Graduate and Professional School

The Career Center can assist you in your exploration of graduate and professional schools, including researching schools, the application process, and exploring career pathways associated with advanced degrees. If you are interested in discussing graduate school with a advisor, you may schedule an appointment through Handshake (select Appointments under the Career Center tab on the top toolbar), or by calling (616) 331-3311.

The Graduate School Decision

How is graduate school different from undergraduate education?

  • Graduate school focuses on a specific, concentrated area of study; undergraduate studies introduced you to a wide range of subjects and skills.
  • Graduate programs are designed to develop working professionals.
  • Most classes are held in the evening.

Benefits of going to graduate school immediately following undergrad:

  • You are still in “study mode”. You are able to maintain the academic motivation and energy necessary to perform at the graduate level.
  • Some fields require an advanced degree in order to immediately prosper and advance in your chosen career.
  • Many students have fewer personal commitments - such as families of their own or mortgages - and, therefore, have an easier time relocating.

Benefits of postponing graduate school following undergrad:

  • Some graduate programs require that students have prior work experience in their field before they can be admitted.
  • Working for a couple of years after receiving your bachelor’s degree can help you to confirm your career goals and later choose a graduate program that is the best fit.
  • Having prior professional work experience before returning to graduate school can enhance your learning in the classroom.
  • Graduate school is a major expense. Some employers offer tuition assistance or reimbursement to their employees.

If you choose to take a year off, be intentional with your career planning.

  • Get an internship in a new location.
  • Volunteer within your field.
  • Join AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.

What an advanced degree can offer you:

  • An opportunity to develop your interests and skills into a full-time career
  • Possible increases in earning power, the amount of responsibility you assume, and the freedom you have to make your own decisions
  • Enhanced job satisfaction
  • Flexibility to change careers

Choosing the Right School

Do Your Research!

There are thousands of graduate programs around the country that have plenty to offer to students. Here are some important components of a graduate program that you should investigate:

  • What courses are offered? Do these courses meet your area of interest?
  • Reputation/accreditation of the program and institution
  • Admissions test scores needed
  • Visitation/interview opportunities
  • Length of program
  • When are courses offered? Who teaches them?
  • Essay/portfolio requirements
  • Student/faculty ratios
  • Geographical location/size
  • Can you be a part-time student?
  • Research and teaching opportunities for students
  • Cooperative vs. competitive admissions
  • Are there any practicums or internships required?
  • Tuition rates and financial aid availability
  • Faculty research interests and resources
  • Professional opportunities following graduation
  • Does the program require a comprehensive exam or a thesis?

Graduate School Application Process

The Personal Statement - are an important component of the application process; make sure it sounds great!

Use the essay to:

  • Help the selection team better understand your distinctiveness and unique qualities
  • Explain how you became interested in your field of study; use objective experiences to communicate your message
  • Demonstrate how your leadership skills, computer skills, or writing skills were developed
  • Explain why you think you will be successful in graduate school

Follow the directions and be sure to:

  • Utilize proofreaders - stop by the Meijer Writing Center for a paper critique
  • Answer specified questions
  • Support your points with 2-3 specific examples

Be sure NOT to:

  • Lie about your personal history
  • Ramble on about all of your activities from your resume
  • Use cliches or a lot of jargon

Letters of Recommendation - when obtaining letters of recommendation:

  • Ask for recommendations from professors who are familiar with you and your work.
  • Ask politely at least 4-6 weeks in advance of deadlines.
  • Provide your recommenders with the full names, titles and addresses of the people to whom the recommendation should be sent, along with addressed, stamped envelopes.
  • Follow up with your references to confirm that your recommendations have been sent prior to deadlines.
  • Provide an information sheet about yourself to those who agree to write letters of reference for you. This information allows your references to write accurate, supportive letters tailored for you and your goals, rather than canned, general letters.

The Interview - is your opportunity to express your personal strengths and values to the university's representatives. Be sure to schedule an appointment with an advisor from the Career Center for a mock interview to help you to prepare for the questioning. Common questions asked during an interview:

  • What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if accepted into this program?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Describe the research project you've worked on. What was the purpose of the project and what was your role in the project?
  • Why did you choose to apply to this program?
  • In what ways have your previous experiences prepared you for graduate study in our program?

Thank-You Notes - be sure to send thank-you notes to each member of the interview team and to the individuals who wrote your letters of recommendation as soon as possible. Taking the time to show your appreciation can put you a step farther in the graduate school application process.

Graduate School Timeline

Institutional timelines will vary, as will the deadlines and requirements of different graduate programs.

Freshman Year

  • Begin to identify your strengths and challenges.
  • Work to maintain a competitive GPA.
  • Get involved on campus through student organizations, volunteer opportunities, and research.

Sophomore Year

  • Seek leadership opportunities on campus and scholarship/research opportunities with faculty.
  • Talk with faculty about what graduate schools are looking for in students.
  • Consider internship or study abroad activities for the coming semesters.  
  • Meet with an advisor or career counselor about your future academic and professional goals.

Junior Year

  • Strive to make the Dean's list.
  • Investigate programs and colleges of interest. Contact school representatives regarding any questions or concerns you may have.
  • Register for admission exams you will need to take (GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.)
  • Talk with faculty in your area of interest who could provide guidance and letters of recommendation.

Senior Year

  • September-October
    • Review application materials from each school and write drafts of the required essays. Ask for feedback from trusted faculty.
    • Request letters of recommendation from faculty members who know your academic and personal strengths.
    • Research financial aid options at each school, including scholarships, fellowships/assistantships, and loans.
  • November-December
    • Finalize your essays. Be sure to answer all questions specified in the application.
    • Request official copies of your transcripts.
    • Apply for fellowships, assistantships, and/or grants.
  • January-April
    • Consider visiting schools and prepare for interviews.
    • Complete the FAFSA or other financial aid applications as required by individual schools.
    • Meet with a faculty member/counselor to discuss acceptances, rejections, and further decision making.

Graduate School Admissions Exams

Many graduate programs require an entrance exam in order to be accepted. It is important that you explore the requirements of each program you are looking into to see which specific test they require.  Here is information pertaining to the most common entrance exams and tips related to preparation.

Page last modified January 14, 2019