Beyond the Bachelor's
Exploring options after graduation can be overwhelming, confusing, and exciting all at once! This webpage is designed to educate you about the graduate school application, preparation, and research processes. Check out the many opportunities on-campus to attend events, workshops, and learn from experts about the specifics required to gain admission into competitive graduate and professional degree programs.
Graduate/Professional Degree Options
A graduate program involves specialized knowledge and concentrated study in one area. It is generally more focused to a specific area of interest and on acquiring specialized skills within the field in order to practice a profession or conduct advanced research.
- Master's Degree: usually takes 1 or 2 years of study. Often, internships or fieldwork are components of the curriculum.
- Research Master's Degree: may also involve writing a thesis or taking a comprehensive examination.
- Professional & Doctoral Degrees: At the doctoral level there are also professional degrees and research degrees. The most common professional degrees are M.D. for medical or the J.D. for law. The research doctoral degree (the Ph.D.) involves training in research, which provides the skill to discover new knowledge. This degree can provide you with a wide range of careers. The first years of your Ph.D. involves coursework, while the final component of this education usually involves original research and reporting on the research through a dissertation.
Brent D. Arcangel Career Resource Library
The Career Services Library features an entire section on the graduate/professional school process including researching programs, funding information, sample personal statements, and more!
Planning ahead is key in the graduate/professional school application process. Begin the summer before your senior year or at least a year before you plan to begin your advanced studies. No generalized timetable provides the specifics you will need to meet the deadlines of the programs to which you are applying, but the timetable below may be used as a guide.
The personal statement presents aspects of your candidacy that cannot be conveyed by GPA or standardized test scores. Essentially, it tells who you are, what you value, and how well you will be able to handle the pressures of graduate/professional school. The best approach to writing the personal statement is to choose an interesting story to tell. You may write about an event that helped to teach humility, independence, or self-confidence. Or, you can talk about an experience that changed the way you think about yourself or about the world, or that shows your motivation or personal style.
The most important idea to keep in mind while writing and editing the personal statement is that how well or how poorly it is written can play a critical role in the admission process. In addition to being focused, coherent, and interesting, the personal statement must be grammatically flawless.
In general, prepare a typed, double-spaced 2-page statement and address any specific questions asked by graduate/professional schools. Include a few sentences on why you want to attend a specific graduate/professional school, and proof-read carefully, checking for spelling and grammar errors. Ask for feedback from Career Services Staff and your professors. Consider utilizing the Writing Center (217 Baldy) for assistance.
- Personal Statement Writing Tips – includes examples, from Purdue Online Writing Lab
- Personal Statement Samples – by discipline
Letters of Recommendation
Recommendations really come into play when an admissions committee is trying to decide between you and one or more other candidates. Most departments will request three to five letters of recommendation. At least one letter, and preferably two or more, should come from faculty members in your major field. You may also wish to obtain a recommendation from a professor in an unrelated discipline (perhaps your minor field) in order to show the breadth of your academic interests.
Begin developing a relationship with your recommenders several quarters, or even years, before you need the pieces of paper. It is important that they know several facts about you: your character, your course work, your initiative, and your communication skills. Keep them up to date on your achievements, either verbally or in writing. Determine who will be your best advocates. If you hear reticence - complaints about not having enough time to write the recommendations or not knowing you well enough or long enough - be ready to back off. If someone feels forced into writing you a recommendation, you can bet it will be less than glowing.
Discuss the references with your recommenders. Inform them of any points you would particularly like to get across. Ask them to use as many specific examples as possible. Give your recommenders all of the necessary forms, plus addressed, stamped envelopes and at least a month in which to write the reference and ask them to meet a deadline.
Reference letters can be confidential or non-confidential. Admissions officers may give more credence to a reference if you've waived your right to read it; you will need to decide the advantages or disadvantages of either choice.
- Sample Letters of Recommendation – from Penn State Faculty Handbook
Portfolios may be requested as a supplemental part of your graduate school application. Generally, samples of your work that demonstrate your best skills and experience are included, such as examples of class projects, your involvement and leadership in campus activities, certifications, awards, and recognition of other achievements. In some cases, you may also include a copy of your resume, letters of recommendation, and unofficial academic transcripts.
- Tips for Assembling a Portfolio to Support Your Grad School Application – from Columbia College Chicago Portfolio Center
- Career Services Portfolio page - about the portfolio, what to include, and resource samples.
Many, but not all, graduate programs required some form of standardized testing. It is important to research the specific requirements of a particular program to determine which exams, if any, you need to take, and establish what the associated deadlines and costs are.
- UB Computer-Based Testing Center – offers a variety of standardized exams including CLEP, ibtTOEFL, GRE, MCAT, MAT, and others.
- Kaplan – test preparation services
- Princeton Review – test preparation services
Researching & Selecting a Program
Research graduate programs carefully to choose the one that will best suit your needs and talents. There are more than 1,800 institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees and the variety of programs is enormous. Do not make the mistake of blindly choosing the best school you can get into. Finding the right fit is the most important factor. Consider a variety of factors such as reputation, geography, cost/funding, faculty research areas, size of institution or program, placement rates, visit to the campus and more. Talk with your professors, career counselors, advisors and alumni to help identify the graduate program and university/college that best suits you.
- Peterson's Guide
- PLOTEUS (Portal on Learning Opportunities throughout the European Space)
- UB Graduate School
- US News and World Report-America's Best Graduate Programs
How to pay for graduate school is a major question for most people. If financing a graduate degree is a problem, consider that many graduate students cover part of their costs with grants, fellowships, or research positions. There are three basic ways to finance your graduate education depending upon the type of program in which you are interested:
- Fellowships/Scholarships: Grants that are generally awarded on the basis of academic merit and are intended to attract the most highly qualified students; can be offered by a university, department, organization, or agency.
- Research Assistantships/Teaching Assistantships/Graduate Assistantships: Supported by stipends to perform tasks such as teaching, conducting research or working for an office or department on campus. Many institutions also waive or reduce tuition for students with assistantships.
- Grants and Loans: Aid that may come from the institution, a state, the federal government, or sometimes your employer.
If you have to borrow money, it becomes an investment in your future income and intellectual level. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that annual income is strongly related to degree attainment. Annual earnings of graduate degree-holders are 33% more than baccalaureate recipients.
- FinAid - A SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid
- The Student Guide - Financial Aid from the US Department of Education
- CollegeBoard.com - Pay for College
- College of Science Funding Opportunities - Database of 400,000+ funding opportunities for research, grants, fellowships, advanced educational programs, and special projects.
- Law School Funding Sources
- Veterans Yellow Ribbon Program
- Nationally Competitive Fellowships & Scholarships – from UB Honors College
Planning for Plan B
If you haven't been accepted to a program of your choice, what will you do next? Often you will find there is more than one successful path to your goal.
If you plan to continue to pursue graduate school, you will want to re-assess your options and chances and make necessary adjustments.
- Are your target programs realistic, or should you make adjustments?
- What other educational options are available?
- How can you improve your chances? Some examples include: getting more work experience; reworking your application, personal statement, or other supplemental materials; taking additional undergraduate coursework to strengthen weak areas; taking graduate coursework as a non-matriculating student; doing internships; applying to less competitive programs.
Ten Things to Do if You Don't Get In the First Time (Adapted from Graduate Admissions Essays by Donald Asher, Ten Speed Press, 2000)
- Apply earlier next time. Avoid the last six weeks before the deadline.
- Apply to more schools. Six is usually considered a prudent minimum: two safe schools, two middle-of-the-road, two reach schools.
- Apply to more safe schools. Even 4.0 students can and do get rejected.
- Visit the school(s) in person and wow them. Do your research first: know faculty areas of interest/research.
- Go to summer school in the targeted subject and wow them. It's easy to get into summer school, even at Harvard.
- Take one class at a time in the targeted subject and wow them. Remember: your most recent grades count the most.
- Get volunteer or internship experiences in the targeted field, even part-time or unpaid.
- Work in a "real job" in the targeted field. There's no substitute for actual experience and recommendations from supervisors in the profession.
- Get an intermediate degree, such as a master's or even just a credential/certificate.
- Get older and try again. Many times, that's all it takes.
If you have alternate plans, such as entering the job market, what will you need to do to prepare yourself? Meeting with a counselor in Career Services can be helpful in making plans for "Plan B." Ideally, planning for alternative options to graduate school begins concurrent with the graduate school application process.