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Career & Life Planning

Path to Grad School

Your step-by-step guide to grad school research, choice, and application. 

Where Should I Go?

Graduate degrees come in all shapes and sizes, but, with careful research, you can find the grad program that is a perfect fit for YOU.
Academic degrees focus on research, whereas professional degrees concentrate on practical knowledge and skills needed for a particular profession.

  • Most masters-level programs can be completed in 2 years, but program lengths may vary.
  • A law degree (J.D.) may take 3 years to complete.
  • A Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree requires 4 years, plus residency, which can account for 1-7 additional years.
  • A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is usually awarded 2-3 years after completion of a masters-level program or 4-7 years after completing a bachelor's degree (Yes, some programs allow Ph.D. applications upon completion of a bachelor's!) 


These resources provide general information including degrees offered, average tuition costs, and contact information. You can also find Graduate School Rankings in the Vault resource on Handshake. 

Graduate Schools In the United States

Graduate Schools Outside the United States

To make the best possible decisions for yourself, consider the following criteria:

Type of Program Seek admittance to the program that is the "best match" between your interests and the program focus. For example, Harvard is widely regarded as an excellent university with a world-renowned business school, but what is the reputation of the Music Education department? Consider the right program for you based on your criteria. Perhaps a lesser known institution has the best program in your field. 

Accreditation Apply to programs that are accredited regionally or by subject - relevant organizations.

Faculty The interests, availability, and experience of the program faculty are important considerations in your decision-making process.

Cost and Financial Aid Options Consider tuition cost plus fees, books, health insurance, rent, utilities and other expenses. Investigate loan, scholarship, assistantship, and work options prior to enrolling.

Alumni Career Destinations Ask your graduate school representative what graduates of the program do and where they are employed. Research graduate schools and their alumni using LinkedIn's search function.

Specialties/Concentrations and Practical Experience Many graduate programs offer the opportunity to specialize within your field.  For example, MBA programs may offer Finance, Entrepreneurship, Marketing or Management concentrations. 

Program Reputation Ratings and rankings are readily available for some types of degree programs; for others, you may need to dig a little deeper.  Consult with faculty in the field of study to get information on recommended programs. 

Location Apply to institutions in areas where you will be comfortable living for a few years.  Investigate on- and off-campus housing options in the area. The professional network you are building can serve as a strong foundation from which to launch your new career. Additionally, some career fields require licensure or certification, which may be state specific.  

Size/Composition of Class The demographic profile and student-faculty ratios may help identify programs that are a good fit for you. 

Facilities If possible, visit the graduate programs you are seriously considering.  It is important to get a sense of the entire campus, including classrooms, laboratories, the library, and any other facilities related to your department. 

Research and Request Information 

After identifying your target list of programs, request a course catalogue, application materials, and financial aid information from each program. The number of programs on your "target" list will vary depending on your academic credentials, the type of degree sought, and the prestige of the programs to which you are applying. Try to complete your research during the summer before your senior year.
Sample Timeline to Plan for and Select Grad School Programs.

The Application Process

Generally speaking, program deadlines may occur as early as December of your senior year. It is very important that you identify the specific deadline for each program where you intend to apply.
Sample Timeline for Grad School Planning & Application Process

Rolling admission deadlines: It is highly recommended that you submit your complete application packet as early as possible. The competition only increases as more students apply to the program and fewer seats are available.
Standard deadline: You may apply at any time until the deadline. At that point, all applications are reviewed together and acceptance decisions are made.

Pieces of Your Application 

The Application Form

It is likely that you will complete most, if not all, of your graduate school application forms online. Be careful to accurately answer all questions and avoid spelling or typing errors. Most graduate programs charge an application fee, which can range anywhere from $40 to $150 - sometimes more.


Graduate schools require official transcripts from every institution of higher education you attended. This includes dual enrollment, summer classes, and of course, Rollins. Visit the Office of the Registrar to request an official transcript. Your transcript will be mailed within five business days for a per transcript charge. Additional charges apply for priority or express mail service.

Graduate Entrance Exams

Graduate and professional schools usually require a specific admissions test as part of the application packet. The tests taken most frequently by Rollins students include the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and DAT.

Other Graduate Exams: Optometry College Admission Test (OAT), Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). Note that the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) may be accepted in place of the GRE.

You are strongly advised to take the appropriate test between your junior year and senior year - or at the beginning of your senior year. Do not postpone this task, as you may find it necessary to retake a test to improve your scores. Before retaking a test, be sure that you understand the manner in which multiple test scores will be interpreted by a given institution. Some universities will average the scores you earned on all tests and others may look at your best scores only. Most graduate admissions test scores are valid for five years.

Letters of Recommendation

To request a recommendation letter, you should schedule an appointment with the prospective reference writer to discuss your goals and plans. After discussing your graduate school plans, ask the person if he/she is willing to write a letter on your behalf. Provide recommendation writers with the following: 

  • Resume or summary sheet of your accomplishments
  • A link to the College's online form or a recommendation form from your graduate school application packet
  • If your recommender is expected to mail the recommendation: a pre-addressed, stamped envelope allowing them to mail the letter directly to a graduate program
  • If emailing a recommendation: the email address to which they will send it

Remember, faculty can get very busy a the end of each semester, so do not wait until the last minute to approach them.

  • For example: If your application materials are due on March 1st, ask recommenders if they can complete a letter by February 15th.  This allows two weeks of leeway, in case a letter is forgotten or delayed.
  • If the letter is non-confidential, ask for a copy of the letter for your personal file. Be sure to follow any specific directions provided by the graduate program and the wishes of your recommenders.  Some faculty may choose to keep their letters confidential.  This is not a sign of a negative letter, simply a personal choice by the recommender.

If asked by the graduate program whether you wish to waive your right to view letters of recommendation submitted on your behalf, it is suggested that you DO waive this right.  While there is no specific harm, either way, waiving your right demonstrates trust in your writers and confidence that you have received positive, supportive letters. Refusing to waive this right may be cause for concern from the perspective of an admissions committee.

Application Essay/Personal Statement

Admissions committees may try to evaluate a number of factors from your statement, including:

  • motivation and commitment to a field of study
  • expectations with regard to the program and planned career intentions
  • writing ability
  • major areas of interest
  • research interests and/or relevant work experience
  • educational background
  • immediate and long-term goals
  • reasons for pursuing graduate education in a particular field and at a particular institution
  • personal uniqueness - what would you add to the diversity of the entering class

Overall, most admissions committees will review your credentials using the following criteria:

  • GPA
  • graduate admissions test scores
  • undergraduate curriculum
  • level of involvement in research, extracurricular activities, and volunteer services
  • previous work experiences (especially for MBA programs)
  • quality of personal statement/essay
  • the reputation of the undergraduate institution
  • the overall content of the application
  • timeliness of application materials
  • the strength of recommendation letters
  • interview

As a graduate student, you are automatically considered "independent" in terms of federal financial aid purposes; therefore, your parents’ income and assets will not be calculated in determining your financial need. You should also note that graduate financial aid is often awarded on the basis of academic merit. For these reasons, the following advice is offered:

□    Apply for financial aid even if you think you will not qualify. Do not assume that you will be denied. Generally, the Free Application for Financial Aid is all that is required.
□    Apply for financial aid early. Deadlines for financial aid may be a month or so earlier than admission deadlines.
□    Most graduate and professional schools have a need-blind admissions policy, which means your chances of being admitted are not affected by your financial aid requests.
□    Complete all forms legibly and accurately. Errors and omissions can cause delays.
□    Follow-up on all forms you submit if a response is not received within a reasonable period of time.
□    Keep copies of all forms in case of loss.
□    Apply for aid every year.
□    After graduation, research programs that consolidate loans.

Aid can be secured from various sources including the federal government, state governments, educational institutions, foundations, corporations and private organizations such as churches and professional associations. The information listed below is offered as a basic guide to financial aid; please consult a financial aid expert for specific advice specific to your financial situation.


Fellowships generally require no service and may cover the cost of tuition and fees plus a stipend for expenses.  A fellowship is a prestigious award and an indication of excellence important to a student’s overall career. Financial need is usually not a factor in awarding fellowships.  Contact the Office of Student External and Competitive Scholarship Advisement for more information about the major fellowship and scholarship opportunities.  Be sure to visit this ofice early in your academic career, as competition for these prestigious honors can begin as early as the sophomore or junior year.

Several states offer support for graduate study. In order to qualify for aid in a particular state, you must be a resident of that state. Residency is established in most states after you have lived there for at least twelve consecutive months prior to enrolling in school. Most state awards are based on financial need.


Scholarships through private sources are awarded based on that sources' parameters. Financial need is usually not a factor in awarding scholarships.  Although there are numerous opportunities for graduate-level scholarships, you may believe they are less common than at the undergraduate level.  While this is somewhat true, part of the challenge is simply finding available scholarships.  Instead of being offered primarily through the institution, many graduate scholarships are offered through private foundations and corporations, thus requiring a bit more research on your part.

Research Assistantships

A research assistantship usually requires that you assist in faculty research activities. These assistantships are rarely offered to first-year students. Contact individual faculty members directly to determine your eligibility.

Teaching Assistantships (T.A.)

Being a teaching assistant may involve delivering lectures, leading study groups, grading papers, counseling students, and supervising laboratory groups. Most T.A. work approximately 20 hours each week, generally receiving a salary and tuition waiver. Appointments to a T.A. position are based on academic qualifications and subject to funding availability.

Administrative Assistantships

This type of position, often called a Graduate Assistantship, generally requires 10 to 20 hours of work each week in a university administrative office. Some administrative assistantships provide a tuition waiver; others provide a salary. Details concerning these positions can usually be found in the school catalogue or through the academic or graduate studies department.

Federal Work-Study Program

This federally funded program provides eligible students with employment opportunities on campus or in nonprofit organizations. Not all schools have an earnings ceiling. The dollar value of a work-study award depends upon financial need, the amount of money the school has to offer, and aid received from other sources.

Federal Direct Stafford Student Loans

This government-sponsored program provides low-interest loans to graduate students in two forms: subsidized and unsubsidized. The subsidized component of the program provides an interest-free loan as long as you are in school at least on a half-time basis. Under the unsubsidized component of the program, you are responsible for paying the interest on the loan as soon as the loan is disbursed. In order to qualify for the subsidized loan, you must demonstrate financial need. Find out more information about Federal Direct Stafford Student Loans at Edvisors.

Graduate PLUS Loans

This federally-sponsored loan program can lend up to the full cost of your education, minus money received from other sources, including Stafford loans.  Thus, a PLUS loan should be used if additional funds are needed, only after all other resources are exhausted.  Flexible repayment options are available and no repayment is required while you are enrolled in school on at least a half-time basis. Find out more information about Graduate PLUS Loans at Edvisors

Federal Direct Loans

Similar in scope to the Federal Stafford Student Loans, some graduate schools offer Direct Loans that are funded through the Department of Education’s Direct Lending Program. Interest rates and policies are very similar; however, there are more repayment options with Federal Direct Loans.


To apply for almost any type of financial aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application must be completed after January 1 preceding fall enrollment. You may download the form from

Free Practice Exams and Prep

Free Practice Exams

Free practice exams are available through Rollins, Kaplan, and Princeton Review. Use the following links to access the appropriate exam.

Rollins Center for Career & Life Planning offers a space to practice free versions of the GRE, GMAT, and other graduate school entrance exams twice each year: once in fall and once in the spring semester. For the date and location of free practice exams events, visit the events section of Handshake

Kaplan offers free practice tests for 

Princeton Review offers free practice tests for

Free Test Preparation

Free test preparation software and events are available through a variety of sources. To explore test prep options use the following links: 

POWERPREP® II Software offers Preparation for the Computer-based GRE® revised General Test 

Kaplan offers free test prep events for

Study Guide Zone offers offers Free study materials for a variety of entrance exams