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Graduate School Prep

Young woman in graduate school


Choosing to further your education is an important step in broadening career options. For some, a graduate-level degree is a requirement in their field of study; for others, a graduate degree will make them more marketable and competitive in today’s ever-changing world of work.  Higher level graduate degrees can help you:

  • Advance your career
  • Pursue additional career options
  • Earn a higher income
  • Become more respected in your field
  • Pursue your love of learning

To determine if Graduate School is right for you, check out’s “7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Enrolling in a Graduate Program.” 

How the CCPD can help:

After making the decision to apply to Graduate School, be sure to use the Center for Career and Professional Development to help you navigate the application process! Our services to undergraduate students and alumni include:

  • Application assistance
  • Personal statement/ essay critiques
  • Resume/ CV critiques
  • Interview preparation

Steps in Applying for Graduate School

Depending on which school(s) you are applying, the application process may differ slightly. In general, though, you should follow these steps when applying for a graduate program:

Consider your Career Options

Some enter Graduate School directly after completing their undergraduate degrees while others work for a bit in their field and then decide to further their education. Some enter Graduate School as full-time students while others are part-time students while also working, and still others earn their graduate-level degrees online.  There are many options and personal factors to consider before deciding which type of student (full time or part time) you want to be and when you want to apply.

Before you research specific schools and graduate programs, though, you first need to decide on your field of study.  Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my career goals? Do I want to expand upon my undergraduate degree or go in a completely different direction?
  • Do I need a graduate degree to accomplish my career goals? Is this something I need to complete directly after finishing my Bachelor’s degree or should I wait a few years to gain experience in my field?
  • Are there several degrees that will help me accomplish my career goals, and if so, what are they? What are the differences?

Asking professionals within your field is also a great way to figuring out exactly what type of graduate degree you should consider.  Here are some questions to ask working professionals:

  • What is your graduate degree?
  • What programs or schools do you recommend?
  • Is there a specific concentration or specialization I should seek?
  • Will I need additional certification or licensure after I complete the program?

You can also check out these useful links in learning about specific career options, required degrees, estimated salary, and skills needed:

Research Graduate Programs

Once you’ve narrowed down your graduate program options, you will need to research schools which offer the degree you need. is an excellent place to start, but here are a few other useful resources:

  • WCU’s Graduate School programs

Graduate Program Rankings

It’s important to make sure your prospective university graduate program is properly accredited. You can search for accredited colleges and universities on the U.S. Department of Education website ( Additionally, make sure you also do your research on the surrounding communities. Going to a school in the heart of a metropolis when you want something more rural will not be a good fit for you, and vice versa.

Start the Application Process

Each college or university graduate program will have its own application process. Some will want your GRE scores, while others are more interested in your personal statement. Read their admission requirements carefully.

It’s best to apply to 3 to 5 different programs. You should apply to the more competitive programs but also have a back-up plan with at least one school you feel confident you’ll be admitted.

Once you have identified your ideal schools and programs, and have read the admission requirements carefully, begin the application process.  As stated before, each school may want different items, but in general, most colleges and universities want:

  • Official transcript
  • GRE or other graduate admission exam scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statements
  • Resume or CV
  • Graduate admission interview
  • Application fees

To obtain your official transcript, you will need to work with the Registrar’s Office of your undergraduate institution. Be aware there is usually a fee associated with this request.  Make sure you have the address and department of the school to which you are applying correctly labeled.  Many Registrar Offices will mail them directly.

Most schools want at least three letters of recommendations from either your professional contacts, former professors, current or former supervisor, or others who are not related to you.  Be aware some schools will have a form for the contacts to fill out while others want a well-written letter in the format the contact desires.  Here are a few tips to consider when asking others to write a letter of recommendation for you:

  • Ask early as other prospective students maybe asking them as well
  • Provide your reference with your resume or CV they can reference
  • Be clear about your timeline and when you need them to submit the letter
  • Send a thank you note to your contact(s) thanking them for their time

Most schools will want a copy of your resume or CV (link to Professional Handbook), as well as some sort of personal statement as to why you want to go to Graduate School, and more importantly, why you want to be admitted into their program specifically. Be sure you answer the questions provided as concisely as you can, and be sure to get it critiqued by the professional staff at the Center for Career and Professional Development! (828.227.7133)

Many programs, especially the more competitive ones, will ask for an interview with a representative from the Graduate School, Admissions, or a faculty member. Be prepared to answer the following most common questions:

  • Tell us about yourself
  • Why are you interested in our program?
  • How will you use your degree?
  • What are your long-range career goals?
  • Why should we accept you over hundreds who apply?
  • If you are not accepted into this program, what will you do?

If you’re nervous or would like more preparation, be sure to make an appointment with the CCPD staff for a mock interview.

And lastly, be sure to research the application fees, as they can quickly add up. Typically, schools want you to pay your fees when you submit your application.

Consider how you will pay for Graduate School

Calculating the costs of Graduate School is one of the most important steps you can make in determining if a program is right for you.  A big question to ask yourself is, “Can I afford to complete this program?” . Most schools and universities will offer a breakdown of graduate school costs, as well as how much room and board will be if you decide to live on campus.   But like your undergraduate degree, financial aid loans as well as opportunities for assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships are also available.

 Graduate assistantships and scholarships are typically given to full-time graduate students to help pay for living expenses during your time in Graduate School.  Graduate or research assistantships employment typically ranges from 10 to 20 hours per week.  Scholarships are often awarded based on academic achievement and financial need.  See the WCU Graduate School for more information on graduate or research assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships offered to WCU students.

Apply and make a decision

After you have finished the application process and have submitted your application to your three to five schools, all that is left is wait for an answer and make that final decision.  You may be admitted into more than program in which case you can decide which program and community is best for you.  You might consider visiting campuses and meeting with faculty if you are struggling to make that decision. You can also investigate any consequences you may face in going with one particular program over another and how you will deal with those possible outcomes.  And lastly, take the plunge and accept your admittance into the school of your choice.

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