Many students make one of two decisions regarding the path they wish to take after graduating from college: entering the professional field or enrolling in a graduate program. This decision depends on many factors including the undergraduate degree said student earned as well as the career path he or she wishes to follow. For those planning to attend graduate school after finishing their undergraduate studies, the office of Career Services as well as a Trinity graduate who successfully enrolled in a renowned graduate program offer advice to consider during the application process.

According to the director of Career Services, Twyla Hough, the first thing a student should consider when thinking about graduate programs is the reason that they wish to attend grad school in the first place.

“Regardless of whether they are thinking about it or they are sold on it, I still want to know how they’ve come to that decision, and also how they have come to the decision about the timing of when they want to go to graduate school … Some people realize they want to work before they go to graduate school and others say that they want to go straight into graduate school … [Having] a firm understanding of why one would take on pathway over the other is very important,” Hough said.

According to Hough, students should also consider their current health and motivation before committing to yet another rigorous academic program. Furthermore, students must do proper research into whether the program they are considering requires applicants to have prior work experience.

“[Students] don’t want to go through [the application] process and then realize ‘I can’t [do this] right now, I’m almost burned out,’ or realize ‘the programs I’m going into really want me to have two to three years of work experience.’ So [they must do] that research and understanding what is typically expected of the program they’re trying to go into, and where they are health-wise, to be able to be successful in going into graduate programs,” Hough said.

According to Melanie Coulson, assistant director of coaching and advising in the office of Career Services at the Center for Experiential Learning and Career Success, some websites for researching graduate programs include Petersons.com, Gradschools.com, Princetonreview.com and World Report and professional association websites.

“I would say that there is no need to apply to more than five or six programs, as long as one of them is a safety school, three of them are semi-competitive schools with programs that fit you and that you will probably get into, and one or two super star programs,” said 2014 Trinity graduate Aparna Gomes, now a Master of Public Health Candidate at Yale School of Public Health.

Once a student has decided which graduate programs he or she wishes to apply to, he or she must obtain a clear grasp of the application timeline and the requirements of each program, such as personal statements, exams and recommendation letters.

“Essays should be done with enough time to do full edits, because the first draft is not going to be the final draft. [They must also get] feedback from not only a career advisor but also a faculty member closest to the field of the program [the student] is trying to get into … I highly recommend that students take exams in the summer between their junior and senior year … and it allows time for them to retake [exams] if they need to,” Hough said.

According to Hough, Trinity University Coates Library offers a useful tool to prepare for these examinations: “Learning Express.” The program is free to all students and provides practice exams for the majority of the admissions tests students need to take in order to apply to graduate programs.

Students may have concerns and insecurities regarding their application for graduate programs. When asked what she wishes to have known during her application process, Gomes remembers these insecurities.

“I wish I had known how little GPA was going to matter for an MPH program, and how much field experience is worth. [Also] how little college extra-curriculars matter; the extra-curriculars that mattered were volunteer or internship experiences and teaching opportunities, and that it’s that field experience or personal life experience that you need to show in your personal statement,” Gomes said.

Hough calls for all juniors who are thinking about graduate school to begin their exploration of programs as soon as possible.

“My biggest piece of advice is that if someone is even remotely considering the possibility of graduate school, that should be explored in their junior year, because it will give them the best edge on the whole process and it will be less stressful their senior year!”