Preparing to Apply for Graduate School

Preparation for grad school can begin any time during or after your time at Wellesley. You can begin through conversations with your Advisor for Career Exploration (ACE) about how your values, interests, and strengths align with potential fields of study. Faculty advisors and mentors are another great starting point to learn about graduate school. You can even reach out to alumnae through The Wellesley Hive. Once you have a stronger understanding of the graduate programs you are interested in, make an appointment with the relevant Industry Career Advisor to discuss how a graduate or professional degree may help you meet your career goals. Career Education's advisors are available to support you through the application process.  

Questions to ask:

  • What is it about graduate school that attracts you?
  • What do you hope to gain by going to graduate school?


People to Meet

You have a number of people and places to begin your graduate school journey while at Wellesley and even after you graduate.

  1. Your Career Education Mentor is a great place to start your pathway to graduate school. Your mentor can help you explore your interests and how they will impact your career and educational goals.
  2. Career Community Advisors (CCAs) are a great next step once you have areas of interest. CCAs can help you narrow down types of programs and their impacts on your career.
  3. Professionals/Alumnae in the field: Informational Interviews with current graduate students, professionals in the field, and faculty are another great way to learn more about a career path and how graduate school may help you reach your goals. You can do this through The Hive and LinkedIn.
  4. Join a student organization to find others with similar or shared interests.
  5. Meet with faculty, especially those in your area of interest: They are a great resource to consult as they have likely pursued and attained similar degrees.
    • Be sure to ask if faculty can connect you with any Wellesley alumnae.

Questions to ask:

  • Who do I know that has gone to graduate school?
  • What information do I lack and who might be able to help me learn this information?
  • Can I find anyone on The Wellesley Hive that has attended the programs that interest me?


Identifying Programs

Another important step is identifying programs. No matter the subject there are bound to be numerous programs to choose from. For example, how can you decide which of the 100+ schools of public health are right for you?  Be clear about why you applying to graduate school, well before creating a list of schools and programs. You can start with our resource on exploring graduate school, meet with your CCM, CCA or alumnae advisor. Continue reading for suggestions on how to thoughtfully create a list of schools and programs to apply to. Keep in mind that you will be living in this location for 1-5 years or more.

Values & Needs
Deciding what you need and value in a location, institution and program will make easier to create a list of programs to research. The questions below are suggestions on how to think through your values and needs in these areas with the goal of creating a short list of programs that best fit your needs.

  • Location
    • Where am I willing to live for the duration of a graduate program? Am I open to urban, suburban or rural settings? What climates am I willing to consider?
    • Do I need or want to be in a certain state? City?
    • Is there a major airport nearby? Is public transportation and option or will I need to obtain a vehicle?
    • Are there options for my partner to find work or attend a graduate program of their own?
  • Institution
    • What type of research or work do I want to pursue and which programs have the focus I am seeking?
    • Which institutions have faculty in my areas of interest that are willing to work with me?
    • Which institutions have the specialized equipment, resources or data/information access required for my interests?
  • Program
    • What are the largest and smallest size programs I am willing to consider?
    • What is the program culture?


Researching Schools and Programs

Once you have reviewed your values and needs as they relate to location, institution, and program it is time to make a list of schools and programs to research before you apply. It is tempting to look at a list of rankings somewhere on the internet and apply to the “top ten” without putting much additional thought into your process. Although this approach may yield results, you also may miss programs more closely aligned with your personal, professional, and academic interests. See below for a few more suggestions on where to start your research.

Use Your Network — People You Know
One of the first places you can start is with your connections throughout Wellesley.

  • Wellesley Faculty — ask for programs and institutions they think may fit your interests.
  • Primary Investigators, post-docs, and lab colleagues — If you are working with, or around, individuals working in your areas of interests take time to talk with them about their educational paths.
  • Wellesley Alumnae — You can use The Wellesley Hive to find alumnae who have completed graduate programs similar to those that interest you.
  • Career Education — Use an appointment with your Advisor for Career Exploration (ACE) or an Industry-specific Career Advisor to discuss your interests and start making a plan.
  • Websites

  • Professional Associations — Almost every profession has an association to address important issues through meetings, conferences, and continuing education. They are also going to have a lot of information on your field of choice, possibly even a list of programs! Not sure what it’s called? Try searching for “professional association” + your area of interest. Review some of the examples below for graduate and continuing education resources.

  • Program & Institution Websites
    Remember to look over websites for individual programs and institutions to learn more. Be sure to keep look for logistics such as application deadlines, fees, test requirements, and prerequisites. You should also see if there are any profiles of current students, post-docs or recent graduates to get learn what projects they are working on and where they have gone after graduating. You can also look over faculty profiles for similar information. While reviewing faculty profiles look for collaborative projects.

There is no shortage of organizations and institutions ranking graduate programs by any number of factors. The most well know may be US News & World Report but there are also much more focused approaches, such as rankings by IDEAS using Research Papers in Economics(RePEc) data sets. Always keep your values and needs for graduate and professional school as the main priority, regardless of the ranking source(s).

Educational Associations and Accrediting Bodies
Another great approach is to find the educational associations and accrediting bodies. These organizations exist to help insure that the programs you enroll in meet agreed upon standards and teach what is needed to enter your profession. They often, but not always, have a direct connection to professional organizations. In some areas there may be more than one accrediting body.

Centralized Application Systems
Some programs and professions use centralized application systems to streamline the process for schools and applicants. These site can be a good starting point, however, not all programs in all fields are required to use them so it is possible not all options are represented. While looking through some of the examples below, consider the following: application deadlines, fees, test requirements, prerequisites.  A few examples of centralized application systems are below:

  • Council for Social Work Education — SocialWorkCAS
  • Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health — SOPHAS
  • Law School Admission Council — LSAC
  • Association of American Medical Colleges — AAMC

What to do with what you learn

Still deciding where to apply? Already have a short list? You can use all of the information you have gathered to start creating a short list of programs to which you will apply. It is also a good idea to schedule a meeting with your Advisor for Career Exploration (ACE) or an Industry-specific Career Advisor to discuss what you learned develop a strategy for narrowing the options. Ask a faculty member! All of your faculty have completed graduate school at least once and are sure to have suggestions. It is also a great opportunity to check in with anyone you reached out to earlier in the process. Give them an update on what you are thinking and even ask for their input.


Visiting Programs

One of the best options available to continue narrowing your options is to attend an information session for a program, or type of program, that is of interests.

What should I expect?
Although format can vary, most information sessions present much of the same information already available on the website with a few important differences. Information like admissions statistics may be more up to date but more importantly you may also have the chance to meet current students and faculty. If so, have some questions in mind to ask should you get the chance. Not sure what to ask? Revisit our section on values & needs.

How much will it cost?
Generally, the information sessions are free of charge but you will have to pay for any travel costs. Unfortunately there are generally not any funds available to offset the cost but there are a few low to no cost options to keep in mind.

  • Try visiting a similar program at one of the many world class institutions in the Boston area. You can take the exchange bus into Cambridge or the commuter rail into south station.
  • Attend a virtual information session, these are growing in popularity and frequency, they are a great way to ask a ton of questions without the travel. Check professional associations and program websites for upcoming options.
  • Try to visit while home during breaks or even when traveling for fun.
  • Check the calendars of individual schools and programs to see if they are holding an information session near you.
  • Check the events and fairs sections in Handshake for any information sessions, visiting speakers or panels.

How can I prepare? You should spend some time on the program website and make a list of any specific questions or concerns that are not addressed or may be unique to you. Also, think about what you can only experience while visiting a campus. If you cannot experience some of the examples below, think about who you may ask during or after a visit. Examples of a few things to keep in mind:

  • Accessibility —  Can you easily navigate the campus and any surrounding areas? Are ramps, elevators, and automatic doors located in convenient locations? Does every path from A to B require stairs or steep hills?
  • Proximity to services — Can you find and access a health center? Counseling and mental health care providers? Grocery and convenience stores?
  • Transportation — If driving, how much does parking cost and is it conveniently located? What  public transportation options are available? Where are they located? Are routes frequent enough to be useful?
  • Climate — How will bad weather impact any of the above? Keep in mind this may mean ice & snow, hurricanes, extreme heat, etc.

Are there other options? Some institutions will allow prospective students to sit in on courses, attend guest lectures and seminars, or even schedule a one-on-one meeting with students, faculty or staff. Carefully read website to see if this may be an option before asking.