Graduate School

Before you commit to graduate school, it’s crucial to consider a range of factors, such as how graduate education may influence your employability in the future, whether it’s advisable to pursue graduate school immediately after completing your undergraduate program, and what questions to ask recruiters at events like graduate school fairs or law school forums. To guide you in this decision-making process, our comprehensive guide offers valuable insights.

Additionally, make the most of your career development toolkit by engaging in regular discussions with faculty and academic advisors, consulting with career advisors and consultants, seeking guidance for law and medical school preparations through Butler’s Engaged Learning Center, accessing academic success coaching from Butler’s CASE office, and exploring international opportunities facilitated by the Center for Global Education. These resources collectively empower you to make informed choices about your academic and career journey, enhancing your prospects for the future.

Graduate School Guide

Should you go on to graduate school? Is it the right move for you at this point in your career? Give your decision careful consideration, weighing all the factors, including:

What do you truly want to do? What excites you more than anything? If it’s a profession you absolutely, positively must pursue, and it requires advanced education, then you’re probably an excellent candidate for further education.

“You go to graduate school to become an expert in a certain area or to be a professional in certain industries, like law, medicine, or engineering,” explains Cindy Parnell, director of career services at Arizona State University.

Graduate students find out very quickly that their days of frat parties, general education courses, and hanging out with friends are over—graduate school is, well, about school.

Also, consider your post-undergraduate life plans. Are marriage and family in your immediate future? Graduate school can put a huge financial strain on a young couple already facing student loan debt, not to mention the burden of the time you’ll be spending studying. Be sure you and your family are ready for the added responsibility of a few more years of schooling.

Not every profession requires an advanced degree, so do some research on potential career opportunities before committing to more education.

“Students run the risk of thinking today that grad school might be the answer. Depending on the program, you want to have the fieldwork experience as well as grad school. If you go on to grad school without having any fieldwork experience, you run the risk of being over-educated [and under-experienced],” says Shayne Bernstein, associate director, career development services, at Hunter College.

If you do plan to work before going back for that advanced degree, will more education help you move up the ranks at your company? Have you landed a job in your undergraduate area of study, and now you’re thinking you want to enhance what you’ve learned, or pursue a totally new field? Depending on your professional career path, advanced education may help you reach your career goals.

Can’t think of what else to do next? Don’t think of graduate school as a way to hide from the job search. You face wasting a lot of resources.

Bernstein suggests giving careful consideration to your decision to pursue graduate school.

“Don’t go if you’re not passionate about something,” she stresses. “Don’t go for the sake of going to graduate school. Go because you’re passionate and you want to develop your skill set in a certain area.”

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers

This general timeline is meant for students currently pursuing an undergraduate degree. Note: Check the deadlines for schools of interest and adjust accordingly.

Many graduate schools look at applicants’ grades from the last two years of undergraduate courses. If your GPA is an issue, it’s time to pull your grades up.

Decide which fields interest you, then start looking for programs and schools that match your interests.

As part of your research, investigate what kind of financial aid options will be available to you at the various institutions, including grants, loans, fellowships, and assistantships. This will help you weed out programs that you can’t pursue because they don’t offer the level of support you need.

Schedule your entrance exams. You may want to take entrance exams in the spring of your junior year so you get them out of the way (and have time to retake them if necessary) and can spend the fall filling out your applications and working on your writing samples.

Most graduate schools look for well-rounded individuals with good grades and some relevant work experience on their resumes. An internship can be an excellent way to gain some professional experience in your chosen field. In some fields, volunteer experiences are also helpful—provided they give you relevant experience and are not simply “envelope stuffing” exercises. To find opportunities, read through our Internships and Jobs resources and visit Butler’s Volunteer Center.

Get your transcripts from all your post-secondary education, including an up-to-date transcript for your current institution. Be prepared to have transcripts from study-abroad and other institutions that transferred credits.

Line up references and provide them with the information they need to write a complete reference.

Schedule your entrance exams. If you weren’t happy with your scores or decided to give yourself more time to prepare, you can take your entrance exams in the fall. (Some exams offer multiple test dates in the fall, enabling you to retake your exams again if necessary.)

Fill out your applications. Take your time, read directions carefully, and check and re-check your applications to ensure they are complete and error-free. Have someone proofread your applications.

Submit your applications.

This is when acceptance letters begin to arrive. If you have applied to and been accepted at multiple schools, you may want to pay another visit to your top choices. Talk about your plans with a trusted faculty member or a career counselor at your undergraduate institution.

Fill out the FAFSA Free Application for Federal Student Aid if you plan to apply for financial aid. (You’ll need your prior year’s income tax return to complete this form.)

Once you make your decision, notify the school of your acceptance. As a courtesy, tell the other schools that you are declining their offers.

If you’ll be relocating for graduate school, start researching housing options in your new location. Can you afford to live alone, or will you need to find a roommate? Does the school offer assistance with housing or pairing graduate students as roommates? If so, call on those resources.

Each year, approximately one-quarter of the graduating class goes on to graduate school.

Getting into grad school is far from a slam-dunk. Undergraduates are up against not only their peers, but also nontraditional students who have been in the work force and are returning to school to enhance their skills.

Set yourself apart from the competition and stand out to graduate school admissions recruiters with these helpful tips.

Thoroughly research the schools that fit your area of concentration. Take a look at the scope of their programs, investigate their requirements, find out about financial aid options and processes, and so forth. Get the lay of the land. Graduate school admissions recruiters want to see that you are genuinely interested in attending their institution, so learn all you can and make an informed decision about the schools you would like to attend.

Tammy Manka, associate director of graduate admissions at Marywood University, recommends scheduling a campus visit (or two) to get a better feel for a school than what’s on the website or in marketing materials.

And ask plenty of questions.

“Ask for a meeting within the department you’re interested in. Research the area where the school is located. Is it a place you can see yourself living for two-plus years? And ask to speak to an alum, if possible,” she suggests.

In addition, “Be sure you have a good understanding of what the program offers that you’re looking for, and what you’re looking for that it doesn’t offer,” says Ellen Driscoll, associate director of graduate admission at Suffolk University in Boston. “Be realistic. Given what you know about the program, be honest with yourself about your appropriateness as a candidate.”

Once you’ve done your homework and narrowed down your choice of schools, make sure you have your materials together before you start applying. Every school is different, and you may not have to send the same packet of information to each one.

Do the schools require scores from standardized tests like the GRE, MCAT, or GMAT? Give yourself plenty of time to take (and retake, if necessary) the required tests.

Do you need to provide a writing sample? Carefully craft your sample.

“We look for quality as well as content,” Manka says. “We want to see that the applicant can write at a grad school level. Think about what you’re writing.”

Do you need a list of references? Lisa Palacios, director of student recruitment at the University of Texas San Antonio, recommends putting together a packet of information for references: a school brochure, information about the program you’re applying for, and a copy of your resume so they can refer to it if necessary. Your references are vouching for your academic performance as well as professionalism, so give them the tools they need to write you a glowing referral.

Graduate schools have firm deadlines that they expect applicants to meet. These deadlines are in place for a number of reasons, not least of which is financial aid. Make sure you give yourself enough time to complete in-depth documents like the FAFSA Free Application for Student Aid or any financial paperwork. Keep track of necessary deadlines. Don’t leave everything until the last minute.

It sounds simple, but Driscoll recommends applicants read directions carefully.

“Make sure you’re sending admissions materials to the appropriate place, that you have all materials in the form that the school requests, and that you have all of the credentials the school is asking for,” she says.

Manka echoes that, and says that one of her pet peeves as a graduate admissions representative is receiving poorly-written application information. She receives materials riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, or addressed to the wrong school.

Double- and triple-check your application packets before mailing them out. Spellcheck your application and have someone proofread it—spellcheck doesn’t catch everything, and certainly won’t catch a missing word, misplaced comma, or garbled sentence. Verify school addresses and check that you have addressed your materials to the appropriate contact person.

If the program allows it, reach out to the program director in advance of applying to show that you’re a serious candidate. This can also help you get a sense of whether you are a good fit for the program (and give the admissions staff a sense of how good a fit you are).

If your program requires standardized testing, prepare for the test. That might mean a formal prep course, if you’re so inclined, but the key is to know what to expect—don’t go in cold. And, take the test well in advance of the deadline—early enough to allow you to retake it if necessary.

Experience can make all the difference in being chosen. If you CAN get experience, get it. If you HAVE experience, make sure that your resume is complete, accurate, and demonstrative of your work.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers

Think about faculty and others who might serve as good reference writers for you. Select several who can speak positively about your academic and research abilities and the likelihood that you will be successful in graduate school or professional school.

(Advisers, internship supervisors, job supervisors, and others may say good things about you but probably haven’t evaluated you in a situation similar to academic training in graduate school.)

Ask your potential recommender if they feel comfortable writing a letter of support for you! If so, ask to meet to have an initial discussion.

If you plan to take a year off before applying for graduate or professional school, tell the faculty member your plans and say that you’ll keep in touch over the year to keep them abreast of your activities and plans.

Note: Graduate schools almost universally require that letters of recommendation be sent to them directly from the writer. Rarely will you ever see—let alone handle—reference letters written about you.

Construct a packet containing:

  1. your resume
  2. a list of schools that you are applying to
  3. your future goals
  4. if applicable, a transcript that highlights the courses you took from this faculty member with grades received (the more info you can provide them to jog their memory, the better)
  5. a timeline of dates when the recommendation must be received
  6. a stamped, pre-addressed envelope for the faculty member to send their confidential reference letter directly to the graduate program (if a physical letter is required)
  7. the URL and directions for uploading (if the letter is to be submitted online)

Send each reference a formal thank you note, showing your appreciation. Keep them apprised of your acceptances or rejections.

Courtesy of the National Association of Colleges and Employers

Standardized Testing Websites
GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
MAT (Miller Analogies Test)
MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
DAT (Dental Admission Test)