Graduate and Professional School

Attending graduate or professional school may be an option you are considering. If so, base your decision on careful reflection and clarification of your work/life goals.

Talk with faculty, alumni, and professionals in your field. Learn more about what’s required for your desired career path and programs they would recommend. Luther’s Career Center can also help with your consideration process.

Should I go to grad school? If so, when?

If you are pursuing a career in law, medicine, or teaching at the college/university level, you may wish to attend graduate school right away. Another common reason to go directly to graduate school is a strong interest in a particular discipline. You may find yourself wanting to learn more about your field of interest. If this is true, graduate training may be a satisfying and rewarding experience.

Know Yourself

It is not uncommon for recent college graduates to lack a clear idea of career options. Going to graduate school to find your focus is not recommended. Graduate schools will expect you to have defined interests leading to an area of specialization. Pursuing graduate school can also be time-consuming and costly. If you are unsure about your career options and interests, start with evaluating your skills, goals, and values. This self-evaluation is critical to a successful graduate program search.

Meet with a Career Coach

Take the CliftonStrengths Assessment

Explore Career Paths

Consider Work Experience

Some employers recommend gaining practical work experience before pursuing a graduate degree. This is often true in areas like management, social work, and elementary/secondary education. They believe you will be better qualified for graduate school after a couple of years of work experience. Thorough research into your area of interest should provide you with the information necessary to make a wise choice.

Work experience before graduate school can also help you gain a different perspective than your education so far. It may help you better understand the theoretical concepts taught in graduate programs. Work experience will also help make your application to graduate schools stronger, especially if you have a lower undergraduate GPA or graduate entrance examination score.

It’s OK to Take a Break

Some recent college graduates need a break from intensive studies, but are afraid they may never return to their education. If you feel certain that you need a break, don’t let this fear prevent you from following your instincts. Many people complete graduate programs after taking time off from study. Many individuals also find a way to balance work while taking graduate courses. If you do not go right to graduate school, still consider taking the GRE, LSAT, or other appropriate test during your senior year. Many scores remain valid for three to five years.

Should I go to grad school, if so where?

Once you have carefully considered whether or not going to graduate school is a logical and appropriate next move in your career, it is time to begin researching potential programs. Choosing the graduate school and program that best fits your needs is an important process. With so many options this may seem overwhelming.

Graduate programs vary greatly and it will be worth your time to thoroughly research your options. To begin, plan on developing a list of schools that meet your preliminary criteria. Establish a list of questions to answer about each program and record the answers for comparison. Consider the following questions to get started.

  • What type of degree are you pursuing (master’s, doctorate)?
  • Do you have a geographic preference?
  • How many students are enrolled in the program you are considering?
  • What is the faculty to student ratio?
  • How selective are the admissions criteria?
  • What is the admissions profile for the most recently admitted class?
  • What type of, and how much, financial assistance is available (assistantships)?
  • What are the research interests of the faculty?
  • In what types of organizations do their graduates work and how quickly have they been able to find employment upon graduation?

By answering these questions, you will have an idea of which programs may be a better fit than others, and you will also have an idea as to where you will be a competitive applicant.

  • Peterson’s Graduate School Directory This is the web-based version of a six volume directory of graduate programs across the continental U.S. You can search by type of degree, discipline, geographic location, size of program, tuition, etc. Excellent source for creating an initial list of possible programs.
  • Another comprehensive database that is searchable by multiple criteria including subject, geographic location, etc. You can also search for graduate programs beyond the U.S. including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, Japan, United Kingdom, and Ireland.
  • Assoc. of American Medical Colleges information on education, research, and health care
  • Colleges & Career Center: US News information on college and grad school rankings, financial aid, and careers
  • DOs and DON’Ts About Personal Statements tips about personal statements
  • Educational Testing Service information on a variety of entrance exams
  • FAFSA on the Web a website for filling out or renewing your FAFSA
  • FastWeb a database that allows you to get information on over 600,000 grants, scholarships and fellowships
  • a complete website for issues of financial aid
  • Foreign Service Exam information on Foreign Service Careers and How to become one including information on the Foreign Service Exam
  • GMAT Graduate Management Admission Test information
  • GRE-Graduate Record Examinations test information
  • GRE-Test Preparation “At MyGRETutor we take a special approach in preparing you for the GRE. Yes, we have vocabulary lists. Yes, we have hundreds of questions. And yes, we offer you a review of the test format. But it’s not THESE things that make MyGRETutor so good. Rather, it is the WAY that we prepare you.”
  • GRE-Test Preparation by Mometrix “Mometrix Academy is a free public service of Mometrix, The World’s Most Comprehensive Test Preparation Company™.”
  • Jacob Javits Fellowship for students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences — Award goes with the student to whichever program he/she attends
  • Kaplan information to advance your education and career
  • LSAC-Law School Admission Council advice on the LSAT and choosing and applying to law school
  • Medical School Guide written by current students, residents, and attending physicians. Information is geared toward those wishing to matriculate into M.D. (or even D.O.) schools Addresses several topics: personal statement, CV’s, shadowing, MCAT, competitive GPA’s, research, post-bachelorate programs, interviewing and more
  • The National Academies information about and links to a variety of fellowships in the sciences and engineering
  • National Science Foundation for students interested in studying in the sciences
  • Peterson’s research higher education
  • Princeton Review information on schools, tests, and more
  • Test Prep– practice for the SAT®, GRE®, TOEFL®, and many more academic entrance exams online
  • TOEFL test of English as a foreign language programs and services

Planning Timeline

  • Talk with faculty, alumni, and professionals in your field. Learn more about what’s required for your desired career path and programs they would recommend.
  • Research areas of interest, institutions, and programs.
    • Pro-tip: Create a spreadsheet to track what you learn: institution, degree name, location, application deadline, cost (tuition, housing, books, etc.) required exams, and number of references.
  • Determine any testing requirements for the program(s) you’re considering applying to; make a plan to study and take those exams.
  • Visit the website for any programs you are considering. Research specific program details, application requirements and deadlines, financial aid, and other information.
  • When in doubt, craft a professional email and contact the admissions office for your specific program. They can be a helpful guide, especially when information may be missing or hard to find on their website.
  • Think about your goals and values to help you determine which programs may be the best fit. Make that into a short list of the programs to which you intend to apply.
  • Start studying for any required exams.
    • Pro-tip: The amount of time required to study varies for each person. Start to take a look at the sections and information covered by exams. You may want to plan for several months of study to allow for practice tests.
  • Register for and take any exams.
    • Pro-tip: For competitive programs, you may need a certain score to be admitted. If you leave yourself enough time, that could allow you to take an exam more than once in an attempt to raise your score.
  • Once you have your final list, reach out to faculty and internship/job supervisors requesting a reference.
    • Pro-tip: Let them know why you’re applying, where (could be several schools), and deadlines for each reference.
    • Pro-tip: Once someone agrees, make sure you let them know once you’ve applied and how they can expect to receive a request for recommendation. Many schools send a link to the people you list on your application.
  • If possible, consider visiting the school to help narrow your list.
  • Work on your personal statements/essays for the schools that require them.
    • Not sure where to begin? Visit the Career Center for some guidance!
  • Craft your resume and/or CV. The Career Center can help with these too! The Sam Norse template is a great place to start.
  • Request transcripts from Luther’s Registrar’s Office.
    • This may take several days to process, so make sure you request them far in advance of the application deadline.
  • Check on your references within your online application. If they are missing, send a polite reminder.
  • Once your application is complete, make sure you submit it!
  • Complete the FAFSA and/or any financial aid application for specific grants, scholarships, and assistantships at your institution.
    • Deadlines can be much earlier for grants and scholarships than the actual application to the school.
  • Many programs won’t release admission decisions until March or April. Be patient, and feel good about all of the work you’ve done!
  • Consider your offer(s), and compare aid packages and other important information.
  • If possible, visit the schools where you were accepted to get a feel for what it would be like to attend.
  • Once you’ve made a decision, make sure you let each school know. There is an official form you complete to let them know if you plan to attend or not.
  • Send thank you notes to your references, and let them know where you’ve decided to enroll.

Entrance Exams

As you begin collecting information about different graduate programs, you will begin reading about required examination scores that must be submitted as part of your application for admission. Here is a chart of the common exams, most of which are discipline-specific.

We strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with the length of the test, its structure, and the types of questions asked. You can purchase helpful study guides as well.

Graduate Admission Tests

DATDental Admission Testada.orgDental School (DDS, DDM)
GMATGraduate Management Admission Testgmac.orgBusiness School (MBA)
GRE*Graduate Record Examets.orgGeneral Graduate Programs in arts, sciences, engineering, and education. Some business programs may accept this too.
LSATLaw School Admission Testlsac.orgLaw School (JD, LLM)
MATMillers Analogies Testmilleranalogies.comGeneral Graduate Programs in arts, sciences, engineering, and education.
MCATMedical College Admission Testaamc.orgMedical School (MD, DO, DPM)
OATOptometry Admission Testopted.orgOptometry School
PCATPharmacy College Admission Testpcatweb.infoPharmacy School (PharmD)

* Some graduate programs will require you to take a GRE subject test (e.g, Biology Subject Test) in addition to the GRE General Test.

Financial Aid

Paying for graduate school may seem like an impossible task; however, do not write off going to graduate school because it is too expensive. Conduct your research and apply to as many sources as possible. Just as each graduate schools’ application procedures differ, so will the systems for awarding financial aid. You will need to communicate with each school and in some cases directly with the academic department concerning teaching/research assistantships.

Basically, there are three ways to finance graduate education—grants, loans, and work. There are several sources of graduate support including federal and state government, educational institutions, foundations, corporations and other private organizations. There are also many online resources for searching for financial support.

No matter what your financial situation, you should spend adequate time preparing a financial plan for graduate school.

Basic Tips for Financial Aid Application

Application for financial aid is not automatic. You will need to fill out and submit required aid applications before deadlines. Aid application instructions and deadlines are usually clearly stated in each school’s application materials. Some schools require you to apply for aid when applying for admission. Other schools require that you be admitted before applying for financial aid.

Be prepared to submit copies of your federal income tax forms and federal aid transcripts from Luther College. You may want to check the status of your aid application if you receive no response within a reasonable time period. Keep copies of all forms.

Financial Aid for International Students

Student financial assistance from the U.S. government is reserved for U.S. citizens. International students must count on funding from their home country as well as from departmental and university funds from the schools to which they are applying. They must also utilize outside funding sources such as foundations and other philanthropic organizations.

Types of Financial Aid

These are cash awards given by a department, the university, or an outside organization. They are given primarily according to financial need or academic merit. Some are specifically designated for minority or women applicants, or according to guidelines determined by a particular philanthropist. This kind of award does not need to be paid back and they can range from a few hundred to $10,000 or more. Students interested in fellowships and scholarships beyond the departmental level will usually have to take the initiative and apply for them.

The most common assistantships are Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, and Administrative Assistantships. This form of financial aid is provided by the department or university and requires that a graduate student work in exchange for a stipend or for a tuition waiver. Teaching Assistants either teach or assist a faculty member with instruction for introductory courses, Research Assistants help faculty members with their research, and Administrative Assistants work in administrative or student support offices.

This program works on the graduate level in the same way as on the undergraduate level. Not all universities participate in this program, but if they do then you may be able to find work in your field of interest.

Paid internships provide an employment opportunity in the community beyond the university that allows a student to both earn money and work in their field of interest. Cooperative education experiences are similar to internships, except the student alternates periods of work with periods of study.

Stafford Loans

Through this program, the government provides low-interest loans to graduate students. The loans are administered through banks, credit unions, savings and loan institutions, and the universities themselves. Students may borrow up to $18,500 per year up to a maximum of $138,500 (this total includes whatever undergraduate loans you have).

There are two kinds of Stafford Loans. Subsidized Stafford Loans are awarded according to financial need. As long as a student is enrolled at least half-time then the government pays any interest that accrues until six-months after graduation or withdrawal. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are available to students who do not qualify according to financial need. With this loan, students must pay the interest that accrues while they are in school.

Perkins Loans

These loans are provided for students who show exceptional financial need. The individual university is responsible for administering these loans and in some cases will limit this type of loan to undergraduates. Students may borrow up to $6,000 per year, up to a maximum of $40,000, which includes undergraduate loans.

There are numerous programs that award private loans to graduate students. These loans are based on a student’s credit rating rather than on financial need. There are specific loan programs available for students pursuing graduate studies in general fields as well as specific fields such as business, law, and medicine.

The information on this page was adapted from Game Plan for Getting into Graduate School, by Marion Castellucci.