Planning for Graduate School

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Dana Hartley, PhD
Director Undergraduate Studies

If your student is considering graduate school to pursue a master’s degree (MS) or doctoral degree (PhD), the following key points can help your student navigate through the selection and application process.

Obtaining letters of recommendation.
* Students need to get to know faculty well throughout their time at Tech.
* Just getting an A in a course doesn’t mean the faculty can say great things about the student - except that they have an A.
* Graduate schools are looking for evidence in these recommendation letters that a student is inquisitive, intellectual, self-motivated, and works well both individually and in groups.
* To get these types of letters, students need to be talking to their faculty about the course content - in an interested way, not in a “will this be on the test?” manner.
* To get the strongest letters, students should actually work with faculty on projects, especially research.
* Going to graduate school in pursuit of a MS or PhD is mostly about research; hence, graduate schools are looking for students who already have research experience.
* If a student is thinking of going to graduate school, they need to know if they even like research. An excellent means for students to gain this exposure is through Undergraduate Research Programs, at

Knowing where to apply.
* This is not always about the top universities. Strong departments can be located at schools that may not at first be an obvious place to look.
* In order to know the best places to go, students really need to talk to the faculty at Tech who work in that area of interest - they are the experts and have the connections.
* The next step is to research these schools. Who is doing research in the fields of interest to the student? What do the faculty at Tech know about this person?

Contacting faculty at potential schools.
* Because graduate school is very specific, each program does its own admissions decisions.
* Making a personal connection with a faculty member with whom the student is interested in working can make all the difference. Basically, an e-mail with a resume attached is all that is needed.
* The student should be specific about why they are interested in that faculty member. Also, it is best not to ask if they have a position, but rather to ask more about their research. This contact should be made in the fall, one year before the student plans to start graduate school.

Completing the application process.
* Applications are usually due in the late fall the year prior to starting graduate school.
1) The GRE, the standardized test for graduate school, is required. It is best to sign up to take the GRE in the summer before the student’s last year of undergraduate school.
2) If a student waits until fall to sign up, spots are often full. We encourage students to take practice tests to get familiar with the mode and style of the questions.
* A biographical sketch is also required as part of the application process.
1) This is the written statement that a student writes to describe why he/she wants to go to graduate school, and an opportunity to be specific about his/her interest.
2) A student should start this essay early in the planning process and ask advisors and/or faculty members for comments.

Securing funding.
* In science and engineering graduate schools (particularly for Ph.D. programs), a student is usually paid a stipend to live on, and tuition is covered.
* This is something to inquire about after acceptance if it is unclear in the letter.
* There are many great fellowships available for graduate school and we encourage students to be looking into these opportunities the summer before their senior year since applications are often due a full year before the student plans to attend graduate school.

Visiting the school.
* Most graduate schools will have a sponsored recruitment weekend where all accepted students are invited to meet the faculty and other graduate students.
* If a school does not offer this visitation opportunity, encourage your student to plan a visit anyway - it is that important!

Getting advice on the process.
* If your student is interested in applying to graduate school, suggest that he/she make an appointment with his/her academic advisor to help begin the process and answer any questions.


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