Graduate and Professional School

Graduate and Professional School...Explore the Possibilities

Top 10 Things to Consider when Deciding on Grad/Professional School
Application Process
Research the School or Program
Entrance Exams
Personal Statement
Evaluating Schools
Glossary of Terms
General Tips
Timeline for Preparation
Discuss Options 

Top 10 Things to Consider When Deciding On Grad/Professional School

Deciding whether to attend graduate school requires self-assessment. In addition to identifying your interests, skills, values, goals and objectives you need to be able to answer these questions:

  1. Do I need graduate/professional school to be able to enter the career I wish to enter?
  2. Am I prepared and motivated enough to continue going to school right now?
  3. Am I sure enough of my career choice to go to graduate/professional school immediately?
  4. What are the advantages of obtaining a graduate/professional degree?
  5. What type of preparation do I need at the undergraduate level? Are there prerequisites needed? (Don’t wait until you have received your degree to think about this question.)
  6. Does the program I desire require work experience?
  7. Are students with bachelor degrees in the same field as mine, successful in the graduate program I plan to attend and do they like their program? (Ask to talk to someone in the program.
  8. Are students successful after completing the higher level degree program I plan to enter?
  9. What are the employment statistics for people graduating with the degree I am seeking?
  10. How do I know I will like the career field I have chosen? (Internships and shadowing may be good ways to learn about the career I think I want.)

Good luck as you focus on these questions and make the best decision before you invest your time, energy and money.

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Application Process

Most programs will require all or some of the following:

  • Application for admission (some schools require one for the Office of Admission and another for the specific department)
  • Transcripts (official documents) from each of the schools you have previously attended
  • Official entrance exams scores
  • Application fee
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A statement of your goals and/or a resume
  • Statement of your philosophy regarding your area of interest
  • Application for assistantship
  • Interview-either in person or by telephone
  • Written essay

It is important to be aware of application deadlines. Most are due between January and March. Do not wait to apply until the deadline date.

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Research the School/Program

Once you have made the decision to further your education, what do you do next? Your college library, the internet, current faculty and staff and Professional & Career Development Services may have information to help you decide which school is right for you. Some of the factors to consider when choosing a school include:

  • Is this an accredited program?
  • How competitive is the program—do you have a good chance of being admitted?
  • Does the school have the specific program you want?
  • How many schools do you wish to apply to?
  • Is the geographic location suitable for you?
  • Can you afford the program? What are you options financially?
  • How many years will you need to commit to the program?
  • Are there possibilities for an assistantship?
  • Do you want to attend full time or part time and is it possible to choose either way?
  • Are you still planning to work while enrolled in the program?
  • Should you apply to more than one program?
  • What types of resources are available? (Equipment, etc.)
  • Are other students happy with the program? Ask for names of current students that would be willing to talk to you.
  • Of the schools that you have looked at, what are the faculty currently doing (research, etc.) and are they approachable?

Request information from the schools that you wish to consider. Schools may respond more quickly to a phone call or an e-mail request. Be sure to review the school's website for information.

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Entrance Exams

The program you choose will dictate the entrance examination you must take. Be sure to check with the schools for specific program requirements.

The following exams should be taken in the spring/summer of your junior year:
LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) - Medical School

The following exams should be taken early in the fall of your senior year:
GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) - Business Administration and Management Schools
GRE (Graduate Record Examination) - General examination for most programs OTHER than business, law, medical and pharmacy (may be required for certain programs)
MAT (Miller Analogies Test) - Acceptable in some schools and programs
PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) - Pharmacy programs
PPST/Praxis (Pre-Professional Skills Test) - Teacher education programs
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) - Normally required for students who do not have English as their native or first language

It is important to take entrance exams early enough for the results to be mailed to the schools of your choice prior to their application deadlines. If you have been out of school for a time and have now decided to apply, check application deadlines and plan tests accordingly. Review valuable exam resources.

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Personal Statements and Application Letters

A personal statement of application letter is often required as part of the application process. Each programs' requirements may differ, but the purpose of the document is to represent your life experiences and qualifications in the best possible way and to demonstrate your writing ability. Review general guidelines about personal statements.

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Evaluating Schools: A Checklist to Make It Easier

There are different areas to consider as you make the decision whether to go to graduate school and what type of program is best for you. Review this check list and evaluate what is best for you.

Why should I go to graduate school?

  1. Professional Advancement
  2. Professional Enrichment
  3. Financial Rewards
  4. New Areas of Endeavor

How are you evaluated for entrance?

  1. Written Entrance Exam: MAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, Other misc.
  2. Personal Interview
  3. Recorded Interview
  4. Grade Point Average
  5. Resume
  6. Work Experience
  7. References


  1. Is it an accredited program?
  2. How competitive is the program? Do you have a good chance of being admitted?
  3. Does the school have area of specialization that you want?


  1. How many?
  2. Qualifications?
  3. What other types of resources are available?

Length of Course

  1. How many credits/years?
  2. Transfer credits?
  3. Thesis vs. seminar paper—thesis selection committee appointed or selected?
  4. Comprehensive examinations? What kind? (written/oral) How are they evaluated?

Can you afford the program? What are your options financially?

  1. Tuition waivers?
  2. Assistantships? How many are available? What kind? (teaching/ administrative/research) How much is the stipend or money that you will receive?
  3. Loans (federal, supplemental, school)
  4. Employer assisted tuition
  5. Scholarships? Are the scholarships within the school or from outside resources?

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Glossary of Terms

The following terminology can help you as you go through the admission process.

Early Action: Early Action is used primarily in highly selective schools. It follows the same application/notification timetable as Early Decision but allows an accepted student until May 1 to accept or decline the offer of admission. This action also allows a student to receive an admission decision early in his/her senior year, well in advance of the normal response dates in the spring. The student is not obligated to enroll at this school.

Common Application: Common Application lets a student complete one application and photocopy it to send to other schools. You should check to make sure that the schools to which you are applying will accept the Common Application.

Spring/Summer Admission: Spring/Summer Admission allows a student to begin either in January (spring) or May (summer) rather than the more traditional fall term.

Deferred Admission: Deferred Admission allows an admitted student to defer or delay enrollment for either a semester or a year. Some schools require a deposit to hold the student’s place for an upcoming term. If you defer admission, you cannot attend another school during the time off, unless you notify the school in advance and obtain their permission.

Open Admission: Schools that offer Open Admission will admit all students who apply. These schools provide remedial or developmental help for students who enroll with academic deficiencies.

Wait Listing: Wait List is a term used by institutions to describe a process in which the institution does not initially offer admission but leaves hope for the student to be admitted at a later date. If placed on a wait list, you will want to know when you can expect to be notified of the final status of your application. Also, can they tell you where you are on the wait list?

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General Tips (from

  1. Remember that a spell-checker won’t catch everything!
  2. Use a thesaurus only if you find that you’re repeating words often, and then don’t choose words whose definitions you don’t understand.
  3. Be careful with business school essay questions. They can be very tricky. Plan your answers accordingly.
  4. Make several copies of the application when you first receive it to use as drafts.
  5. Always keep a photocopy of the application you sent and proof of your postmark.
  6. Give recommendation-writers information about yourself — transcripts, personal statements, a great paper you wrote for them, anything to bolster your case and remind them of deadlines if necessary.
  7. Don’t lie or plagiarize, EVER! Honesty is indeed the best policy as you do your applications.
  8. Do several drafts of the application before you do your final (that’s where the extra copies come in handy!).
  9. Essays provide your opportunity to shine. They should not be used to repeat information found elsewhere on the application.
  10. If at all possible, enjoy the process! View the application preparation as a time of self-discovery and look forward to the chance to talk about how you’ve grown and what you’ve learned over the past 20+ years of your life. The more fun you are able to have with your application, the greater your chances for success!

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Timeline for Preparation

  • Junior Year (Spring/Summer)
    Discuss graduate plans with faculty and advisor
    Identify schools offering programs that interest you
    Request application information from schools
    Review exam registration materials for the appropriate required entrance exam
    Take early entrance exams
  • Senior Year (Early Fall)
    Take the required entrance exams
    Write your personal statement or application essay
    Request transcript copies
    Identify three people for recommendations
  • Senior Year (Late Fall/Winter Break)
    Complete applications; most are due between January and March (review program information for specific dates)
    Apply for financial aid
    Fine tune your resume
    Prepare a portfolio if needed
    Practice interviewing
    Visit campuses
  • Senior Year (Spring)
    Decide which program to accept; obtain promises for financial aid in writing
    Send letters to schools you have declined
    Write thank you cards to your recommendation writers and those that have helped along the way
  • Celebrate and share the news

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Discuss Options

Meet with Professional and Career Development Services staff to discuss your options, create a customized timeline, review application materials and for assistance with your resume and personal statement. Schedule an appointment today.

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University News
April 23, 2018
The Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee has expanded its footprint this year with a community-friendly assortment of food vendors and attractions outside of Drake Stadium.