Asking the Right Questions about Graduate & Professional School

Whether you’re planning to attend the Graduate & Professional School Fair on Monday, October 22 or looking ahead to a campus visit for one of your top schools, it is important to be asking the right questions so that you can make sure you are making the right decisions about the type of program you enter and the university you eventually choose.  Even if you don’t really know what you want to study in graduate school, you probably have some ideas of what already interests you so you’ll want to ask questions to help you explore those interests a bit further.

As you begin to explore schools, you will need to ask some basic questions.  You may be able to get much of it from the programs’s website, but sometimes these can be hard to navigate and you just need a real person to help you locate the information.  The great thing about the Graduate & Professional School Fair is that you’ll have representatives from over 50 programs here who are anxious to answer your questions.  You can use some of the questions provided in this blog for the programs you are meeting at the fair.

As you begin the exploration process, the following questions will help you choose which schools and programs to consider.

Admissions Questions:

  • What application deadlines should I be aware of?  Does your program accept students throughout the year or only after a certain date?
  • What is the undergraduate GPA range and preference for this program (sometimes referred to as the middle 50%)?
  • Which entrance exam is required?  What is the preferred test score? (for standardized tests such as the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT)
  • What percentage of students who applied last year were admitted?
  • What additional factors most impact acceptance into this program?
  • Do you look for applicants with a specific academic or professional background for this program?
  • What assistantship opportunities are avialable?  How do I go about locating and applying for thise opportunities?

Program Specific Questions:

  • Are there pre-requisite courses I need to complete before I start this program?
  • What are the degree requirements? How many required and elective classes are there?
  • How long do students typically take to complete this program?
  • What areas of concentration are available?
  • What percentage of students complete the entire graduate program?
  • How does the department evaluate student progress?
  • What kind of thesis and examinations are required?
  • What practical experience are students expected to complete?  What support is provided to help students fulfill experiential components of the program?
  • What professional development opportunities exist for students?
  • What kind of licensure/certification will I be eligible for after completing the program? This question is important if you want to go into a field that requires licensure.
  • Where do your graduates work?  What types of positions do they get?
  • What kind of job-search support is provided by faculty and/or career services?
  • Are students admitted even if they do not locate an assistantship?  Some programs will only admit or enroll students who locate an assistantship on campus.

It’s also important to connect with faculty during your application process, especially if you want to work with them on research or in an assistantship in a graduate school program.   If you are applying to professional school, you could also use these questions during your interview.   (If you can connect with faculty, these are some questions to ask. Also check the program’s website.)

  • Are their assistantship opportunities with you or other faculty in the department?
  • What is your particular research interest?
  • What opportunities exist to work with faculty on their research? On my own research?
  • What is most important to you in an advisee?
  • When and how is an advisor selected? How difficult is it to switch advisors once you’re into your program?
  • How many full- and part-time faculty members teach in this department?
  • What diversity exists within the faculty?
  • What experience have the faculty had outside the academic world?

Look for opportunities to talk to students in the program.  They can tell you what it’s really like to be a student.

  • How available is your advisor?
  • How would you characterize the departmental culture?
  • What is the actual time commitment for a teaching assistant or research assistant position?
  • Is the departmental stipend enough to live on?
  • How do students interact with each other inside and outside the classroom?
  • What are some of the politics or current issues within the department?
  • What diversity exists within the student body?
  • How much support do students receive in developing their own approach to the field?

Graduate and professional school is expensive, so you want to ask these questions at the beginning as well.  Keep in mind that graduate assistantships often make it very affordable to go to an out-of-state or private institution.  However, these opportunities are competitive and often require early application.

  • How available are teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships?
  • What resources are available for students, such as graduate student housing, medical insurance, child care, fitness, etc?
  • Are students guaranteed funding throughout their time in the program, or is it awarded on a yearly basis?
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