Master’s and Ph.D. Programs
For many students, graduate school is a logical next step towards achieving their career goals. It can be a daunting task to decide the right time to go, find the best programs, and prepare successful applications. By breaking the process down into steps, however, it becomes more manageable.
Step One: Answering “Why” and “When”
Graduate school is a large commitment in terms of time and money. It is important to be sure that you are applying for the right reasons. Ask yourself:
- What are my long-term goals, and what degree do I need to achieve them?
- Is my interest in this field strong enough that I’m ready to make a commitment to it?
- Will I stay motivated as a student for the next two to seven years (depending on program length)?
- Can I succeed in graduate school?
- Are there other options that seem equally — or more — appealing as I come out of school?
- Am I prepared to live on savings, student loans, or stipends (if planning on full-time study)?
- At the career center you can meet with one of our career counselors who can talk with you about your decision to pursue graduate education. See the drop-in schedule on our homepage, or make an appointment on Handshake
Step Two: Finding Programs
In some cases, similar programs vary in coursework and degrees conferred. There may be slight differences in public policy programs versus public administration programs. Likewise, a degree in counseling may be found in either the psychology or education department. Be sure that you are applying to programs that fit with your career goals, and be aware of each program’s particular niche. Start by talking with professors and with people in the position you one day hope to hold. View alumni profiles and schedule informational interviews with Hoya Gateway and the Alumni Career Network. What degree did they earn? Do they have any insight on particular programs? From there, investigate on your own by:
- Searching for programs on GradSchools.com and Peterson’s.
- Looking at professional organizations, which often have information for students interested in the field. The Directory of Associations has information for more than 90 professions.
- Checking out grad school reference books, which are often tailored to certain types of programs.
- Learning about program accreditation for the field that may affect job prospects after graduation.
- Familiarizing yourself with research in your field of interest through academic journals.
- Reading graduate school rankings, such as those published by US News and World Report. They can give you an idea of a school’s status in the field — but don’t forget to look into the individual program, and not just the university as a whole.
- Researching faculty bios and current graduate student profiles on the university’s website.
As you look at programs, it is also crucial to take into account your personal preferences and style. After all, even if a program is ranked number 1, it may not focus on your area of interest or be in a place where you’d like to spend a few years. You may want to consider factors such as:
- Cost (and funding options)
- Faculty research interests
- Philosophy of the program
- Experiential opportunities
- Academic and career support
- Program requirements
- Amount of student-faculty interaction
- Length of program
- Size of program
- Multicultural/diversity opportunities
- Campus facilities (libraries, gym, etc.)
Special Considerations for International Programs
Many Georgetown students are internationally focused, and so it might make sense to consider a graduate degree from an international university. International application advice and country guides can be found on Interstride, a robust resource for working and living abroad. International graduate school rankings and brief country guides can be found at websites such as QS Top Universities (topuniversities.com). In addition to the factors bulleted above, you may want to consider:
- Visa application process
- Differences in application materials (additional tests, international CV vs. U.S. resume, additional admissions requirements)
- Admissions and school-year timeline
- Support network
- Employability in host country during studies
- Employability after graduation in foreign countries and in U.S.
- Housing options (International dorm, independent housing, home stay, etc.)
Step Three: Applying
Once you have identified the schools to which you want to apply, it is important to fully understand the programs’ admissions processes. Generally, it is better to apply early. Keep in mind that deadlines and application instructions are non-negotiable. Applications received after the deadline might be disregarded, and personal statements and/or writing samples that do not adhere to guidelines may similarly be rejected.
Some schools will require you to apply to both the specific department/program and to the graduate school. It is likely that the following materials may be part of an application:
- Transcript: Carefully check program requirements, and talk directly to the school you are applying to if you have questions about prerequisites.
- GPA: Although it usually is given as a guideline, knowing the mean GPA of previously admitted classes can give you an idea of your chances of admission.
- Graduate tests (GRE, GMAT, MCAT, etc.): Be sure you are clear on program requirements well in advance so that you have time to prepare for, and take, the necessary test(s) for admission.
- References: Programs may require two or three recommendations. Decide early who you would like to ask, offer to meet with them to review your qualifications and goals, and follow up.
- Personal statement: Many programs use a personal statement as a way of gauging your interest, background, skills, and long-term goals. It often takes the place of an interview, so take care when considering how best to present yourself, and — as always — proofread for mistakes.
- Writing samples: Read the guidelines to find the parameters for different schools. Generally, you want to supply the program with a relevant piece of writing that showcases your strengths.
- Resume or CV: Some programs may ask you to submit a resume or CV. Highlight positions with skills applicable to graduate school (e.g., research and teaching). See our resume guide for more.
Graduate Admissions Tests
As mentioned above, it is common for schools to require some sort of admissions test. You can often prepare for each of these through the test website, practice books, and/or a course, commonly offered through The Princeton Review, Kaplan, and similar organizations. The most common include:
- The GRE, which is a general admissions test. It is computer-based and is given at centers worldwide; you’ll need to make an appointment at the ETS website.
- The GMAT is taken as part of admissions requirements for MBA programs. Learn more at mba.com.
- The MCAT is a part of the admissions procedure for medical school. Subject areas include verbal reasoning, physical sciences, writing, and biological sciences. Check out our Pre-Med Resources for more information.
- The LSAT is required for most law schools. Learn more at lsac.org or consider making an appointment with the career center’s pre-law advisor. Check out our Pre-Law Guide for more information.
You will also want to spend a fair amount of time considering your personal statement, which is standard for most grad school applications. Keep the following in mind:
- Some programs may ask for a personal statement, statement of purpose, or a more specific essay question. Read the prompt carefully and be sure that you are addressing each school specifically.
- Keep to the prescribed length, making sure that your thoughts are organized and clear. Be honest.
- Use industry-specific language if appropriate, and if you know exactly how to use it correctly.
- Incorporate research from academic journals you have read, if appropriate, and your examination of the program professor’s research interests. This is a good way to tie in any initial dialogue you have had with professors in the program.
- Tailor your essay to the particular program to which you are applying. Why are you interested in this program? What makes it unique? What can you offer to the program?
- Demonstrate your interest and passion for the subject matter by providing examples of how your background has prepared you for this graduate program. What do you hope to accomplish in the program and after graduation?
- Proofread your essay and have other people read it. If possible, ask for feedback from someone in your area of interest.
Step Four: Following Up and Making a Decision
After you have submitted your application, there are a few final steps towards ensuring your goal of admission:
- Contact the program coordinator to ensure that all your application materials — including recommendations, which may have been sent separately — have been received.
- If appropriate, research and contact faculty with thoughtful questions. Faculty are often involved in the process of admissions, especially for Ph.D. programs, and they may be looking for research and teaching assistants.
- If you are placed on a waiting list, call to inquire about any additional steps you can take to strengthen your application, and express your continued interest in the program.
Finally, you’ve been accepted. Now it’s time to make a decision. Consider some of the original reasons why you applied to each school, and see how they measure up to one another. Take into account the additional information you may have learned through the process, whether it’s about financial aid, the surrounding community, or the program’s philosophy. Talk it over with the people in your life and at the career center, if needed. More than anything, keep in mind that this is your education, and that you ultimately know what is best for you.
Special Considerations for Scholarships/Funding Options
- Set an appointment with someone in the financial aid office at schools you are considering, to learn what other graduate students have done in terms of securing funding.
- You may consider applying for a job at that campus, as a research fellow, teaching assistant, or staff member, for instance. Many universities offer tuition waivers or reductions to full-time employees.
- Check out financial aid resources such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Aid website, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Fastweb, and FinAid.
- Research scholarships through professional honoraries (e.g., Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society) and professional organizations and associations in your discipline.
- Research scholarships via societies (for students interested in engineering, options include the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Society for Women Engineers, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and many more).
- Some employers offer their employees full or partial tuition reimbursement for pursuing a degree, which in some way enhances the employee’s usefulness to the company. Often, this is accompanied by a commitment to stay with the company for a certain amount of time after the degree is conferred.
- Look into loan forgiveness or income-based/income contingent repayment options through the federal government. This is generally only applicable for forgiveness of federal loans. Programs in 2018 included forgiveness of federal loans after 10 years of making regular loan payments while working in the public service/non-profit sectors, and forgiveness of federal loans for those working a certain amount of time in needed locations providing services to specific populations (teaching mathematics in rural areas, nursing in inner cities, etc.) You can learn more about the Federal Loan Forgiveness Program at the Department of Education’s student aid site.