You are graduating or about to graduate from college. What’s next on the horizon? In contemplating your next move, you might want to consider graduate school—it might just be the perfect next step. Graduate school allows you to earn a specialization or a professional degree to enhance your career options.

What is the purpose of graduate school?

Graduate studies build upon the foundation of a student’s undergraduate coursework by providing students with more advanced learning in a specialized discipline or interdisciplinary topic. A strong graduate program also teaches advanced skills in areas such as problem-solving, writing, oral presentation, research, and technology, each as applied to the particular field of study.

Of course, graduate degrees are required for certain careers (doctor, lawyer, physical therapist, etc.). The type of degree and area of study needed will depend upon the profession you seek to enter. Even in careers that don’t require a graduate degree, with increased job prospects, you may come away with more earning potential. A graduate degree holder makes, on average, more money over their lifetime than a person with a bachelor’s degree. Advantages of a graduate degree also include the lifelong professional connections a student may establish over the course of their graduate work.

How do I choose a grad school?

Before jumping in, it is crucial to chart your course thoughtfully, considering your career aspirations, your budget, the amount of time you are willing and able to commit, and the options available to ensure that you make the right choice for you.

1. Focus on your goals

There are countless career paths to choose from, so it is important to take time for self-reflection in order to most accurately pinpoint your interests and career aspirations. What ignites your passion? What are your long-term career goals? What specific skills, knowledge, or degree do you need to acquire for the career you wish to pursue? Clarifying your goals, career and otherwise, will guide you as you navigate the graduate school landscape. Graduate school is challenging, but it will feel more manageable—and you’re more likely to persist—if you’re working toward something that matters to you.

2. Research potential graduate programs

No matter your goals, start familiarizing yourself with the various types of degrees and how they differ. From master’s degrees to doctoral programs, each offers unique opportunities and requires different time commitments. Master’s degrees typically take 1-3 years to complete and provide specialized knowledge in your field of study. Doctoral programs such as PhDs or PsyDs involve more in-depth research and can take, on average, 4-7 years to finish.

Once you’ve selected the degree you wish to pursue, you will then want to consider certain factors of each program: its reputation, curriculum, and learning formats (in-person, virtual, and hybrid). Note the structure and focus of each program. Even in the same discipline, the program’s focus can vary among schools. Does the curriculum emphasize theory, original research, or a more practical application of knowledge?

No matter what your goals are, ensure that the program’s focus aligns with the educational experience you need. For example, career changers who lack industry experience might prefer a program with more hands-on learning opportunities or a path for completing prerequisites. Additionally, some programs offer flexible options such as part-time or evening classes to accommodate your work and personal commitments while pursuing further education.

3. Define your passions

Real-world experience is invaluable in shaping your career path, as it can help you define the role and profession that you would like to obtain in the future. Seek out internships, volunteer opportunities, or jobs that align with your field of interest. These experiences not only enhance your resume but also provide insights that can help you craft a compelling Personal Statement. This essay, also called a Statement of Purpose, is used by faculty and admission personnel to determine how well an applicant will fit into their program. This essay will also be used to help match up a graduate student with faculty mentors.

4. Seek professional guidance

Navigating the graduate school admissions process can seem daunting, especially with so many options. Fortunately, you don’t have to tackle it alone. Seek guidance from academic advisors, faculty members, and private college advisors specializing in graduate admissions. Their expertise and support can be invaluable as you navigate this part of your academic journey.

Navigating the Graduate School Application Process

Once you have researched and identified programs that align with your goals, it’s time to prepare for the application process.

  • Standardizing testing – Depending on the program, standardized tests like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) may be required for admission. Be sure to allocate plenty of time to prepare for these exams to maximize your performance, as test scores, when required, are an important component in admission decisions.
  • Crafting your Personal Statement – Your Personal Statement is a crucial component of your graduate school application. It should showcase your unique attributes, experiences, and aspirations. You will want to include details about your academic background and relevant work experience, and how your career goals align with that specific program. Highlight your strengths and what sets you apart from other candidates.
  • Preparing for interviews – Interviews are often a key part of the graduate school admissions process. It is important to prepare for these interviews by researching the specifics of each program and reflecting on your experiences and goals so you can clearly articulate how you’ll contribute to the program.
  • Staying organized –  Make it a priority to stay organized throughout this process. You will need to keep track of application materials, requirements, and specific deadlines for each program.

Navigating graduate school admissions requires careful research, strategic planning, and diligent preparation. By focusing on your goals, researching programs, defining your passions, seeking guidance, and staying organized throughout the application process, you increase your chances of success.

If you are considering graduate school, International College Counselors can provide expert guidance. Contact us at International College Counselors or call 1-954-414-9986 for personalized assistance.

Join us on Wednesday, June 12 @ 7 pm ET for the FREE webinar: Great Advice for Graduate School!


Even if you can’t make it to this webinar, register, and we’ll email you a link to the recording following the webinar.

Mary Simon, this week’s blog writer and a Director of College Advising at International College Counselors, has a deep understanding of graduate school admissions. With a passion for assisting students in discovering their interests and abilities, Mary is dedicated to aiding them in selecting their ideal career path. She specializes in guiding students through the application process for Masters, MBA, PsyD, and PhD programs. Her expertise has led students to successful admission at top institutions including Columbia, U Penn, Northwestern, UChicago, UVA, and NYU. Committed to staying at the forefront of the field, Mary actively participates in professional development to remain informed about the latest trends in grad school admissions.


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