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Personal Statements

Thinking about graduate school? If so, you'll need to write a personal statement. This short video provides an overview of the writing process and tips to get you on the right track.

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OCS provides advising for students considering applying to graduate school, including both MA, MS degrees and Ph.Ds. After reviewing the resources below, contact OCS to schedule an appointment.

TOC: 

Why Graduate School?

Before researching programs or preparing application materials, first reflect on your motivations for pursuing a graduate degree and honestly assess what you’re hoping to gain and why you feel a graduate degree is the right course of action. The decision to pursue an advanced degree should not be taken lightly. Graduate School is a tremendous investment of time, energy, and financial resources. Use the questions below to begin the reflection process; see also our I Might Be Interested in Graduate School Prezi.

  • Why do you feel you are ready to pursue a graduate degree? Are you committed to a specific field of study?
  • What are your personal and professional goals, and how will the degree help you achieve these goals?
  • Are you pursuing this degree for yourself or to satisfy the expectations of others?
  • In what ways might you benefit from a year or two of work experience before graduate school?
  • Are you willing and able to make the necessary financial commitment to support graduate school?

Examine your reasons carefully. Are they logical? How committed are you? Think about your future career; what degree will best prepare you? What type of educational preparation will be most valuable? Talk with professionals in your field of interest to gauge how different degree options are viewed. You may find there are a variety of paths to reach your intended destination. Overall, you need a clear understanding of your goals before applying and ultimately choosing a program.

Reasons NOT to go to Graduate School

You’ve been in school for a significant portion of your life, and you’ve been successful. It’s comfortable and familiar. The job market can be a source of anxiety, especially if you’re not sure of your options or how to begin the process. Pursuing a graduate degree to avoid the job market is not the answer. In the short-term it may seem like a good idea, but in the long run you may not be any closer to figuring out your career path. Even worse is finding out after you complete a graduate degree that the degree will not qualify you for a position of interest, or that the degree will not be an added benefit in the field.

The decision to pursue a graduate degree should be yours and not impacted by the expectations of others. You’re the one who will need to put in the time and energy to complete the thesis, dissertation, or fieldwork. And it is your future that is most directly impacted by this decision and what you choose to study. Though others may have advice or opinions, remember the decision needs to be yours.

WHEN to go to Graduate School

When is the right time to pursue a graduate degree? This is a common question among students and the answer varies for each applicant.

Taking Time Off

There are many reasons students choose to take time off before pursuing a graduate degree, including gaining practical work experience and exploring career options before committing to a field of study; needing or wanting to take a break from academic study to avoid burnout; or saving money for graduate study. Others are ready and motivated to go straight into graduate study, and that's okay too.

Getting Work Experience

Depending on your field of study, work experience may be necessary to make you a competitive candidate. A foundation of practical skills may enable you to make a stronger contribution to graduate-level work. Also, depending on your career goals, a graduate degree may be a nice learning experience for you, but it may not be necessary in fields that value on-the-job experience.

A Few Common Concerns

We sometimes hear from students that delaying graduate study may derail their plans to get an advanced degree, that it will be more difficult to get back in the academic routine, or that it will look poorly on applications. For those who are committed to obtaining an advanced degree and invested in that subject, taking time off will not derail your plans. If you are passionate about the field, you are likely to stay up-to-date through your own research and readings. If you find that you are not motivated to stay engaged with the field in your free time, it may be an indicator that your interest in the area is waning.

Staying up-to-date will also help minimize concerns from application committees about your time away from school, and demonstrate to them that you have the knowledge and desire to engage in deep study. Overall, getting back into the swing of classes, writing papers, and engaging in academic research after working for a period of time will be an adjustment, but one that can be easily overcome.

Tip: OCS serves to supplement the advice of the faculty by focusing on how your decision integrates with your overall career goals, by supporting you through the application process, and by providing helpful resources.

Selecting the Right Graduate School for You

It is critical that you select the program and institution that is the best fit for your interests. This requires research, outreach to faculty and alums, and a visit to the school. Academic disciplines at the graduate level can have tremendously specialized resources that will vary based on the institutions. You cannot simply select an institution solely based upon their overall reputation. Some of the finest specialized departments are found at institutions with which you may not be familiar. Like a good researcher, approach this task with an open mind, sifting through all the information before arriving at a conclusion. While there may be some factors that will limit your choices, such as geography or funding, there are many other criteria you need to consider. The following section breaks the selection process down into two steps and provides considerations relevant to each step.

Step 1: Research Programs

Before you identify programs, first decide whether you'll be pursuing a Master's or a Ph.D. After that, you'll want to start making a shortlist of programs to further evaluate. There are many ways to do this, including seeking advice from faculty mentors and utilizing print and web resources. 

FAQ: Master’s vs. PhD, what’s the difference?

Master’s degrees that focus on academic and applied research fields, such as Anthropology, Linguistics, and Chemistry, are considered research master’s degrees. These degrees typically require the completion of graduate-level courses and seminars, and may also require passing comprehensive examinations in the major subfield of research and possibly one or more minor subfields. Preparation and defense of a master’s thesis may also be required, though such degrees may be awarded without a thesis by substituting a capstone project for the thesis. Research master’s programs are typically designed to expose and prepare students for higher level graduate study, giving students the opportunity to test whether further study is the right choice for them or, in some cases, to provide students with the necessary academic preparation to pursue a PhD.

Professional master’s degrees focus on providing preparation for applied professional work, emphasizing practical skills and application of theory. There is typically a specified set of course or seminar requirements, graded exercises, and a project or other requirement that is substituted for the thesis. Professional internships in supervised work settings may also be required. Examples of professional master’s degrees include Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Architecture (M.Arch). When researching programs, you may see some master’s degree programs referred to as terminal degrees, which indicates they are designed to provide students with knowledge or expertise necessary for career advancement, a career change, or to satisfy intellectual curiosity, and not as a stepping stone to a PhD. This is more common with professional master’s degree programs, though any master’s degree program can be considered terminal.

With doctoral degrees, there are similar distinctions between research and professional degrees. A PhD is a research focused degree. PhD candidates typically conduct original research using quantitative and qualitative methods. Depending on the discipline, they may also focus on theoretical arguments that bring several competing theories into conversation with each other. A PhD program typically includes completing a dissertation that consists of a body of original academic research.

Professional doctoral degrees train graduates for applied work and practice. Examples of professional degrees include MD, JD, Psy.D (Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology) and Ed.D (Doctor of Education). In professional doctoral degree programs, the emphasis is on applications of research-based knowledge, since the intention is to prepare graduates for careers as practitioners. Depending on the program and discipline, degree candidates may be required to complete practical training rotations or internships, or similar to PhD programs, may need to complete a dissertation or doctoral research project in addition to completing graduate-level coursework and seminars. Licensing by an accrediting body may also be necessary prior to beginning practice.

FAQ: Seeking Advice From Faculty

Your professors, Deans, DUS, Teaching Assistants, and PIs are all excellent sources of information on graduate programs. Remember, they have all completed, or are in the process of completing, graduate degrees. They can suggest specific programs, may know the scholars affiliated with those programs and may be willing to make an introduction.

FAQ: Reviewing Print and Web Resources

Well-known general graduate school databases include Graduate Schools.com and Peterson's, both of which have searchable databases to begin exploring. US News and World Report gathers information on programs and produces the annual “Best Graduate Programs.” Keep in mind that these are general rankings and do not take in to account your specific interests and criteria.

In addition to general resources, explore discipline-specific resources, such as professional associations and scholarly journals for information on programs and leading scholars in the discipline. Professional associations are nonprofit organizations focused on particular career fields. They serve a variety of purposes, such as establishing best practices, keeping members informed of industry trends and developments, organizing professional conferences, and publishing journals. Professional associations such as the American Bar Association, American Medical Association, and American Psychological Association maintain oversight of the legitimate practice of a profession.

Many professional associations have extensive information for students about particular fields and career paths, as well as information on graduate programs, including those that are recognized or accredited by the association. For example, the American Psychological Association has extensive resources for those considering an advanced degree in psychology along with information on scholarships and a network of students pursuing graduate degrees in psychology. 

As you go about your academic study, consider the prominent scholars in your field. Who are the people publishing the latest insights or research on topics of interest to you? Where are these individuals teaching? What institutions are they affiliated with? Research those institutions to determine if they have a graduate program. Also, depending on your area of interest, consider where collections or archives that you anticipate using for your study or research are housed, and explore whether those institutions have appropriate graduate programs.

Step 2: Evaluate Programs

After you’ve developed a preliminary list of programs, you want to begin evaluating each program to determine which ones fit with your goals and interests. The following information highlights criteria you want to factor in when evaluating programs.

FAQ: Outcomes

When you begin evaluating programs, it’s crucial to think beyond completing the program to post-graduate options. What is your intended outcome after completing graduate study? Are you preparing for a career in academia or are you planning to go into the public or private sector? Review information on program graduates and where they end up. Historically, many PhD programs have focused on training students for careers in academia and have provided little support for career paths outside of academia. Though this is slowly changing, the resources and support will vary widely from one institution to the next. For this reason, if you’re intending to pursue non-academic careers, you need to assure there will be services and resources available to support you in this. For disciplines that require licensure prior to beginning professional practice, such as psychology, law, or social work, research the percentage of program graduates that successfully obtain licensing or certification. A low percentage is concerning.

FAQ: Faculty Mentors

“Who did you study under?” In many disciplines this is a common question you will be asked, and the answer may carry more weight than the school you attended. Selecting the right faculty advisor is key. Remember, this person will serve as a mentor and role model, will guide your course of study and your research, and in many cases will also help you launch your career. As you’re reviewing information on graduate programs, you need to determine if there is a faculty member specializing in your area of interest. Ideally, choose programs that have several researchers engaged in work that interests you. You don’t want to rely on one person, especially given the transitory nature of faculty positions. In certain disciplines, it is encouraged to talk to faculty members prior to submitting your application. In this case, try and set up a time to talk or meet with potential mentors prior to applying to make sure your personalities and interests are a good match. Meetings can be done via phone or Skype, or at professional conferences. Below are a few questions to ask when connecting with potential advisors; see also our Connecting with Programs & Selecting an Advisor Prezi.

  • What are the faculty in the department currently working on?
  • Do they work with graduate students? Are they taking on new advisees? What is the likelihood of serving as your advisor?
  • What is their advising style?
  • What have their former graduate students gone on to do? Where are their advisees now?
  • Are they planning to go on sabbatical or retire in the near future?

FAQ: Financial Resources

Graduate school can be expensive. The percentage of graduate students programs are able to fund, as well as the level, source, and length of funding, can vary widely from program to program. While most master’s degree programs are not funded, the majority of Ph.D programs do provide some funding for their graduate students. According to the National Science Foundation’s annual Survey of Earned Doctorates, approximately 63% of Ph.Ds completed their degrees in 2012 with no graduate school related debt. Still, almost 18% graduated with more than $30,000 in loans (information retrieved from www.theatlantic.com).

When researching programs, look into what financial support is available. Support may be in the form of graduate assistantships, tuition remission, grants, loans, or a combination of these. If financial support is an important factor for you, make sure to ask for details, including any terms or conditions of support. For example, does the program only offer assistantships to those who have completed at least a year of study? Do they limit the number of years they will provide tuition remission? Will tuition remission benefits cover only a portion of the time needed to complete your degree or extend throughout your entire program? If loans are a primary means of support in programs you’re considering, then it’s important to consider how much debt you can afford to take on. Research average salaries for those in your target career and determine if the amount of debt you will amass through graduate study is worth it. If financing graduate study is a concern, focus your efforts on applying to programs with the financial resources to support graduate students. Though cost is only one factor in deciding where to apply, it is a factor that has long-term financial implications. See the Funding Graduate School Handout for more details.

FAQ: Program Focus, Requirements, and Support

When reviewing information on each program, consider the type of environment that is best for you. The program culture varies widely from institution to institution, as do the amount of support services and resources available to graduate students. Talk with program faculty and administrators, current students, and program alumni; how do they describe the culture? Do they describe it as collegial or competitive? Is it considered to be supportive, or is there a sink-or-swim mindset. The program or department mission can also be very insightful. What do they state as their goal and purpose? Are they training the next generation of academics or scholars in their discipline or are they focused on preparing students for careers in the private or non-profit sectors? Beyond the mission and culture, you need to review the nuts and bolts of what will be required to earn a degree.

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you review information on the structure of the program:

  • How many courses are required and are those required courses of interest to you?
  • Is there flexibility to tailor the program to include other disciplines relevant to your focus?
  • How many electives will you be able to take? Are the electives focused on topics of interest?
  • How often are electives of interest offered. When were they last taught and when do they expect to be taught again?
  • Are there internship, research, or practical training requirements? How are students fulfilling those requirements? What opportunities are students currently taking advantage of and what may be available in the future?
  • Are there any teaching or research requirements? If so, how many and how are they obtained?
  • Are students required to complete a thesis or dissertation? What does that entail? What are the expectations and criteria? What requirements will need to be met before you begin your dissertation?
  • How long does it take, on average, for a student in the program to complete his or her degree?
  • What are the program demographics? Are most students full-time or part-time? What are the profiles of those admitted (such as experience level or academic background)?

FAQ: Beyond Academics

Though your academic study will certainly command most of your time and attention, it won’t fill every waking moment. It’s important to consider other important components of your lifestyle and assure there are the appropriate outlets and supports to meet your needs. Look into religious, cultural, or community organizations both on-and-off campus that you can get involved with. Also consider what it would be like to live in the surrounding area and consider area resources, including access to public transportation if needed and proximity to stores and restaurants. Are there many housing options that are within your projected budget, and would you be comfortable living there? Is there convenient and affordable access to child care, if needed?

Once you’ve gathered information and reviewed all of the relevant factors, compare programs and narrow your choices down to a realistic number of schools. This realistic number may vary from person-to-person depending on factors including the number of programs that fit your specific needs and academic interests. Keep in mind that you will need to develop tailored application materials for each program you choose to apply to, and you may need to get specific letters of recommendation for each program; this, along with application fees, may also factor in to the number of programs to which you choose to apply. Make sure to touch base with your undergraduate faculty advisors throughout this decision-making process to assure you’re thinking through all angles and not missing key criteria.

FAQ: Graduate School Abroad

When considering graduate programs abroad, it is essential to connect with current students, faculty, and program alumni to discuss the program in detail. Is there an emphasis on independent study and research or classroom lectures? What is the culture of the program and institution? There are graduate programs at international schools, or international branches of U.S. institutions, where knowledge of another language is not required. Though keep in mind that even if the classes are in English, you will need to interact with people outside the institution at some point during your years abroad; speaking the native language and understanding the culture will make this considerably easier. Whether you have spent time abroad or not, there will be a degree of culture shock that comes with living and studying in another country for an extended period of time.

The initial steps of evaluating and selecting programs are the same, though variations may come with the application process and timeline. Pinpoint what you want to study, what you are looking for in a graduate program, where you want to be, and identify programs that match your criteria. For those planning to pursue a professional degree in fields such as engineering, medicine, education, or law, make sure the degree will be recognized by professional associations and accrediting bodies in the country you plan to work after graduation. Review the application process and requirements and remember requirements and application timelines may vary from one country to the next. It is important to note that the time to degree may vary in different countries; for example, a Ph.D. in the U.K. may be completed in three years. This is mostly attributed to the fact that there is no Master’s Degree component to the Ph.D.  Therefore this may be a good option for those who know what their specific topic of study will be, but is probably not the right choice for those who want to explore various areas. For more information on graduate study in the UK and Ireland, please see Yale's Fellowships and Funding page.

Application Timeline

The following timetable is a guide to assist students who plan to apply for academic Master’s degree and Ph.D programs. Because of the range of programs and requirements, the information below is a general framework. The process typically begins in the first semester of junior year, or two years prior to application. Students should plan on submitting application materials by the end of first semester senior year, or approximately eight months prior to matriculation.

The GRE General Test is administered throughout the year at computer-based test centers in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries. Appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. For GRE details and registration information, please visit the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website.

FAQ: Junior Year or Two Years Prior to Matriculating

September - December

  • Schedule an appointment with a Office of Career Strategy adviser.
  • Meet with faculty and your Director of Undergraduate Studies to discuss potential programs and letters of recommendation.
  • Begin to prepare for the GRE.
  • Research and develop list of target programs.

January - May

June - August

  • Draft personal statements.
  • Finalize list of target programs, noting application deadlines (most will begin in November).

FAQ: Senior Year or One Year Prior to Matriculating

September

  • Request letters of recommendation from faculty.
  • Finalize your personal statements and have them edited by a writing tutor and other readers.

October

November

  • Begin submitting applications. Confirm with programs that your application file is complete, including letters of recommendation.
  • Begin exploring sources of financial aid (federal, institutional and private) and obtain and file applications as soon as possible.

December

January

  • Have your fall semester transcripts sent to target programs.

February - April

  • Evaluate Letters of acceptance and offers of financial aid.

Application Process

The graduate school application process is similar to the process you used when applying to undergraduate colleges; there are materials to gather and deadlines to meet. Many students find it helpful to compile a spreadsheet to help them stay organized and avoid missing important deadlines. Early decisions and rolling admissions policies are common, even if not explicitly stated. The key components of the application process are outlined below.

FAQ: Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are used in combination with your other application materials to gauge your preparation for graduate-level work. Tests may be general or subject specific depending on the subject and program requirements. Determine which, if any, standardized tests you need to take and gather information on how often the test is offered, testing locations, and cost. The GRE general test is offered throughout the year, while subject tests are only offered three times per year and require advanced registration. It can take several weeks for your test to be scored and the results sent to you and/or your graduate schools, particularly in the case of GRE Subject Tests and GRE General Tests taken overseas, so plan accordingly.

Standardized tests can be stressful. The best advice is to begin preparing early. Think back to how you prepared for the SAT or ACT. What preparation methods worked best for you? Did you study independently or take a class? The method that worked well for you previously may be the best way for you to prepare now. There are test-prep companies who offer in-person and online classes, as well as a variety of study guides containing practice tests that are available in bookstores and online. For GRE details and registration information, please visit the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website.

Remember, standardized test scores are only one part of your application. Admissions committees have mixed opinions on the merits of standardized tests and give them varying degrees of consideration; some programs choose to omit them from their requirements and instead focus on qualitative factors. If they are required, it’s important to take standardized tests seriously, but make sure the other components of your application receive equal, if not greater, attention.

FAQ: Personal Statements

Preparing a well-written and effective personal statement (sometimes referred to as statements of purpose or personal essays) that clearly articulates your preparation, goals, and motivation for pursuing that specific graduate degree is critically important. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort crafting these statements. The focus, structure, and length of personal statements vary from program to program. Some will have prompts or questions you need to answer, while others will leave the topic open ended. The length varies widely as well. Read instructions carefully and make sure to adhere to all parameters laid out in the application guidelines.

Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide on a message. Consider carefully which two or three points you wish to impress upon the reader, remembering that your audience is composed of academics who are experts in their fields. Your statement should show that you are able to think logically and express your thoughts in a clear and concise manner. Remember that the reader already has a record of your activities and your transcript; avoid simply restating your resume and transcript. Writing your statement will take time; start early and give yourself more than enough time for revisions. If no prompts are given, you can use the questions below to begin brainstorming content to include in your statement; for more information, see our Writing Personal Statement presentation Prezi and our three-minute video on Writing Personal Statements

  • What experiences and academic preparation do you have that are relevant to the degree you’re seeking?
  • Why are you choosing to pursue a graduate degree at this time?
  • Why do you want to pursue this particular degree and how will this degree and the specific program fit into your career plans and your long-term goals?
  • What specific topics are you aiming to explore and what does the current literature say about those topics?

Refining, Simplifying, and Polishing

After you’ve written a first draft, start the work of editing, refining, simplifying, and polishing. Provide specific examples that will help illustrate your points and convey your interests, intentions, and motivations. Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, apologetic, or awkward? Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed most of the qualifiers? Are you sure that each activity or interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Spelling and grammatical errors are inexcusable. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch all errors; read your statement aloud and have it reviewed by multiple people whose opinion you trust. If possible, have your statement reviewed by a writing tutor. For individual assistance with writing your personal statement, consult with the writing tutor in your residential college or the Writing Center within the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

FAQ: Letters of Recommendation

Graduate programs will commonly require 2-3 letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation allow an admissions committee to understand your strengths, weaknesses, and potential from another person’s perspective. Programs may specify the type of recommendations they require, ranging from academic ones from faculty to professional ones from former or current employers. In some cases, there may be a form that recommenders will need to submit with their letter or there may be specific questions the program requests recommenders address in their evaluation of your candidacy. Below are some steps we think you should take when approaching faculty about writing letters of recommendation; you can also find more information in our Soliciting Letters of Recommendation Prezi.

Whom should you ask to write a letter of recommendation?

You want to ask recommenders who know you well and who can best speak to your qualifications and potential for graduate work. They should be able to describe your work positively and be able to favorably compare you with your peers. Professors, research PI's, summer research or program mentors, internship supervisors, deans, and advisors may all serve as recommenders. Focus on asking recommenders who will be able to write a thorough and meaningful letter, as opposed to recommenders who may have a prestigious title but are unable to speak to your qualifications.

Schedule a Meeting 

Once you have decided whom you’d like to ask, contact them to schedule a meeting. In this meeting, you should be prepared to discuss your larger interests and goals for graduate school and why you’re approaching them to write you a letter. You might also want to bring a current resume, a short description of each program, a draft copy of your personal statement (if you have one), any pertinent reminders about the work you have done for this professor along with suggestions for what they could emphasize about you, a copy of your transcript (unofficial is fine) and any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your grades, the official description of the criteria the recommender's letter should address, and the deadline by which the letter is due. Specifically ask, "Do you feel you know me, my academic record, and/or my leadership qualities well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school?" By asking this question, you've now given the professor the opportunity to decline gracefully. If the answer is "no," thank them for their time and make sure you have others in mind. 

Ask well in advance of the deadline and follow up 

You should give each recommender at least four to five weeks to write your letter, though it might also be helpful to consult with them to see how much lead-time they need. This is especially true for letters to be written over breaks or needed for popular deadlines. Establish a firm deadline; as the deadline approaches, make sure to follow up with a gentle reminder and confirm that the letter was sent. If you have a past recommendation from several year ago, consider contacting the faculty member to update or refresh the letter. 

Drafting your own recommendation

If a recommender asks you to provide a draft of your own recommendation, provide the recommender with this sample draft from the National Association of Colleges & Employers. You may also ethically provide a list of bullet points you would like the letter to address and/or a factual narrative of key achievements (avoid adjectives). Explain that you are unable to write a draft that provides the kind of judgment and comparative evaluation that only the recommender can provide and that helps make for a strong recommendation.

Say thank you!

Write your recommenders a note of thanks and let them know what happens.

FAQ: Application Forms

Program application forms are typically available on the program web site; you can also call the program to request application materials. Pay special attention to any directions given and complete application forms exactly as instructed. Do not simply refer the recipient to your resume; answer all questions completely and thoroughly.

FAQ: Transcripts

Graduate schools usually require that you submit official transcripts from all institutions of higher education as part of your application. You can request your Yale College transcript online through the Student Information System (SIS) or by contacting the Office of the Registrar. If you completed courses at another college or university or studied abroad, you will need to contact those schools directly to request official transcripts. For courses taken abroad, you may be required to get a translation of your transcripts if it is in another language. 

FAQ: Resumes and CVs

Graduate programs often require applicants to provide a resume or CV (curriculum vitae). The OCS website provides resume samples and a CV Worksheet that you can use as a guide when developing your document. Before submitting your resume or CV, you should have it reviewed by a OCS Career Advisor or Graduate Peer Advisor to assure it is free of errors and is effectively conveying your skills, background, and experiences. 

FAQ: Writing Samples and Creative Portfolios

Depending on your discipline, you may also need to submit writing samples appropriate to your intended area of specialization, such as poetry, fiction, or journalism. For those pursuing advanced degrees in performing or visual arts, you may also need to submit a portfolio of your work or audition tapes. Review the specific requirements for the programs you’re considering and speak with your faculty advisor or OCS Career Advisor, Derek Webster, to discuss your needs. 

FAQ: Interviewing

A graduate school interview should be approached in the same manner as a job interview. Preparation and practice are essential. Be ready to discuss your academic preparation and motivations for seeking a graduate degree, your specific areas of interest within the field of study, and your goals following your degree completion. Also, be prepared to discuss any internships, fieldwork, research, or clinical experiences and the impact they had on you. After the interview, don’t forget to send thank you notes.

Financing Graduate School

Direct and Indirect Costs

The direct costs of attending graduate school include tuition and fees. Students are also often required to buy themselves health insurance in order to be enrolled. Each school has different tuition and fee charges and different insurance costs. Tuition and fees also vary at state schools for in-state residents and out-of-state nonresidents. The indirect costs include things like room, board, books and supplies, travel, loan fees, and personal expenses. This handout provides a comparison for different types of programs, costs associated, and contributions expected from students.

Internal Funding

Funding is often offered for many doctoral programs; in exchange, students are often required to complete teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships, and trainee-ships. Although it may take longer to complete your degree if you have teaching, research, or other obligations, such experience may also be crucial preparation for your career. Teaching assistantships are generally awarded to second-semester or second-year graduate students and may include a tuition waiver and stipend in exchange for leading a discussion section, supervising a lab, or grading papers. Research assistantships are also awarded by the institution, typically to second-semester or second-year graduate students. In return, you will receive a partial or full tuition waiver and a stipend. Some examples of the internal aid at Yale are available at the Yale Graduate Funding and Aid Office.

Internal funding opportunities generally provide tuition support and health insurance in addition to a stipend for living expenses. Different programs offer different amounts over a different number of years. You will need to check whether a program you are considering offers this kind of support and complete any necessary application materials.  If you are considering a state school where you are not a resident, be sure to research if, and for how long, the support they offer would cover the cost of out-of-state tuition and the likelihood of gaining residency within that period.

Master’s-only programs are less likely to offer the same level of financial support as doctoral programs; however, some do offer support. In addition, funded doctoral programs that provide a master’s on the way may offer tuition, health insurance, and a stipend while students are earning the master’s degree.

External Funding

External grants and awards can sometimes provide better funding and support than internal assistantships and fellowships offered. Sources of funding can be explored at Yale's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Fellowships page and a list of nationally competitive external fellowships can be found on Yale's Fellowship and Funding page. The following sites also have lists of external funding that students can explore: Scholarships.com, Fastweb!, ProFellow, Grants.gov, Peterson's, Grantwatch.com, and MSU's Grants for Individuals

Need-Based Funding and Loans

Financial aid is also available through a school’s office of scholarships and student aid (names of the office may vary) in the form of need-based loans or grants. Be aware of the terms of any loans and the fact that loans can accrue interest while you are still in school.

Federal Stafford Loans: Offer low, fixed-interest rates, Subsidized Stafford Loans are based on financial need, while Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are not needs-based. Students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible.

Graduate PLUS Loans: A federally-guaranteed student loan that helps meet financial needs that exceed Federal Stafford Loan limits. Grad PLUS is a credit-based loan. In order to be eligible, you cannot currently have adverse credit. Students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible.

Funding Deadlines

You must be sure to pay attention to all deadlines when applying for any kind of financial aid especially because they can be earlier than each school's application due dates. Many forms of aid require elements in their application packets like letters of recommendation, transcripts, and test scores that require time to prepare. Begin all application processes well in advance of their due dates!

Evaluating Your Options

First, take a moment to celebrate! The difficult part of connecting with people through your network and getting all of your applications together is over. The next step is picking the right program. There are a variety of factors to consider as you make your graduate school decision including finances, program quality/school reputation, program size, faculty quality, level of faculty-student interaction, student life, location. Please read below for further tips.

FAQ: Factors we think are overrated

  • Overall school prestige - If you want to go into academia, the brand name of the school isn’t as important as the quality of the specific program
  • Location: a big, fun city with lots of things to do - a better consideration might be a location with a low cost of living, where you can focus on your degree
  • Absolute stipend amount - remember to factor in cost of living! A smaller amount might go further in a cheaper city than a larger amount in a big city

FAQ: Factors we think are underrated

  • Research match – This is one of the most important factors in considering a graduate program. If you don’t have a strong research match, it’s probably not the place for you
  • Personality match – Make sure you click with the people in the department, and especially your potential adviser if you know who they are
  • Departmental collaborations and research environment – If the department has a lot of drama and other issues, it might not be the best place to work for the next 5 years; if everyone loves each other, that’s a good indicator of a healthy program
  • Other students – These individuals will be your colleagues in the coming years. Are current students happy? Do they get along with each other? Are they smart and passionate about their work, and other work going on in the department?

FAQ: What is the culture of the institution?

  • Ask yourself if you would enjoy it there and fit in. You are about to spend considerable time, energy and resources to earn a graduate degree
  • Is the program very competitive? Is the environment supportive? Will the advising and mentorship be enough for you?
  • Make sure you feel reasonably comfortable about the general atmosphere you believe characterizes the institution; it is not worth being unhappy for however many years you will be attending the program

FAQ: How have I been treated?

  • The way a school responds to prospective students, applicants, and admits is very telling about the way institutions treat their students and their alumni
  • You should expect to have a continuing conversation with your potential adviser, and maybe also other current students or faculty involved in the admission process, to get your thoughts about the program

FAQ: Things to Avoid

  • Do not commit to more than one institution! While this may be tempting, it is likely that the field you are entering is small, and people will speak to each other regarding good candidates. Avoid committing to a program if you are unsure!

FAQ: Considering & Declining Admissions Offers

  • Consider grad programs in pairs, to help decide immediately which program you would prefer
  • Be polite, these are people that you will likely encounter in the future within the field
  • Send a short e-mail or note to inform the contact person in the program, or the admissions committee member, of your decision
  • Remember to thank them for their consideration of your application

FAQ: Final things to remember

  • There are no right or wrong answers here, but it is important for you to know why you have chosen to attend a school.
  • No institution is perfect, but as you progress through the admissions process you will gain a realistic impression about your options.
  • Your success in life is dependent on you – not a name, not a ranking, not another person, not a placement percentage.
  • Your decision about graduate study should be based on where you will benefit the most as an individual student, as an alum and as a professional.

Dossier/Credential Management Service

Consider using an online credential service to store and manage a confidential portfolio of important documents such as letters of recommendation, your resume or CV, and writing samples.