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Graduate School




Undergraduate Vs. Graduate School

Graduating from college and moving on to pursue a master's or doctoral degree is not the same as going on to college after high school.

Earning your bachelor’s degree allows for exploration and study of multiple subjects before majoring in one, while graduate school is specific, in-depth, and rigorous from the get-go. If you are not passionate about the field of study or are unsure of your decision, it will be harder to succeed – and you will likely end up dissatisfied. Graduate school is a significant investment of time, energy, and money, and there is no switching of majors if you change your mind. An even high level of commitment is required to pursue graduate work. 



Why Go to Graduate School?

Good Reasons

  • You are excited about your discipline!
  • You are confident in your career direction, and a graduate degree is required to pursue your profession of interest.
  • You have related internship/research exp.
  • You have gathered information about different degrees and programs and feel you have found a good fit.
  • You have spoken to faculty about pursuing graduate work and they have expressed confidence in your ability to succeed.

Not So Good Reasons

  • You want a higher salary.
  • You'd rather stay a student than go out into the real world.
  • You are thinking, "I need to go now or I will never go back."
  • You are concerned about the economy/job market and the possibility of not finding employment.
  • You think everyone needs an advanced degree to get a good job.
  • Your peers are pursuing graduate degrees.


When Should I Go?

It is common to hear students say, "If I don’t go now, I never will."  For those students who have had relevant internship or research experience, and know that further education is right for them, going directly into a graduate program may be the right decision. However, there are benefits to waiting:


Defining Graduate Degrees

What Graduate Degree is Best for Your Career Goals?

Because of the time, effort, and money it takes to pursue graduate school, it is VITAL to determine your career goals and choose the graduate degree program that will help you achieve them.

When you review graduate school websites, make note of the different kinds of graduate degrees those programs offer. There is a huge variety of degrees, which makes it impossible to present a comprehensive classification. It is critical you understand and research the differences in degrees and how they affect career options for each field. 


Exploring & Focusing


Occupational Research

When thinking about what degree to pursue, you need to start with the end goal – what profession or career you want to achieve.

Some professions require graduate degrees to start – e.g. school psychologist or counselor. Others prefer experience before further education, as business, and some fields allow you to enter at both undergraduate and graduate levels, such as nursing, social work, or education. This information is not simple to understand. That means that you have to start with occupational research.



Finding Programs

The next step is to find a program. You will need to review what programs exist, their locations, their costs, and their admission criteria.

  • Prof. association websites often have a section called Education which lists programs.
  • Program websites – study admission criteria and classes you would be taking.
  • Contact programs to request more information, and schedule a meeting if possible.



Identifying Your Choices


Preparing & Applying



Standardized Testing: Graduate Admissions Exams

When applying to graduate programs, one thing you want to check is whether or not you are required to submit test scores from a standardized test for admission.

Admissions exams include the Graduate Record Exam GRE (general & subject tests), the Graduate Management Admission Tests GMAT, among others.


Test Preparation

Not everyone agrees when it comes to test preparation. Some people prefer one company over another. Others doubt whether or not taking a review course really helps, or they think it helps only as a confidence-builder. It is safe to say that most students try to fit in some sort of focused, intensive review before taking an admissions test. There are a variety of companies that offer test prep. Many of them offer discounts to Stony Brook Students. Some of these companies also offer several practice tests throughout the year that you can take for free. 


Recommendation Letters

It’s never too early to start thinking about letters of recommendation.

The following advice is adapted from interviews with faculty and written from your instructor/recommender’s perspective. Before you ask faculty for a letter of recommendation, make sure to:

  • Get to know the professor outside the class! It is hard to write a letter for a student that I don’t know well. Particularly in larger classes, if you don’t make an effort to see me during office hours or review sessions, I won’t know much more about you other than whatever your final grade is– and that’s not enough information to write a letter.
  • I need to know more about you! What your interests are, what kinds of things you’re involved with, your goals and aspirations.
  • Let me know as early as possible that you are interested in graduate education and might be asking me for letters,  even if it’s still a couple semesters before actual application process.
  • Ask for my advice about which programs would be a good fit for you. It shows your interest and respect for my expertise, I am always happy to offer advice, and our conversation will help you to get a sense of my opinion of your potential.



Personal Statement

What is the purpose of the personal statement?

The purpose of the personal statement (also referred to as: Statement of Purpose or Candidate’s Admission Statement) is to gather information about you outside of your academic performance. In addition, to show the admissions committee how you think and how you explain your thoughts logically, and portray yourself as an individual who will be an asset to the program.

The personal statement is your opportunity to distinguish yourself. Remember – your personal statement should be a genuine reflection of you and why you are interested in the program – not merely what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.


Financing Graduate School


Suggested Timeline

The graduate school selection and application process typically takes a year and a half to two years prior to your desirable start date.

The following is a suggested timeline for students choosing to pursue graduate school directly after college. Not sure when to go? View the " Contemplating" section above.