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Guide to Graduate Study
Use the following as a guide if you are planning to head to graduate school in the Fall following your graduation or if you simply want to keep open your option to do so. This guide is only a general prompt and will not meet the unique concerns of your situation. The bulletins and advisors at the schools you apply to will be the last word on the specifics you need to meet.
The Career Guidance Foundation has over 11,000 college catalogs on-line, as do several other sites. Also, in the Reference Room (1st floor, Library) are graduate school reference books like the Peterson's Guides. The bulletins and reference works are great places to begin investigating whether graduate school fits you and your plans.
When you have sufficiently narrowed the number of schools you want to consider, you will want to request (or download) admission applications. Note, there are times when a departmental application is also necessary. Check the school's bulletin for the forms required. When you return the completed application, write and ask about any further requirements. It is advisable to submit your application early because many schools fill up their available openings before the given deadlines. Be sure to check in a current bulletin for the deadline date.
Remember that a school judges you by your application, your GPA and your test scores, your resume and statement of purpose. Therefore, fill out your application completely and accurately. Some students have found it useful to make a copy of the application and complete a first draft on the photocopy. The completed application reflects on you. Keep it as neat and professional as possible. Before mailing, carefully look over all the materials you send in so that you do not omit anything, and date and sign the application. Be sure to make at least one copy of your application for future reference.
Begin the application process at least six weeks before the earliest deadline. It takes at least this long to get a strong application together. Some seniors wait until the end of the fall quarter to start the process. This is too late if your aim is to start graduate school the Fall term immediately following graduation.
Since all institutions require official transcripts of your academic work, you must authorize the Registrar to send the transcript directly to the institution. Find out how many days or weeks an official transcript request takes to complete and submit your request (and any fees) accordingly so your information can arrive ahead of the due date. Check your record to see that it is complete and correct. It is advisable to call the Registrar's Office to be sure that the transcripts have actually been mailed. If you have taken courses at another institution, it is your responsibility to contact them and request that a transcript be sent to the schools you have applied to.
There will be opportunities in writing your educational history (resume) or statement of purpose to accentuate certain parts of your academic record, in so far as the information is relevant for the school to which you are applying. If grades in the courses of your major and/or in your last two years are stronger, you will want to draw attention to this. If your grades are not stellar but you have engaged in significant experiential (extra-curricular) learning opportunities, you will want to emphasize those experiences, again if relevant to your graduate school goals.
Most graduate institutions require an entrance test, the test score being one of the key factors in determining admission. Admission test applications are available at the following Web addresses or in the Drahmann Center:
The information that comes with the test application is extremely helpful in orienting an applicant regarding what to expect in the test and testing situation. It should be read carefully and re-read. Be aware that there are other exams that you may need to take. Check the requirements of the schools to which you are applying.
If at all possible, visit the testing location in advance so few if any questions remain on issues such as commute time, where to go, where to park (cost, if any), where the actual testing room is, and perhaps even what it looks like inside.
The following is a listing of additional graduate admissions test applications available on campus.
Determine whether you must take an entrance exam and, if so, which one. Some competitive fellowships require the GRE General and GRE Subject tests to be taken at a certain time - usually December. It is to your advantage to take these entrance exams early (by October or December of your senior year). If you take the exam early, the test results will reach the institutions to which you apply early enough so that your application receives ample consideration.
Even if you do not plan on attending graduate school in the near future it is advisable to take the graduate school entrance examinations BEFORE you leave school when your knowledge and skills are probably at their sharpest. In the case of the GRE, your scores will be good for five years.
The Minority Graduate Locator Service (MGLS) was developed to increase graduate school opportunities for qualified minority students by providing a way for institutions to identify minority students interested in graduate education. United States citizenship is required for participation in the MGLS. Candidates fill out a questionnaire which is included in the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) application. No fee is involved and the student does not have to register for the GRE to participate. Under certain circumstances minority students may apply for GRE fee waivers.
The Graduate Student Locator Service is open to anyone considering graduate education. Individuals who are eligible may register for both services. The information you provide about yourself when you register for one or both of the services is placed in a computer data bank. Institutions specify the types of students they wish to consider according to educational, geographic, and background characteristics. For further information, see the current GRE Application Bulletins in The Drahmann Center.
In addition to your GPA and test scores, the other crucial factor in your being admitted to graduate or professional school is an effective Statement of Purpose. This gives admissions committees the best picture of your background, experience and reasons for choosing a particular field of study. Your essay should be brief - one to two pages - and well written. To prepare such a statement takes time and effort - well spent if it succeeds in getting you admitted to the school of your choice. A good time to work on your Statement is in the summer before your senior year. In Spring quarter of your Junior year , ask one or two faculty members (ideally, one or two of those who will write you a letter of recommendation) if they would be willing to read and comment on your statement draft when you get it completed. Use their time well by giving them the a well considered draft, not just your first effort.
Every school will want to know why you chose the area that you plan to study and what sorts of goals you have in mind. Each application will ask this question with slightly different expectations and approaches. Read the instructions carefully. Do not just write one statement and submit it to everyone.
Be attentive to what the school wants. If they stress research, highlight your research interests and experiences. If they stress work, highlight the development of these interests and your training experiences to date. Show how you started with a question or an observation, how you pursued that question, and how it developed into a greater understanding of the issues at hand and a need to know more. Then demonstrate how this led you to pursue your interests and how this school meets your needs and is ideal to your continuing pursuit of knowledge in this area. If you can make this connection in your own work, you will impress the admission committee.
Graduate selection committees value clarity, focus, and "passion" in personal statements. Clarity and focus are construed as indicators of lucid thought, realistic planning, and self direction, all valuable assets in a graduate student. At the same time, try to communicate a heartfelt commitment to your chosen career. "Passion" is not too strong a term - even relentlessness, obsession, commitment and fascination.
A commonly asked question is, "How personal should I get in my personal statement?" Although there is no universally correct answer, some suggestions can be offered. A personal detail, such as describing how growing up with a handicapped or disturbed sibling has affected your life and decision to enter psychology, is appropriate. However, depicting the situation in intimate detail without relating it to its contribution to your own growth may lead an admissions committee to question your judgment. A rule of thumb is to be introspective and self revealing without sounding exhibitionistic. For example, it is appropriate for an applicant to state how personal life experiences have contributed to better self understanding, but it sounds peculiar when the applicant goes into great detail about particular relationships or early life events. A good idea is to show some humility. Even if you have golden research and professional experiences and 1600 GRE scores, you are still entering as a student. You are coming to learn. Show some awareness of the areas you hope to develop during your graduate/professional school experience.
I. Determine your purpose in writing the statement
Usually the purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you are an applicant they should choose. You may want to show that you have the ability and motivation to succeed in your field, or you may wish to show the committee that, on the basis of your experience, you are the kind of candidate who will do well in that field. Whatever the purpose, it must be present to give coherence to the whole statement.
1. Pay attention to the purpose throughout the statement so that extraneous material is left out.
2. Pay attention to the audience (committee) throughout the statement. Remember, your audience is made up of professionals in a certain field and you are not going to tell them how they should act or what they should do. You are the amateur in the field.
II. Determine the content of your statement
Be sure to answer any direct questions fully. Analyze the questions or guidance statements for the essay completely and answer all parts. For example: "What are your strengths and weaknesses in setting and achieving goals and working through people?" In this question there are actually six parts to be answered: 1) strengths in setting goals, 2) strengths in achieving goals, 3) strengths in working through people, 4) weaknesses in setting goals, 5) weaknesses in achieving goals and 6) weaknesses in working through people. Pay attention to small words. Notice! This question says "through" people not "with" people.
Usually graduate and professional schools are interested in the following:
1. Your purpose in graduate study. This means you must have thought this through before you try to answer the question.
2. The area of study in which you wish to specialize. This requires that you know the field well enough to make such a decision.
3. Your future use of your graduate study. This will include your career goals and plans for your future.
4. Your special preparation and fitness for study in the field. This is the opportunity to join and correlate your academic background with your extracurricular experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.
5. Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores such as a bad semester. Be sure to explain in a positive manner and justify the explanation. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities.
6. Any special conditions that are not revealed elsewhere in the application such as a large (35 hours a week) work load outside of school. This, too, should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and your future.
7. You may be asked, "Why do you wish to attend this school?" This requires that you have done your research about the school and know what its special appeal is to you.
8. Above all, this statement is to contain information about you as a person. They know nothing about you that you do not tell them. You are the subject of the statement.
III. Determine your approach and the style of the statement. There is no such thing as "the perfect way to write a statement." There is only the one that is best for and fitting to you.
1. There are some things the Statement should not be:
B. Also avoid the approach, "I've always wanted to be a ____." At this stage of your life, that persistent "calling" needs more development.
C. Avoid the catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done and tells nothing about you as a person.
2. These are some things the Statement should do:
B. It should form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience such as what you learned -
1) - about yourself,
C. It should be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances or draw your conclusions as the result of individual experience. See the list of general words of which to beware.
D. It should be an example of careful persuasive writing.
How? A Suggested Outline
1. Opening Paragraph: In this paragraph, state your general purpose for graduate study. Make it interesting so that the committee will want to read on.
2. Background: Focus on the experiences that serve as a basis for your projected graduate study. Show how your undergraduate studies relate to your intended goal; in particular, indicate how your major (include some specific learning experiences) has given you the motivation to continue your studies. Finally, include other pertinent experiences (work, volunteer activity, extracurricular programs). Be specific - using names of organizations, dates of participation, etc.
3. Qualifications: Outline your knowledge of an interest in your chosen area of study. Also mention other personal qualities which would enable you to achieve success in graduate school (e.g., initiative, perseverance, resourcefulness, etc.) Be sure to give examples.
4. Goals and Objectives: State the specific area of study you want to follow and why (short-term goal): what you plan to do with your intended degree combined with your present knowledge and experience, and what you will then be able to accomplish in your community or society with your advanced degree (long-term goal). Include reasons for applying to this particular institution, showing familiarity with the program (with certain faculty members of special courses that you wish to pursue).
5. Closing Paragraph: Give a brief but firm closing comment on your belief in your qualifications for success in graduate study. Be sincere and convincing. Remember that the aim of the statement is to introduce you to the reader, to describe your academic plans and your goals for your career, and to show how your choice of profession contributes to the needs of society.
Almost without exception, graduate and professional schools and fellowship foundations require letters of recommendation, usually at least three - which are sent directly to the schools. They desire a more objective sense of your abilities and experience than you would provide about yourself. Ordinarily, these are written by faculty members, but occasionally letters from other individuals may be appropriate, depending on your chosen course of study.
To obtain the best letters of recommendation, ask persons who know you well enough to write in detail about your abilities and potential for successful study. Choose people with whom you have worked for a long enough period, preferably for a year of longer. That does not include a professor with whom you have taken a single class, even if you did get an "A." If you wrote a particularly strong paper in the class and the professor knows you a bit better, then he or she could serve as a reference, but this is still not the most desirable. The point is that you want someone to attest to your ability and responsibility.
Very Important: First ask the person writing this letter whether he or she feels he can write you a good letter. If the person is hesitant or gives any indication that she has reservations, ask someone else! A bad letter of recommendation is deadly. Better to have one letter from a professor who gave you an "A" than from several who might express reservations about your abilities.
It is a good idea to give copies of your resume and statement of purpose to anyone whom you ask for a recommendation, together with any required form and a typed, addressed, stamped envelopes addressed to the schools to which the forms are to be sent. Be sure to add sufficient postage. It is also courteous to follow up reference letter agreements with a Thank You card. This is both courteous and a helpful reminder about their agreement.
A confidential letter carries more weight. By waiving your right to access, you communicate a confidence that the letters will be supportive and express trust in your reference. By waiving the right, you are communicating an intent to have the "truth" told. Otherwise, an admissions committee may lump the letter with all the other polite and positive testimonials.
SCU Departmental and Student Services
Santa Clara University Graduate Programs
The Following Books Can be Found in The Reference Room (1st floor of Orradre Library).
Peterson's Guide to Graduate Study 1999
The Official GRE/CGS Directory of Graduate Programs 15th Edition
Financial Aid Information