junior year of college, just to make sure you have time to work at it if need be.

GPA

As a general rule, the majority of graduate programs will require a 3.0 GPA out of your undergraduate studies. However, depending on how competitive the program is, the GPA requirement may be lower or higher than that. Be sure to take note of the GPA requirements of graduate schools/programs that interest you so you're floundering at the end of your senior year trying to take extra classes to raise your GPA.

Timeline

The following is a basic timeline to help you stay on track for graduate school. We recommend using it as a general guideline. 

Freshman Year
  • Fall: Visit PREPs to discuss your goals, take a personality assessment & create a parallel plan. Discover clubs & organizations that fit your interests. Get involved!
  • Spring: Research summer volunteer activities and experience-based opportunities Visit PREPs for assistance with your summer plans.
  • Summer: Participate in a volunteer activity- preferably one that will give you experience in your field of interest Consider taking a summer class or two.
Sophomore Year
  • Fall: Get involved or gain a leadership role in one of your organizations or clubs Visit PREPs and make sure you are on track with your parallel plan Keep your grades up!
  • Spring: Lock in a summer opportunity related to your field of interest Take a GRE practice test online Research & visit graduate schools of interest.
  • Summer: Choose a GRE preparation option, such as a tutor, a course, or a book Participate in an internship or volunteer activity Consider taking a summer class or two.
Junior Year
  • Fall: Register for the GRE Visit PREPs for information on letters of recommendation, personal statements and more Get to know your professors Take a research class.
  • Spring: Take the GRE Meet with your advisor & make sure you're on track Choose schools and begin the application process Contact PREPs and schedule a Mock Interview.
  • Summer: Complete your Personal Statement and have it reviewed by PREPs Consider taking a summer class or two Take the GRE (if you haven't already) Purchase an interview suit
Senior Year
  • Fall: Request recommendation letters and transcripts; complete your applications Complete interviews for graduate schools If not attending graduate school, write your resume
  • Spring: Make a final decision as to your plans for the fall Complete your financial aid forms if going to school Have your resume reviewed @ PREPs if job searching Make plans for the summer
  • Summer: Make appropriate living arrangements for the fall If attending school, purchase books & equipment, and attend your orientation program If working, make sure you have a work wardrobe

Apply

Choosing a graduate school can be overwhelming and stressful, but it's important to take into consideration all of the factors mentioned below so that you choose an optimal graduate program. By taking the time to evaluate the credentials, resources, and job opportunities of available graduate programs, you will guarantee yourself comfortable environment and craft a timeline that will help you achieve your career goals.

Career

Picking a program that matches your goals is important. Before you can choose an appropriate graduate school program you need to decide what kind of career you want to eventually have. Be sure you have given this considerable thought, because it is not enough to just know what "field" you want to get into. Try to have an idea of what careers you are open to pursuing and what programs would best lead you down those paths.

Apart from getting on the web and doing some research on the careers available to someone with an advanced degree in your field, the best way to learn about career options is from faculty members or career advisors here at PREPs. Visit one or more of your professors to find out what graduate school in your field involves, and what kinds of career options are available. Our PREPs advisors are more than happy to help you explore career options and graduate programs that best fit what you want to pursue.

Specialization

Graduate programs that offer the same degree are different in terms of the types of training they offer and the type of specialist they can help you become.

If, for example, one is thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, it is necessary to first decide what area of psychology you want to specialize in. There is no Ph.D. in general psychology. Just as there is no Ph.D. in general biochemistry, or general environmental studies, or general history, or general economics, and so on.

When choosing where to apply for a doctoral program, therefore, it is important to understand at the outset that a particular school will offer specialized training in only a specific range of sub-disciplines.

One graduate program in economics might offer expertise in econometrics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic development and planning, and financial and monetary economics. Another program might have its strengths in areas of labor economics, environmental and natural resources economics, public economics, and industrial organization. A doctoral student in either program would specialize in just one area.

Success in actually getting into graduate school can depend to a large extent on whether you pick the right schools and programs based on your particular career goals.

The match between what an individual is looking for and what the program has to offer is an important consideration of most admissions committees. Recruiters reject applicants who fail to show that the match is right, no matter how strong their academic credentials, standardized test scores, and letters of recommendation.

Program Ranking

For some students, a program's ranking is important. They feel that the rank of a program is an indication of the quality of education they will receive and the level of resources that will be available to them, and, in most cases, this is probably true. However, students should be aware of what qualities are used to establish a program's ranking and how those qualities are evaluated. For example, a highly-ranked program may indeed have greater resources available, but may also have a higher cost which may make it more difficult to attend, or a higher student-to-faculty ratio which may actually detract from the educational experience.

School Location

One criterion that may play an important role in the decision of which graduate program is right for you may simply come down to geography; is the program located in an area of the state or country in which you want to live? Be aware that you will be living in this area for an average of 2-6 years or more, depending on if you're seeking a graduate certificate, Master's degree, or Ph.D. You should be comfortable with the location. Some students may, for personal reasons, want to be relatively near their family. Others have a spouse who is more likely to be employed in certain areas of the country.

A good way to get an idea of what the location of a university is like is to take a look at the web site of the city or community in which the university is located. The city web site will often have links to local weather reports, employment opportunities, community businesses, health care facilities, and recreational activities.

Cost and Funding

The level of financial support you receive often depends on the degree you are seeking. It's important to balance how much financial support you collect, how much money you will make if you work a job or get a graduate assistantship, and the cost of tuition and living at the intended graduate school. In order to get an idea of the total cost of making this move, either search the school's website or contact their financial office to obtain a compilation of the average cost of housing, tuition, etc.

Resources that may be offered, either by the university or by the government, include scholarships, loans, short-term university assistance, long-term loans, etc. It is your responsibility to know what is available, what you need, your eligibility, and how to apply for this aid.

There tends to be less financial support for a Master's degree than for a Ph.D. At the doctoral level, it is not uncommon for a university to waive tuition requirements (referred to as tuition remission). In addition to not paying tuition, many doctoral students receive some form of grant, stipend or assistantship. Whether a university is public or private, if tuition remission is available, the likelihood of assistantships (either teaching or research), etc. are all issues to be considered when examining the cost of attending a particular program.

Jobs and Graduate Assistantships

There are many reasons students will need an opportunity to make money as they study throughout the school year or during their summer. Those can include needing to reduce financial strain by making money on the side, gaining skill sets for future careers, networking with organization or institutions that will set them up with internships or jobs in the future, and more. Whatever the reason, it's essential to explore what type of job opportunities the university offers. They can be on-campus jobs, internships, research positions, or graduate assistantships offered by the department you will be studying under.

If you are pursuing a Ph.D, many graduate programs will offer fellowships and research opportunities that will both immerse you in the career field and help you pay your fees. Fellowships are a great opportunity to enhance research skills and start your work in research prematurely, giving you opportunities to collaborate with investigators on possible publications and more!

Student Life

Many students fail to consider this component when searching for graduate schools, but this can be a great resources in terms of networking, getting connected to professionals in your field, adding qualities and associations to your resume, and gaining new skill sets. When searching for graduate schools, see if they offer convocations for graduate students, informational sessions on programs and or careers, graduate student governments, general graduate student organizations, national/international graduate student organizations, volunteer networks/opportunities, department-specific graduate student organizations, and more.

Local Environment, Resources, and Family Support

Graduate school will be a way of life for the next 2-6 years. If you are married, however, your decisions will also affect your spouse and/or children. Some of the things to consider include the availability of child care, disability services, employment opportunities for spouses, health insurance, the local cost of living and the weather, and culture. Other resources to look out for include career service centers, international services, health centers, mentoring programs, and professional organizations.

If possible, try to visit the area and spend some time in the community. Talk to some of the "locals" and find out what's going on in the area and what people do for fun. When you apply to a university or program, quite often they will be more than happy to send you information from the local Chamber of Commerce concerning health care, child care, cost of living expenses and recreation opportunities.

Many students struggle choosing a graduate program that fits their every need, but sometimes finding a program that satisfies every single need isn't possible. Therefore, you must prioritize the qualities you are seeking in the program. By doing so you establish a handful of schools that will at least meet your most important demands.

Writing your CV

  • Learn the differences between a CV and a resume
  • Unlike a resume, a CV focuses on your academic pursuits and emphasizes teaching, research experience, publications, and presentations
  • In the U.S., a CV is appropriate for a person who is pursuing an academic job such as teaching or research positions at a university
What is Included in a CV?

CVs typically range in length from two to ten pages, depending on your experience and include:

  • Your first and last name
  • Physical address
  • Telephone number
  • Professional email address
  • Educational background
  • Awards, fellowships, teaching & research experience
  • Related experiences
  • Publications
  • Language skills
  • Extracurricular activities and/or relevant personal interests
  • Professional associations e.g. The American Chemical Society
  • Your cover letter should accompany your CV as well as any other supporting materials like transcripts or writing samples
Your CV Should NOT Include:

Personal information such as photographs, marital status, gender, ethnicity/race, date of birth, height, weight, age, religion, church affiliation, political affiliation, social security number, or high school information (your CV should focus on your educational experience after high school).

Formatting Your CV

There is no standard format for the layout of a CV. Simply ensure that you format your CV in a manner that is clear, concise, and organized. Here are some additional tips:

Use incomplete sentences to present your information clearly and concisely, as you would in a resume. Instead of writing, "I taught math classes for four years," simply state, "Mathematical Sciences Instructor (2009-2013)."

Maintain consistent structure throughout your entire document. If you use a verb phrase such as "teaching," stick with it, don't start with next phrase with "lead," it should be "leading."

Stick to the style that is most clear and concise. You want your CV to be easy to read. Bullets, columns, bold and italic fonts are all tools you can use to make your CV pleasing to the eye and easy to understand. 

Once you are done writing and reviewing your CV, save it as a PDF if you are submitting it electronically. Otherwise, all the nice margins and fonts may get ruined in the electronic transfer.

For more tips on formatting, check out our sections on cover letters and resumes. Much of the information will apply to CVs.

Personal statements

Most graduate and professional programs require a personal statement as part of the application process. The personal statement is an appropriate place to share your career goals, strengths, experiences, personality, and academic successes and obstacles.

Getting Started

Often time schools require a general, comprehensive personal statement. With the general personal statement, you are allowed maximum freedom in terms of what you write. This is the type of statement often required for medical or law school applications. However, business schools and other graduate schools often ask specific questions, and your statement should respond explicitly to the question being asked. 

Despite the type of personal statement you're asked to write, you need to think of your statement as an opportunity to show how you are unique among all the other applicants. A concise, well-written personal statement is going to carry more weight than one that is long-winded or difficult to read. The following tips will help you craft a compelling personal statement.

Get started by answering the following questions:
  • What is unique or impressive about my life story? 
  • What are my professional goals? 
  • What are my core values? 
  • What is the most compelling reason for the admission committee to be interested in me? 
  • What do I know about the field I am pursuing? 
  • What obstacles, disadvantages, or hardships have I overcome? 
  • How have I involved myself with the community? 

If you need help brainstorming ideas for your personal statement, our PREPs advisors are more than happy to help you get started.

Once you have answered the questions above, begin to fill out the following outline: 

Paragraph I

Begin this paragraph by explaining what motivates you to go to graduate or professional school. You should address some, if not all, of the following questions in your first paragraph:

  • Why do I want to go to graduate or professional school?
  • How does graduate or professional school fit with my career goals?
  • Why do I believe I am an able candidate?

Paragraphs II, III, IV

Your qualifications and participation in extracurricular activities make up the next several paragraphs. This is the body of your personal statement and should answer the following questions:

  • What activities have I participated in that are relevant to my career choice?
  • What are my academic accomplishments, skills, or interests?
  • What have I learned from these accomplishments, skills or interests?
  • What have I overcome? What challenges have I faced? 

Paragraph V

You want your final paragraph to show that you are looking towards your future. Make sure your conclusion answers to these two important questions:

  • In the next several years, how do I see myself evolving?
  • Why will professional or graduate school be an important stepping stone leading to my life's work?

Tips and Tricks

In addition to the information above, the following advice taken from Purdue's Online Writing Lab can also help you craft a captivating personal statement: 

Answer the questions that are being asked. This seems obvious, but if you are applying to several schools, you may find questions in each application that are somewhat similar. Don't be tempted to use the same statement for all applications. It's important to answer every question as specifically as possible, and if slightly different answers are needed, you need to write separate statements.

Tell a story. Create your application so that it shows and demonstrates who you are through concrete experiences, stories, and examples. One of the worst things you can do is bore the admissions committee. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the pack. If you distinguish yourself through your story, you will make yourself memorable.

Be specific. Don't, for example, state that you would make an excellent doctor unless you can back it up with specific reasons. Your desire to become a lawyer, dentist, etc., should be logical and the result of concrete experience that is described in your statement. Your application should emerge as a rational conclusion to your story.

Concentrate on your opening paragraph. The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important. It's here that you either grab the reader's attention...or lose it. This paragraph also serves as the framework for the rest of the statement.

Tell what you know. While being as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field, be sure to use the profession's jargon to convey this information. Refer to experiences (work, research, etc.), classes, conversations with people in the field, books you've read, seminars you've attended, or any other source of detailed information about the career you want and why you're suited for it.

There are certain subjects you should avoid. References to experiences or accomplishments in high school (or earlier) are generally not a good idea to mention in a personal statement for graduate or professional school, focus on something more recent. Avoid potentially controversial subjects (for example, religious or political issues). If your reader disagrees with you, your application may be unfairly scrutinized.

Do your research. If a school wants to know why you're applying to their school rather than another school, do some research to find out what sets your choice apart from other universities or programs. If the school setting would provide an important geographical or cultural change for you, this might be a factor to mention.

Pay attention to the technicality of your writing. Be meticulous. Type and proofread your essay very carefully. Many admissions officers say that good written skills and command of correct use of language are important to them as they read these statements. Express yourself clearly and concisely. Adhere to stated word limits.

Avoid cliches. A medical school applicant who says that he's good at science and wants to help other people isn't exactly expressing an original thought. Stay away from often-repeated or tired statements and stories.

 

Research statements

A research statement is a clear and concise summary of your research and dissertation. Its focus should be on your research achievements, the future direction of your research, and how your research can contribute to the field and the institution to which you’re applying. 

Getting Started

Research statements are often requested by search committees in order for the members to better understand your research.

We suggest you begin with an outline. The outline we've created below is an excellent guide for writing your research statement.

Paragraph I: Introduction

The topic of my research is _________ overarching themes include _________.

Paragraph II: Summary of Dissertation Research

Details of the methods, theoretical foundations and core arguments of my dissertation are _________.

Paragraph III: Dissertation Contribution

My dissertation contributed the following research to the field _________. The publications associated with my dissertation research are  _________. 

Paragraph IV: Future Research

The next research project will be on the topic of _________ and will use the following methods _________. 

Paragraph V: Wider Impact

The wider impact of my research agenda is _________. 

Tips and Tricks

Beware of "I Statements." I statements are not verboten. They just need to be used with care. Notice the difference between the following two statements:

  • "I work with therapists, and help them collect data points from their clients during their appointments."
  •  "The primary challenge facing therapists is the assimilation of hundreds of data points during their appointments."

Stick to one page. In some cases, two pages may be necessary, but longer doesn't mean better. The best statements are clear & concise.

Use basic formatting. No special paper, no special colors. Stick to fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Myriad, Garamond, Calibri, or Book Antique. Put your name and the words "Research Statement" centered at the top of your paper.

Writing Tips

Try to avoid ambiguous references.

When speaking with friends, it's common to overuse ambiguous words like "this", "these", "his", "it", "they", etc. These words have no meaning in themselves, but in conversation the meaning is usually clear from the context. In written text, however, the intended meaning is often not evident to the reader, because there are many possible interpretations of "it" and "this". Even if the item to which you refer is explicitly mentioned in your paper, ask yourself whether there is any chance that the reader might not know to which of several items you might be referring. E.g. for the word "he", were there two or three people being discussed? If so then state the actual name of each; "he" would be ambiguous.

Watch out for homonyms.

Spell checker is awesome, but it rarely catches homonyms. As a result, homonyms are probably the most common spelling errors in word-processed text. Even if you are lazy and let the spell check fix all of your other words, make certain that you know the differences between words like:

it'sits
theirthere,they're
whetherweather
totootwo
sitecitesight
wastewaist
wholehole
farefair
greatgrate

affecteffect
discretediscreet
forthfourth
pastpassed
rollrole
leadled
lielye
throughoutthrough out
seemseam

newknew
illicitelicit
complementcompliment
extentextend
obtainattain
pairpare
personalpersonnel
suitsuite
principalprinciple
bearbare

"But" and "however" are not interchangeable.

The words "but" and "however" have similar meanings, but they are not interchangeable. If you take a grammatically correct sentence containing "but" and replace it with "however", or vice versa, the result will almost always be incorrect, mainly because of comma punctuation. Here are correct examples of how to use but and however:

  • "I like oranges, but I do not like tangerines."
  • "I like oranges. However, I do not like tangerines."
  • "I like oranges; however, I do not like tangerines."
  • "I, however, do not like grapefruits."
  • "I like oranges however they have been prepared."

Use caution with capitalization.

Capitalization is appropriate only for specific, named, individual items or people. For example, capitalize school subjects only when you are referring to a specific course at a specific school: math is a general subject, but Math 301 is a particular course. Similarly: Department of Computer Sciences vs. a computer science department, the president vs. President Bush. When in doubt, use lower case.

The above Writing Guidelines were excerpts taken from Dr. James A. Bednar's article, Tips for Academic Writing and Other Formal Writing.

Interview questions

Below are common interview questions asked of interviewees for a graduate program. 

Graduate School Interview Questions

If you are unsure how to answer any of these questions, check out Step 2 of our Interviewing section for detailed tips on how to correctly answer tricky interview questions.

Questions About You

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What are your two best points?
  3. What are your two weakest points?
  4. What are three things you want to change about yourself?
  5. How do you handle conflict?
  6. Explain your leadership/research/volunteer experiences.
  7. What extracurricular activities are you engaged in?
  8. Which of your college courses interested you the most?
  9. What interests you outside of attending graduate school?
  10. Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?
  11. What do you do in your spare time?
  12. Why did you choose the undergraduate school you went to, and if you could, would you do anything differently?
  13. What do you do to relieve stress?
  14. What course was most academically challenging for you?
  15. If you could pick any three people to have dinner with, who would they be and why did you pick them?
  16. Who are the three most influential people in your life?
  17. How would your professors describe you?
  18. Describe your greatest accomplishments.
  19. Are you motivated? Explain and provide examples.
  20. Tell [Graduate School Name] about a time that you failed at something.

Questions About Your Graduate School Goals

  1. Why do you want to pursue a major in [Insert Major]?
  2. What do you plan to specialize in?
  3. When did you decide this [Insert Major] was a good career choice for you? 
  4. What are your career goals? How will this program help you achieve your goals?
  5. What steps have you taken to confirm that you are pursuing the correct major for you?
  6. What do you think you will like least about graduate school?
  7. What do you think you will like most about graduate school?
  8. Describe any research project you have worked on.  What was the purpose of the project and what was your role?
  9. How will you be able to make a contribution to this field?
  10. What did you do to prepare for the GRE?
  11. How will you handle the stress of graduate school?
  12. What do you think will be your greatest challenge in completing graduate school?
  13. Why do you believe you have the ability to undertake the study and work involved in graduate school?
  14. If you are not accepted, what will you do?
  15. Tell me about your experience in this field. What was challenging? What was your contribution?
  16. How do you intend to finance your education?
  17. What is your philosophy regarding this profession?
  18. What is your concern about the profession?

Questions About the Graduate School

  1. Why did you choose to apply to [Graduate School Name]?
  2. How are you a match for [Graduate School Name]?
  3. Why should we choose you?
  4. Describe your method of learning.  How does this fit with this graduate school?
  5. What aspects of the [Graduate School Name] program are you most excited about?
  6. What aspects of the [Graduate School Name] program are you most concerned about?
  7. What do you know about our program?
  8. Take us through your personal statement.
  9. What schools did you apply to and why those schools?
  10. What do you look for in a good graduate school?
  11. Why do you want to go to school here?
  12. What sets you apart from other applicants?

Current Issue/Scenario Questions

  1. What is the future of a career in [Insert Major]?
  2. One day, a graduate school classmate gives you a sheet containing questions for an upcoming exam. How would you handle the situation and what issues would you consider important in coming to a decision about what to do?
  3. Name a situation where you had to make an ethical decision.  What did you do?
  4. If you are accepted into two graduate schools of your top choice, what would you do to make up your mind?
  5. Tell me about a time when you witnessed dishonesty and what did you do?
  6. Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it.  What would you do differently? Why?