Graduate School Planning

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The graduate school planning process requires exploration, research, and careful planning in order to make an informed career decision. The application process and requirements for graduate schools vary across programs and schools. Use the tips below during any stage of your career development process to help you prepare for applying to graduate schools.

Are you interested in learning more about the graduate school application process or would like additional assistance? Meet with a career coach today.

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  • Is Graduate School Right for You?

    If you are considering graduate school in the future, it is important to reflect on if obtaining an advanced degree is the right step for you. Deciding to go to graduate school is a big decision with many variables involved including career goals, time, costs, prerequisite academics, and experiences. The Toppel Career Center advises all students to think critically about this decision and to ask themselves the following questions:

    • What are my career goals and how will a graduate degree help me to achieve them?
    • What occupation do I seek, and is a graduate degree necessary or preferred to enter that occupation?
    • Which graduate degrees exist that relate to my career goals, and what are the differences between them?
    • Should I obtain a master’s degree, a doctoral degree (Ph.D., MD, JD, etc.), or both?
    • What are the financial costs of graduate school, and have I looked into funding options?
    • What required academics and experiences are necessary for my intended graduate degree, and how do I obtain them?
    • Is it better for me to go directly into graduate school or should I take some time first to gain more experience? Check out gap year options and resources here

    If you are unsure of how to answer these questions or want to speak with us about the answers, we invite you to meet with one of our career coaches. Our ChatGPT Prompt Guide can also help you find the information you are looking for to get you started in your planning process.

  • Graduate School Planning Timeline

    Freshman and Sophomore Year

    While it may feel a bit early to begin thinking about your post-graduation plans, starting to explore your interests, and making plans will help you in your transition to graduate school. The earlier you decide what you would like to do after you graduate, the sooner you can start researching key information for graduate school. A few action steps you can take throughout these foundational years are:

    1. Begin exploring your career interests early through your courses and by taking assessments like Career Explorer and StrengthsQuest.
    2. Meet with a career coach at the Toppel Career Center to learn more about the resources we offer and receive further career development guidance. Maintain a high grade point average to increase your chances of getting admitted into your top choice programs.
    3. Get involved in organizations on campus to grow your professional network and explore your career interests.
    4. If you know the career or graduate program you hope to pursue, use this time to research accelerated programs that allow you to complete your graduate degree in a shorter time frame by beginning graduate coursework your senior year.
    5. Meet with your academic advisor once a semester to ensure you are on track to complete your bachelor’s degree requirements and explore opportunities for additional academic opportunities.
    6. Develop relationships with faculty members. Faculty members become mentors throughout your undergraduate experience and these relationships will be important when considering who is going to write your letters of recommendation for graduate admissions. Connect with professionals in your field/s of interest through networking platforms such as LinkedIn and Cane2Cane to learn more about their experiences. This can be done through an informational interview or a job shadowing experience.

    Junior Year

    By the beginning of your junior year, you have likely decided on your academic concentrations and possibly even your career path. It is time to focus on getting organized. The summer between sophomore and junior year is a great time for students to continue building on the advice previously mentioned for years one and two such as completing an internship, taking courses, and participating in research.

    During the fall semester of your junior year:

    1. Identify graduate programs and fellowships that are relevant to your educational and/or career plans.
    2. Attend campus graduate school fairs to learn more about various programs.
    3. Contact graduate admissions counselors to plan campus visits or simply learn more about a program through a prospective meeting.
    4. Create a spreadsheet to compile an organized list of the programs you are interested in to keep track of their application requirements.
    5. Decide which faculty members you are going to ask to complete letters of recommendation for you and discuss your graduate school plans with them. Continue to maintain and foster these relationships to ensure strong letters of recommendation.
    6. Continue to connect with professionals in your field(s) of interest to gain further insight into the nature of a specific profession/field and grow your network.
    7. Begin to study for any standardized test you will have to take based on your program. Many students take standardized exams such as the LSAT, MCAT, and GRE, any time between the end of their spring semester to the beginning of the fall semester of their senior year. Starting to study early will likely ensure higher scores and make the transition to a more intensive study period less overwhelming.

    During the spring semester of your junior year:

    1. Create a study plan for the summer if you plan to take a standardized test during or after the summer.
    2. Continue meeting with your academic advisor and career coaches to ensure you are on track.

    Summer Before Senior Year

    1. Follow your study plan if you have one.
    2. Take the standardized exam required for your graduate program/s of interest.
    3. If you are not taking a standardized exam or have sufficient time for additional opportunities, you might want to consider gaining additional experiences such as an internship, job shadowing opportunities, and research. Even if you have already completed one of these suggested experiences, it might be beneficial to pursue additional opportunities to gain further professional experience. You might even want to explore a new field or area within your field of interest to develop a wider breadth of knowledge.
    4. Continue getting organized with your application materials and deadlines to prepare to submit them during the Fall semester of your senior year if you’re planning on starting a program the following Fall.
    5. To get a head start on your applications, you might want to begin brainstorming and writing your personal statement essay. Your personal statement is a critical part of your application and should receive multiple edits before it is finalized. Refer to our personal statement guide here.

    Senior Year

    For many students, their junior year is the year of preparation. Senior year can be thought of as the year of action. Begin working on your applications at least 2-3 months before your application due dates.

    During the fall semester of your senior year:

    1. Take any necessary standardized exams if you did not do so during the summer. If you encounter financial difficulties and are unable to afford your standardized exam, research the qualifications and process needed for potentially receiving an exam waiver.
    2. Finalize your personal statement essays and resume. Go to the Writing Center and Toppel drop-in hours for assistance with your essay.
    3. Request application fee waivers when necessary and possible through the admissions representatives for your programs of interest.
    4. Complete necessary financial aid applications such as FAFSA, scholarships, and fellowships.
    5. Contact the individuals who will be completing letters of recommendation for you and provide them with a deadline. The deadline should be approximately a week earlier than the day you plan to officially submit your applications. Be sure to send emails/letters of gratitude afterward.
    6. Request transcripts from the institutions you have attended.
    7. If you’re interested, visit prospective schools to get a sense of what a campus environment is like.
    8. Towards the end of the semester, follow up with admissions representatives to ensure your application was received.

    During the spring semester of your senior year:

    1. Depending on the program, you might be asked to undergo interviews during this time. To assist you with interview preparation, visit the Toppel Career Center to speak with one of our career coaches and practice using Big Interview.
    2. Admission offers with financial aid packages are often provided between January and March, although this may vary.
    3. If you have received acceptance offers from multiple institutions, seek guidance from your support system to further help you evaluate your options. If you have a top choice offering you less financial aid, you might want to consider asking them if they would be willing to match the financial aid package offered to you from a different institution.
    4. Once you receive the acceptance from the school of your choice, submit the required deposit and contact other schools to decline acceptances.
    5. If you did not receive offers of acceptance, do not give up hope as you will have opportunities to re-apply. You might benefit from using the time in between the next application cycle to gain work, internship, and/or volunteer experience.

  • Finding Graduate Programs

    Attending graduate school is both a big life decision and an investment of time and money. In comparison to undergraduate education, post-graduate studies are much more concentrated in a specific area to promote a more profound level of expertise. Considering this, it is imperative to take time to identify and research graduate programs according to your goals. To assist you in finding the programs and schools that best fit your interests and needs, we recommend you use your networking resources and a variety of websites that offer graduate school information.

    Connect with professionals in your industry of interest to inquire about their graduate school experiences and gain insight into potential challenges and opportunities. You can start by reaching out to faculty from your undergraduate education to learn about where they pursued their degrees and ask for any networking recommendations they may be able to share with you.  We also recommend you contact alumni and faculty from the programs. Connect with these professionals through networking resources such as LinkedIn, Cane2Cane, and professional associations.

    Search for graduate programs on sites such as Peterson's Grad School Search Tool,, The Princeton Review, US News Rankings of the Best Graduate Schools, and Accredited Schools Online.

  • Narrowing Your Choices & Choosing Among Programs

    Similar to finding and researching graduate programs, choosing the right graduate program and school requires research, patience, and self-reflection. Overall, the process of applying can be time-consuming and pricey. Therefore, we recommend you narrow your list of potential programs/schools to 5-10 focusing on applying to the ones you have carefully researched and selected. The Princeton Review recommends you identify “two safety schools you're fairly certain will accept you, two where you have a fighting chance, and one dream school that's a long-shot, but still possible” in this "How to Choose a Grad School” article.

    Consider the items below when choosing among the programs and schools you have identified as your top choices.

    • Career Goals & Needs: How will each of these programs meet your personal, academic, and professional needs)? How are they aligned with your career interests and goals? How do they support students like you?
    • Cost/Financial Support: What other costs will you have outside tuition and fees (i.e., books & supplies, housing, parking, meals? What type of stipends and funding do they offer at the institution and students within the program (federal, state, or school grants; assistantships, fellowships; scholarships; on-campus employment; federal and private loans)? What other benefits are you eligible for (e.g., VA or AmeriCorps benefits)? Don’t forget to meet with a financial advisor!
    • Reputation & Career Outcomes: Are the program/institutions nationally recognized and/or accredited? What sets each program/institution apart from the others? What do they emphasize in their marketing and recruitment efforts? What are the career outcomes of program graduates?
    • Program Format & Location: Is this an online, hybrid, or location-based program? If it’s online or hybrid, find out the type of learning spaces and resources they provide to support how you learn best. If it’s location-based, do you see yourself living in the area (e.g., city, small college town, and access to grocery stores, restaurants, social life options, and public transit) for the next two-plus years? What is the program size? What is the faculty-student ratio in the classrooms? Do they incorporate internships and fieldwork into the curriculum?
    • Faculty: What are the credentials and research areas of the faculty you will have access to in and outside the classroom? Have they been recognized in their disciplines? What have they published and how often do they publish? Are you interested in the research and community contributions faculty are making in their disciplines? Who will support your research interests and plans?
    • Resources & Facilities: What type of resources and facilities do they offer to support students in the program (i.e., labs, graduate study areas, libraries, research databases/facilities, writing labs, tutoring, disability services, career services, etc.)? How will the university, program, or area support you outside your academics (e.g., social programming/life, mental health and counseling resources, leadership opportunities, etc.)? What type of housing is available?
    • Length & Timeline: How long does it take to complete the program? Do they offer courses over the summer or winter breaks? When can you start the program (specific semester or any semester throughout the academic year)?

  • Things You Need to Apply

    Now that you’ve narrowed down your targeted list of graduate programs and institutions, you are closer to applying! Although all programs have their own set of application requirements, most require the items listed below. We encourage you to speak to an admissions representative and carefully review the application process for each of your choices to make an application checklist for each program.

    • Application Form: All programs typically have a general graduate school application form available online on their graduate studies department webpage. Some programs or departments may have additional application requirements, such as submitting a program-specific application or application through an external application portal. Most applications charge a fee. For support with the application fees, contact the admissions department of the institutions you’re applying to or your career services office for application fee waivers.
    • Academic Transcripts: Official transcripts from the post-secondary and graduate programs you have attended will be a required component of your application process. To request a hard or digital copy of your transcript from the University of Miami, review the instructions provided by the Office of the University Registrar.
    • Standardized Test Scores: Most grad school programs require one or more standardized tests such as the GRE (most common test), GMAT (business programs), LSAT (law school), MCAT (medical school), DAT (dental schools), MAT (general test based on analogies), and TOEFL (for non-native English speakers or international students). The type of test you might take varies depending on the degree you intend to pursue. Plan ahead to schedule and take your entrance exams since you may decide to retake the exam to improve your scores and increase your chances of getting accepted into a program. You will be required to send your test scores directly to each school.
    • Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose: Graduate schools often require a personal statement or statement of purpose as part of the application for admission. The personal statement is an opportunity to emphasize your interest and explain why you would be a good fit for the program. Each program’s requirements vary in topic, length, and style. Some schools ask for you to discuss a certain topic or follow a prompt while others allow you to choose the content of your statement entirely. You want to demonstrate that you are an applicant who would be a strong addition to their program and university. This Personal Statement Guide can help you get started by offering tips for success and mistakes to avoid.
    • Resume/CV: For help with your resume or CV for graduate school, check out Toppel’s Resume/CV webpage for a guide and samples. Also, speak with a career coach in-person or online via Zoom, Monday - Friday from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, for a resume/CV review.
    • References & Letters of Recommendations: Admissions committees want to hear from people who can talk about your motivation to learn, academic abilities, research and writing skills, leadership and teamwork interests, and anything else that can help them determine that you can succeed in their graduate school program and would be a good fit to attend their institution. Most programs/schools require 1-3 letters of recommendation or contacts for online reference forms. Some may require 1-2 faculty members. The letter of recommendation is a key component of your application because it gives the admission committee a better understanding of who you are as a person, covering information that might not be conveyed by your application. Your goal is to pick individuals who know you well and can write a strong letter for you. Remember to first ask your references if they would feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for you and give them at least one month to work on their letters. We suggest you send them a copy of your resume/CV, personal statement, and a brief overview of why you’re interested in the program and how it aligns with your career goals. Carefully review and follow the instructions for how to properly submit your letters and send the details to your reference contacts in a timely manner. Follow up with the people writing your recommendations as the application deadline nears. Many schools allow you to track submissions of letters online, but you can always contact the admissions committee for an update.

    Keep track of all your graduate school application requirements and due dates with an organizational tool, such as this tracking sheet. Feel free to download this file to edit it and add your information.

  • Financing Graduate School

    One of the most common concerns regarding graduate school is how to pay for it. Although graduate school can be costly, there are a variety of options to consider to help fund your advanced degree. Some of these options include scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships, tuition waivers/reimbursement, and loans. Remember that you will want to search for financing options at both the institutions you are applying to as well as through external sources like professional associations, foundations, or government agencies. Your first option should always be to look for “free money,” money that you don’t have to pay back. After exhausting this option, you may choose to consider taking out loans to finance the rest of your education.

    Read more here to learn about each funding option and what it entails.

    Funding sources are not always easy to find. We recommend asking your intended graduate school’s financial aid office and the director of the graduate program directly about what funding sources are available and how to apply to them.

    Another option to consider is working during graduate school to cover some of the expenses. Some graduate programs are part-time or have flexible class schedules that allow working professionals to enroll. Sometimes, companies may also have benefits that help with payment toward education expenses.

    Additional Resources:

Pre-Professional Education

Are you considering working in healthcare or law? Many careers in these fields require a graduate or professional degree, and there are many majors and minors that can prepare you for these degrees. Most, however, require prerequisite courses, so make sure you talk to an academic advisor who can help you plan your classes to best suit your interests.


If you’re interested in a career in healthcare, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or pharmacy, meet with one of our highly trained coaches. The University offers additional resources through the Office of Pre-Health Advising and Mentoring, including a list of Pre-Health Guidelines and a variety of informational programs. If you are interested in Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy or Public Health, you might also meet with an adviser in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.


Are you thinking about a career in law? Start by checking out this Pre-Law Handbook, which contains information about what you can study as an undergraduate in addition to information about the LSAT and law school admission process. For more information, click here.