More than 17 years. That’s how long an average college student has spent in school by the time graduation finally rolls around. The last thing most graduates want to think about once they have that diploma in their hands is returning to a classroom, but sometimes, a few more years is what it takes to land that dream job with the ideal salary.
“I decided to apply right out of undergrad instead of working first, because in order to get a job in speech pathology, you have to have your masters,” said speech pathology and audiology senior Michelle Horton.
For Horton and other students who decide that graduate school is beneficial or necessary, MSU’s Career Services and Placement (CSP) website is a great resource to help the application process go smoother. The Web site suggests beginning the application process early because applying to graduate school can be a lengthy process. Being organized is key.
There are several important factors to consider when looking at graduate programs, such as admission requirements, cost and geographic location of programs and schools. It is also vital to examine the faculty. Karen Klomparens, dean of the graduate school at MSU, said that students should talk to faculty members. It is especially important for students who are seeking a Ph.D. to look for faculty that are doing research in the areas they would like to study as graduate students.
Klomparens also said that the best thing for students to do is to start making contacts right away and to do research on the web, because MSU alone has more than 100 different graduate departments. Find out if a school offers the degree you want, how long the program is, and if you’re required to gain practical experience. Horton took this advice and looked at the descriptions of the programs online. She talked with her professors about different schools and plans to visit several schools in the near future.
Many graduate schools require standardized test scores in the application, but schools vary on how much they consider these scores when evaluating students for acceptance. Potential applicants should plan on taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) by November of the year prior to the semester they wish to enter graduate school. The GRE consists of verbal, quantitative and analytical sections. It is only offered electronically and taking a practice test is recommended, which is available from the Educational Testing Service. Testing booklets for admission exams are available at the Counseling Center Testing Office in 207 Student Services.
A personal statement and letters of recommendation are also important parts of the application process. These materials allow acceptance committee to get a sense of who you are and what you can bring to their program. The format for the personal statement varies by school; however, it should reflect some knowledge of the particular school and department that you’re applying for, which is why researching the department in advance is helpful.
You will usually need three letters of recommendation, which can be from anyone qualified to comment upon your ability and potential. They should be people who know you well enough to make an informed recommendation and have a positive opinion of you. They should also understand the field you’re planning to study and be able to compare you to other students with similar goals and interests.
“You should ask people who know your academic potential as well as your leadership abilities, and what would make you a good candidate for their graduate school,” Klomparens said. She added that letters should mostly be from faculty but can come from employers, as well. Ask people you know well and who you’ve done research, projects, service learning or have taken more than one course with. “I talked to my professors who I felt most comfortable asking questions; the approachable ones who I felt would be knowledgeable about graduate school reputations, and what each schools’ strengths and weaknesses are,” Horton said.
Klomparens said students should not stress over the economy and how it will affect applying to graduate school. She added that although the economy sometimes does affect schools, there are better jobs available with a masters degree or doctorate. “Even if the economy is good, it still encourages advanced learning and puts pressures on graduate students to seek advanced classes,” she said. Klomparens also said that statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show a direct correlation between salary benefits and amount of education.
CSP also suggests getting a Placement Report from the graduate school you are interested in, which will detail where graduates are working and what salaries they are receiving.
But, remember, graduate school isn’t something that has to automatically follow graduation. The decision to attend can be made at any time, and the important thing is to really know what you want to do before committing to an intensive program. Besides, after seventeen years, some of us need a break from the books to experience what the real world has to offer.
After a year or two out there, a few more years inside classroom may not sound so bad.

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