Preparing for Graduate School

Making a Decision: Addressing the “Why” before the “How”

Making a decision about whether or not to attend graduate school is a very important one that involves commitment as well as substantial time and financial investment.  In order to be confident about your decision, we recommend taking the time to evaluate the reasons why you are pursuing such a degree before taking the steps to get there.

Ask yourself: Why is an advanced degree important to me and what am I hoping to gain from it?

To help you assess this question, consider taking the following steps:

  • Before pursuing any career path, it’s important to Know your “I” and Why.  Take some time to evaluate your VIPS: values, interests, personality, and skills.  What are you most passionate about?  What kind of work excites you and why?
  • If you need help with this, visit the Career Studio where you can meet with a Career Design staff member who can help you navigate what career paths might be a good fit for you.
  • What are your long-term career goals and how would an advanced degree help you achieve these goals?
  • Do you want to go straight into graduate school, or do you want to take some time off to gain experience?
  • Conduct informational interviews: reach out to professionals who are in the career fields/roles where you aspire to be and ask them to tell you their career story.  This can be a helpful insight to guide you in your decision-making process.  To get started, check out the alumni tab of the Northeastern LinkedIn page, which is a great tool to start building your network of professional contacts.
  • Look into the various programs and schools that interest you.  Some of the factors you may want to consider include: location, size, length of program, faculty, cost, etc.



Applying to Graduate School

Once you have solidified your plan to go to graduate school, then comes the preparation part.  This can be a daunting undertaking as there are several different components of the application.  We recommend starting the process early, which will allow plenty of time to complete all components of the application as well as submit your applications as early as possible.

Guidance and Resources on Application Components:

  • Most grad school applications require 2-3 letters of recommendation.  In order to ensure that your recommenders are able to write strong letters with thoughtful detail, it’s important to start building these relationships with your professors as soon as possible.  Make sure you are participating in class discussions, attend office hours (come prepared with questions!), find ways to engage with your professors one on one through opportunities such as a research project or independent study, etc.
  • Give your professors at least 2 months to write the letter.
  • Resource: How to Request a Grad School Recommendation Letter | 5 Easy Steps (
  • Most graduate programs will require at least one written essay where you will describe your background, interests, and goals and how that aligns with the particular school to which you are applying.  Before starting the initial draft of your essay, be sure to check if there is an essay prompt.
  • Generally speaking, many schools often request either a statement of purpose or a personal statement.  The statement of purpose is typically a short, concise statement where you are expected to share your academic background, work experiences, and career goals, and how the specific school and graduate program will help you achieve these goals.  Rather, a personal statement is a bit broader in form and admissions committees are more interested in knowing about who you are as a person and what sets you apart from other candidates.  For this statement, you can write about your background, personal challenges, goals, and motivations.   This is an opportunity for you to persuade the admissions committee by demonstrating your passion for the field and why you would be a good match for the program.
  • Resource:
  • Start Early.  There are many components of the application and you want to pace yourself. Consider referencing the Grad School Application Timeline below for help with this.
  • Stay Organized. Consider making a spreadsheet as you gather information on schools to keep yourself on track.
  • Seek Help.  The Career Design Team is here to help you.  Come to the Career Studio if you have questions or would like feedback on written materials.
  • Apply Early! Those who submit their applications early will always have more options than those who wait until the last minute.

Grad School Application Timeline

Below is a suggested timeline for students who plan to go straight into Graduate School from their undergraduate program:

  • Select a major in a field that both interests you and allows you to excel academically.
  • Start building relationships with professors who may serve as potential recommenders in the future.
  • Seek out Co-op/internship opportunities in your field of interest.
  • Conduct informational interviews.
  • Begin exploring graduate programs you may be interested in.
  • Contact potential programs and request information. Make note of admissions requirements.
  • Prepare for the GRE or other appropriate standardized exams. Download the free test prep programs from the GRE website. Take available practice tests. If you would like additional help, consider signing up for a test prep course.
  • Start preparing your statement of purpose and/or personal statement.

Specific time these items are completed will vary depending on school application deadline.  Always work backward from the time that the school(s) begin accepting applications.

  • Take the GRE General Test or other necessary standardized exams (GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.).
  • Reach out to professors and supervisors for letters of recommendation (give them at least 2 months to write) and provide them with all of the necessary background information they will need to write the letter of recommendation.
  • Finalize a list of schools where you will apply (from your list, identify reach, target, and safety schools).  Make note of requirements and deadlines.
  • Complete drafts of essays and ask peers and faculty if they can review and provide feedback.  Also consider coming to the Career Studio to receive feedback from a Career Design staff member.
  • Complete and submit your program applications (**submit early!**)
  • Relax a little.
  • Receive acceptances and rejections. Consult with Career Design staff member if needed for help with weighing options and making a final decision.
  • Notify the program you choose of your acceptance. Notify the programs that you are declining.


Should you need additional guidance on your grad school preparation, we encourage you to come to our Career Studio drop in offered both virtually and in-person.

Any other questions can be directed to [email protected].