Career Center

Graduate School Preparation

Choosing a School Applying
Evaluating a Program Action Plan
Additional Graduate School Resources Additional Personal Statement Resources
Pre-Health Career Resources Guide to Writing Personal Statements
Recommendation Forms

Is Grad School In Your Future?

Before deciding on graduate school, either at the masters (2 years) or doctorate level (4-8 years), it is strongly encouraged that you fully explore every aspect of your chosen career. Ask yourself…

  • Should I go directly into grad school vs. taking some time off to work?
  • Do I have the determination to devote the next 2-8 years in a specific field?
  • Will grad school give me greater personal and professional development?
  • Is a graduate degree necessary to gain entry into my chosen career field?
  • Will I advance faster in my career?
  • Is grad school worth the financial investment?
  • Will I have a higher earning potential after grad school?

Choosing a School

Thoroughly explore your options. Talk to your Academic Advisor, Faculty, graduate students, Career Services, and professionals in a variety of fields. Some online resources include:


Entrance criteria vary between programs and can even change from year to year within a program depending on the quality of applicants. Deadlines are usually 7-8 months before your entrance date. Determine all deadlines for graduate school applications, financial aid, and assistantship applications. Send in applications early! Don't worry if you shine in some areas but are lacking in others. Most programs use a trade-off approach to gain an overall picture of an applicant. Criteria for admissions will typically include:

  • Letters of recommendation (3) can really make a difference so think carefully about who you ask. Choose people that can truly attest to your academic or work life. Tips:
    • Ask for letters in person (consider asking 4 people in case one doesn't get finished on time).
    • Provide your qualifications/resume that may include your personal attributes (shows you are well-rounded), goals, and what program you are seeking.
    • Give recommenders the deadlines.
    • Provide addressed envelopes with stamps.
    • Waive your right to see recommendations.
    • Send a thank-you letter to show appreciation.
  • Personal statement. Include your academic and professional background, long-term goals, and how the program will help you meet your goals. Demonstrate what makes you more qualified than other applicants. If you really want to make a strong impression, relate your interests to the research interests of the faculty. Get your personal statement reviewed at the Career Center and UNCW's Writing Center.
  • Field/Research Experience. Plan early (sophomore year) so you'll become invested in the research with faculty who could write recommendation letters for you.
  • Clubs and organizations may be good if they provide you with experiences that graduate schools value.
  • Resume and interviews (usually required by more competitive programs).

Evaluating a Program

Overall Program

  • What will this graduate degree do for me that my undergraduate degree won't?
  • What characteristics distinguish this program from others in the same field?
  • What's the average length of time students spend in the program? Is summer attendance required?
  • Is the program accredited (i.e. certified by a national board)?
  • What opportunities for leadership are provided?
  • Does the program require a thesis, dissertation or passing comprehensive exams?
  • What practical experiences are included in the program? (Ask for examples of internship placements.)
  • What percentages of students attend full time/part time?
  • What is the level of student retention (students enrolling vs. students graduating)?
  • What is the student satisfaction with program? Also consider student gender/ethnic diversity, academic ability, and professional accomplishments of graduates.
  • May I have the names of current graduate students so that I can discuss it with them?


  • What is the size of the faculty and faculty/student ratio? Are the faculty teaching or conducting research?
  • What have faculty members published? How often do they publish?
  • Does the faculty focus on an area that is of interest to you? What is their training?

Financial Aid

  • What is the cost of attending and will you have to pay out-of-state tuition (compare to other schools)?
  • How many and what types of financial aid awards are offered: fellowships, grants, scholarships, assistantships, subsidized (government pays interest while you're in school) and unsubsidized loans?
  • What are the process and deadlines for applying for the financial aid options?
  • What criteria are used for choosing recipients?

Student Life and Campus Facilities

  • What are the social and cultural activities of the department, university, and community?
  • How adequate is the library, computer center, and study facilities?
  • What about cost, i.e., cost of living, health insurance, on/off-campus housing, car insurance, etc.?

Career Information

  • Where are alumni employed? What can you tell me about last year's graduates?
  • What career planning and job-hunting assistance is available?
  • What will be your earning potential?

Action Plan

As soon as you decide Grad School is right for you:

  • Clarify career objectives and determine if graduate school is the best choice
  • Decide what types of programs are right for you and what qualifications are required
  • Get to know your faculty; ask for advice
  • Take your studies seriously and plan to take relevant courses
  • Consider completing internships, volunteering and out-of-class experiences
  • Research graduate and professional school programs
  • Develop your application process timeline
  • Let the Career Services Center help you through this process
  • Continue doing the above throughout this process

Summer Before Senior Year

  • Sign up for required admissions test(s) offered in fall (GRE, LSAT, etc.). If you want time to take it twice, sign up to take it in June after your Junior year.
  • Prepare for and practice to take the admissions test(s)
  • Obtain information and application materials from prospective schools
  • Consult with professionals in the field
  • Research scholarships, fellowships


  • Secure letters of recommendation and compose your personal statement
  • Take the required admissions tests (you may need to retake these)
  • Visit institutions if possible; talk to faculty and graduate students
  • Verify deadlines for admissions and financial aid materials
  • Register with the LSDAS if you are going to Law School (do this 6 weeks before you plan to apply for law school)
  • Order transcripts from all post-secondary schools
  • Complete applications forms
  • Re-evaluate your goals and your progress
  • Request Dean's Appraisals if needed (law school)


  • Submit Graduate School applications (may be earlier depending on date)
  • Submit Financial Aid applications
  • Follow-up with institutions to confirm that they have received your materials
  • Prepare for personal interviews if required


  • Visit campuses, if you have not done so, to see if this is where you want to spend the next segment of your life
  • Evaluate offers and decide; thank your recommendation letter writers
  • Prepare to transition (i.e. find a place to live, get familiar with the area, complete the FAFSA and other financial aid, etc.)


Additional Graduate School Information

UNCW Graduate School
Erudera "Your Path to Education"
Applying to Grad School Beginner's Guide
The Gentle Guide for Applying to Graduate Schools
Financial Aid for Graduate and Professional Degree Students
Peterson's Graduate Planner
Getting Letters of Recommendation
National Scholarships, Fellowships & Programs (searchable database)
Fellowship Interviews 

Additional Personal Statement Information

Write a Personal Statement that Will Knock Their Socks Off
All About the Graduate Admissions Essay

Graduate School - Statement
Examples of Successful Statements
Graduate Admissions Essays
How to Write a Personal Statement (seven online lessons)

Additional Information for Health Graduate Programs

Health Professionals Personal Statement Workshop (Columbia Univ.)
Writing Personal Statements for Health Professional Schools (Michigan State Univ.)

Personal Statement (Johns Hopkins Univ.)
Tips for Writing a Personal Statement (Carnegie Mellon Univ.)
Writing Personal Statements (Univ. of Florida)
Pre-Professional Track: Health or Law (UNCW)