Applying to Graduate School and Professional School

How do I decide if I should apply to graduate school or professional school?

Deciding to attend graduate or professional school is a complex process that first requires you to reflect upon your goals for additional education. Then, you will need to assemble a series of application materials like a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and a resume.

Step #1: Ask yourself the right questions

Graduate school is a big decision that should be approached in a well-informed and thoughtful way. Ask these questions first before sending off your applications:

  • Will graduate school assist me in meeting my career goals?
    • Some careers, such as medicine, law, dentistry, counseling, and social work require additional education beyond a Bachelor's degree. Positions as a professor, a psychologist, or a researcher also require an advanced degree. Though many careers value higher education, advanced degrees do not always lead to increased income and job prospects. In some fields, an advanced degree means you are too specialized, and therefore less attractive. Full time work experience is often more highly desired than education in many industries, such as marketing, nonprofit, engineering, and media.

  • What will I specialize in, and will my interest in that topic remain strong?
    • While undergraduate work is often broad, graduate school is narrow and specialized. Choosing a concentration for your research and study will be essential in the very early stages of graduate work. Keep in mind that you will be investigating this topic just about every day for the next 2-7 years.
  • Am I ready to re-enter school?
    • Committing several more years to academic work can be exciting to some, exhausting to others. Waiting to enter graduate school can be a great time to test out alternative career paths, to become more familiar with your field before specializing further, and to gain some work experience. 'Gap' time provides additional ideas to pursue before attending graduate or professional school.

Step #2: Validate your decision to continue your education

There are several ways you can ensure graduate school is a good investment:

  • Start researching. Read about programs of interest, profiles of current and past graduate students, industry norms and career paths, and occupational requirements. Call the programs you are considering to see where their graduates are working upon completion.

  • Talk to people. Have candid discussions with current graduate students in your department, professors in your research area of interest, and graduate level professionals in your field. Our Northwestern is a great way to identify alumni who can address your questions and concerns.

  • Meet with an NCA Career Counselor. Career Counselors can help you map out future possibilities and mitigate some of your uncertainty and stress.

  • Don't be afraid to change your mind in the process. Uncertainty is just a sign that you are asking yourself the right questions, testing your assumptions, and above all, maximizing the likelihood of making the right decision.

Step #3: Begin your applications

  1. Choosing schools and programs
  2. Application timelines and checklists
  3. Application documents
  4. Entrance Exams