Preparing for Graduate School
University of Miami Guide to Graduate School Preparation
INTRODUCTION Now that you have decided that graduate school is for you, deciding when to attend is a personal decision. Some students go to graduate school directly after finishing their undergraduate degree. Others take some time off before continuing on with their schooling. Even more students first enter the workforce for a few years before returning to the classroom. Some fields, such as nursing and business, recommend gaining work experience before beginning graduate school. Remember that graduate school is not going anywhere—you can always decide to go back to school later on in life. Ask yourself these important questions: • Why do I want to go to graduate school? • How will this advanced degree lead to where I want to be professionally and personally? • Do the programs I am considering require or recommend related experience before entry? • How will I finance my education? GRADUATE SCHOOL TIMELINE If you are certain that graduate school is a step you would like to take directly after completing your undergraduate degree, please review the suggested timeline to help you stay organized. Junior Year: • Research area(s) of interest • Meet with professors and professionals in your area(s) of interest about possible programs • Meet with faculty advisors and academic advisors • Look into programs that match your interest(s) • Determine which standardized tests will be needed, look into test dates and preparation materials and courses • This may be the best time for you to take a review course for graduate school entrance exams • Pre-health students: take entrance exam spring semester of your junior year (MCAT, DAT, GRE, OAT) • Determine when the best time to apply is Summer before Senior Year: • Request applications from selected schools or create an account with online application systems • Begin brainstorming and drafting your personal statement • Update resume • Determine which professors/supervisors could provide letters of recommendation • Start saving funds for application fees, campus visits, and additional travel expenses • Register to take any necessary entrance exams • For many health professional schools, apply the summer before your senior year Senior Year: Fall • Request letters of recommendation and follow up with thank you letters • Request transcripts to be sent to selected schools • Polish personal statement and tailor it to individual schools • Apply for fellowships, grants, and assistantships • Fill out applications and make or save a copy of each before sending • Send applications as soon as possible, before designated deadline (remember that some schools have rolling admissions, so the earlier you turn in your applications, the better chance you have!) Winter • Confirm applications were received and that your file is complete • Fill out the FAFSA form by the priority deadline • Prepare for possible interviews • After receiving acceptance letters, contact schools about scheduling visits • Follow visits with thank you notes to faculty, staff, students with whom you meet • Make your final decision RESEARCHING PROGRAMS Graduate School Information: • Peterson’s Graduate School Guide: http://www.petersons.com • American Universities Home page: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/CLAS/american-universities.html • The Princeton Review: http://www.princetonreview.com/grad/default.asp • U.S. News and World Report: www.usnews.com (user name: firstname.lastname@example.org, password: gocanes) EXAMS Many graduate and professional schools require a standardized test as part of the admissions process. Kaplan offers many test prep courses for a variety of tests: • Kaplan test preparation course info (LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, GRE, DAT, MAT, OAT, PCAT): http://www.kaplan.com/TestPreparation/Graduate/ GRE The GRE General Test is required by many graduate programs and it measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It is given year-round on the computer at ETS-authorized computer-based test centers. The General Test is $160 for individuals testing in the United States, and registration includes some test prep material. The GRE General Test is changing and a revised test is coming in August 2011. • http://www.ets.org/gre • GRE practice exams: http://www.testprepreview.com/gre_practice.htm GRE Subject Tests are required by some graduate programs. Subject tests are offered in the following eight disciplines: • Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology • Biology • Chemistry • Computer Science • Literature in English • Mathematics • Physics • Psychology For more info, go to https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about GMAT Students should plan to take the GMAT in their senior year. The score is valid for up to 5 years. Several months of study is recommended to prepare for the GMAT. GMAT Tutorial Workshops begin periodically throughout the year and run for four or eight weeks, and you can contact Dr. Elisah Lewis in 104 Merrick for more information about fees and/or to register. The Official GMAT Study Guide ($36.95) is available at the UM bookstore or the MBA.com store. • Register to take the exam and take a FREE Sample GMAT Exam: http://www.MBA.com Additional information for students applying to MBA programs: Dr. Elisah Lewis in 104 Merrick serves as a pre-MBA advisor and compiles a Pre-MBA manual each year. Stop by her office or email her at email@example.com to obtain a copy. LSAT Students applying to law school need to take the LSAT. The LSAT has 5 35-minute sections of multiple choice questions that measure reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Additionally, there is a 35 minute writing sample at the end of the exam that does not contribute to your LSAT score, but it is sent to law schools that you apply to. The exam is given four times a year: June, October, December, and February. For 2010, the U.S. LSAT fee is $136. • For more information, visit the Law School Admission Council: http://www.lsac.org/ Additional information for law school applicants: Selecting a law school should be a well thought-out and researched decision. Some tips to help you get started include: 1. Choose an ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law school 2. Review your cumulative grade point average (GPA) and LSAT score 3. Determine the cost of attending law school 4. Select the geographic location of the law school 5. Research the law school options and take into account the curriculum, the faculty, library, research facilities, career office, and student services at each individual school 6. Visit! Review the Pre-Law manual published by the pre-law advisors in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business: http://www.as.miami.edu/advising/prelaw MCAT Most U.S. medical schools, both allopathic and osteopathic, require applicants to submit MCAT scores. The MCAT consists of scores in Verbal Reasoning, Physical Sciences, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences. Many medical schools only accept MCAT scores that are no more than 3 years old, but each school’s admission requirements may vary. For an updated list of requirements, refer to the most recent edition of Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) or Osteopathic Medical College Information Book. The MCAT is offered several times per year, and it is important to register for the exam at least 60 days in advance. • http://www.aamc.org/students/mcat/ Students applying to medical, dental, podiatry, optometry, veterinary, and chiropractic school should consult the pre-medical advising office in 205 Ashe, www.as.miami.edu/premed. FUNDING Graduate school is expensive. Many students use loans, grants, work, and other resources in order to cover the costs. Definitions: Fellowships are typically granted to individuals to cover their living expenses while they carry out research or work on a project. Awards may be single or multiple-year. Awards are usually based on an individual's merit as measured by grades, GRE scores, publications, and letters of recommendation. Assistantships are usually campus-affiliated work assignments (including graduate teaching instructor or research associate) that provide an individual a stipend and often waive tuition and/or other matriculation fees. Grants are most often awarded to cover expenses associated with carrying out research or other specific projects, such as travel, materials, or computers. Loans are available from t he government and other private sources. When researching programs, aid and funding should be important factors to consider and you should investigate what each institution/program offers. Do not forget to file a FAFSA form! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is used to process any and all aid, http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. You can also look into assistantships and fellowships aid. Some may cover tuition and fees, pay a stipend, and even provide health insurance coverage. Resources: • University of Miami Law scholarship links: http://www.law.miami.edu/finaid/ofa_03_01.php?op=3 • University of Miami, Office of Prestigious Awards & Fellowships, www.miami.edu/awards • Cornell University’s free Graduate School Fellowship database: http://cuinfo.cornell.edu/Student/GRFN/ Keep in mind that the most common form of financial aid is the Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan. Students may borrow up to $20,500 per academic year. Interest either must be paid by the student while in school or accrued and added to the principal. Repayment begins six months after graduation, withdrawal from the program, or when dropping to less than half-time enrollment. Some schools offer a reduced tuition price for in-state residents. If you are listed as a dependent on a parent’s tax return, then you may be considered a resident of the state where your parent resides. However, if you take time off between graduation and beginning graduate school and earn an income during that time, this can affect your residency. Make sure you research the residency policy of the schools where you are applying. PERSONAL STATEMENTS Graduate schools often require a personal statement or statement of purpose as part of the application for admission. Some schools request the applicant to address specific information in the personal statement while others leave the personal statement unstructured and the applicant is free to address a chosen topic. The importance of the personal statement varies from school to school and program to program. You would want to demonstrate that you are an applicant that would be a good fit for the program and university. Some information to include: • Demonstrate your eligibility and preparedness for graduate study • Illustrate your purpose in graduate study • Communicate your intended future use of your graduate study • Express your views about your specific research interests • Highlight previous experience and academic work For more information, see our Personal Statement Guide, http://www.sa.miami.edu/toppel/mainSite/assets/pdfs/personalStatementGuide.pdf Expect to have several drafts, and get them critiqued by professionals. • The Toppel Career Center will review the content of your personal statement during walk-in advising (Mon-Thurs 10:00-4:30 during the school year or Mon-Thurs 2:00-4:00 in the summer) or you can call 305-284-5451 and make an appointment. • You can make an online appointment to have it reviewed for grammar at the Writing Center, http://www.as.miami.edu/writingcenter/. RECOMMENDATION LETTERS If you are planning on applying to graduate school, you should also be planning on requesting letters of recommendation. Most graduate programs require at least two letters of recommendation. Important pieces of your application include transcripts, standardized test scores, and a personal statement/essay, in addition to a glowing letter of recommendation. The letter of recommendation can give admission committees a picture of you that the other pieces of your application cannot. Definition of a recommendation letter: a detailed discussion, from a faculty member, of the personal qualities, accomplishments, and experiences that make you unique and suited for the program to which you have applied. Typically, one or more of the people in your network and/or your mentors will write your recommendation. It is important to be consistent in communication with them about your goals and needs. The more familiar they are with your motivation to pursue graduate school and what you have done while in college, the more detailed and specific they can be in your recommendation letter. It is important to request for a recommendation early, as it takes a significant amount of time and, often, yours is not the only recommendation they are writing, and they are all usually needed around the same time. Many graduate programs require that applicants “waive their rights” to view the faculty or employer recommendation letters. Sometimes, letters received directly from the University are more reliable, credible, and valid than letters sent in a sealed envelope from the applicant. If the graduate program prefers letters sent directly from the University, you can utilize the Credentials service provided by the Toppel Career Center on CaneZone. Directions on opening a Credentials file is available on www.HireACane.com: http://www.sa.miami.edu/toppel/mainSite/students/credentials.aspx Who should you ask? Consider professional people who know you best: faculty members, administrators, advisors, internship supervisors, and employers. The person who writes your letter should: • Know you for a significant amount of time (at least one year) • Know the quality of your work • Have a high opinion of you, both personally and professionally • Describe your work and character in a positive light • Know your educational and career goals • Have the ability to write a well-written letter How to request a letter: When you approach a potential letter-writer, it is best to set up an appointment to meet with them. First, ask if they feel that they know you well enough to write a letter of recommendation for you. Pay attention to their reaction. If you sense any hesitation, thank them and ask someone else. Remember the earlier you ask the better. The closer it is to the end of the semester, the more hesitant a faculty member may become due to time restraints and work load. Help by providing information: The person writing your letter can compose a more comprehensive picture of you if you provide the necessary information. Don’t assume they will remember everything about you! Give your recommenders plenty of time and background information. You may want to request a letter at least 8 weeks prior to the application deadline. Helpful resources to include: • A cover note that includes your contact information • Transcripts • Resume • Admissions essay/personal statement • Copies of graded papers/assignments from the course you took with them • A list of schools to which you are applying, due dates for each application with the earliest due date listed first • Copy of the application recommendation forms • An addressed and stamped envelope (if the letter needs to be mailed separately) As the application deadline approaches, check back with your letter-writer to follow-up with them that the letters were sent on time. Contact the graduate program to inquire whether your materials were received. Once you have confirmed that the letters have arrived, be sure to thank those who wrote the letters. Always send a thank you note to each person who contributed a recommendation letter. Finally, once you receive acceptance letters and make your final decision, send an update to your recommenders. They will be pleased to know they helped you succeed, and you may need their help again in the future. FINAL TIPS Applying to graduate or professional school can seem overwhelming, and it is a lengthy, time consuming process. However, planning ahead and breaking it into smaller steps can make it much easier. Organization is very important- keep a Microsoft Excel or Word document with program websites, application deadlines, admissions contacts, recommendation letter writers’ contact information, graduate assistantship deadlines and application information, etc. Some programs require an interview as part of the admissions process. The Toppel Career Center offers 10 interviewing skills presentations each semester and 3 each summer. After attending an Interviewing Skills program a student or alumnus is eligible for a mock interview with a career advisor. This is an excellent way to prepare for your interview with the graduate or professional program. Additionally, Optimal Resume, available on the home page of CaneZone, has a virtual interview component with thousands of questions for different fields. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek help in the graduate school admissions process. Your faculty, academic advisors, and the staff at the Toppel Career Center are here to support you and want you to be successful. For more resources, visit www.HireACane.com.