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Graduate School

Researching Programs

Before you start applying to graduate schools, do your research!  In addition to looking at program websites, ask for program recommendations from faculty members who teach courses in a study area of interest to you.  Also, a graduate school directory like Peterson’s could help you find options that would fit your academic and personal needs and goals.

Consider the following for each graduate program you are considering:

  • The reputation of the program
  • The reputation of the faculty in your desired area of study or research
  • The faculty-to-student ratio
  • Opportunities for assistantships and scholarships
  • The size of the institution
  • The setting of the institution (rural vs. city)
  • Proximity of the institution to your friends and family

Financial Support

There are various types of financial support that may be available to you during a graduate program.

Departments or colleges themselves may provide some financial support in the form of assistantships, grants, and fellowships.  Assistantships are like part-time jobs in which you are paid to do research in your department or help with teaching courses in your field of study.  Most assistantships require 10–20 hours of work per week.  They usually also provide tuition assistance.  Both grants and fellowships are awards that are granted on the basis of financial need or academic merit.  They do not need to be repaid and recipients do not need to do any additional work.

Alternatively, you might decide to take out a student loan to help finance your graduate program. There are two main types of student loans: subsidized (i.e., by the federal government for students who have demonstrated financial need) and unsubsidized (for students who do not have demonstrated financial need).  You might also consider a private loan if you do not qualify for subsidized aid.  All loans must be repaid; repayment typically starts after graduation.  University financial aid offices are the best sources of information about your loan options.

Application Requirements

The materials you need to apply for graduate programs will differ by institution and by type of program. However, most programs require the following, at minimum:

  • Application
  • Undergraduate transcript
  • Results of a standardized graduate admissions test(s) such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Personal statement
  • 2-4 letters of recommendation

Personal Statement

Your personal statement should describe your educational and (if applicable) professional background, provide your motivation for attending a graduate program, and outline your professional goals following completion of the program.

Think about the following information as you are writing your personal statement:

  • Why do you want to go to graduate school?
  • What do you hope to gain from your graduate program?
  • How has your undergraduate degree prepared you for graduate school?  Use examples as appropriate.
  • How has any work experience—including internship or co-op experience—prepared you for graduate school? Use examples as appropriate.
  • How did you choose this particular program?  This part must be customized to each individual program.

Your writing should be clear, organized, and concise, with flawless grammar and spelling.  Make sure your statement addresses any requirements/questions listed in the application instructions.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation for graduate programs give admissions professionals a chance to learn more about you from someone else’s perspective.  Academic references—professors, instructors, or advisers—are usually preferred over work references. 

Choose academic references who know you and your academic work well, and provide them with information that will help them write a strong recommendation letter, including a copy of your résumé and a summary of your professional goals. Give references at least three weeks’ advance notice that you need a letter.  Make sure you follow any instructions about how your letters should be submitted; most institutions will request that letters be sent directly from your references, so provide them with any necessary information on how this should be done.

The University-wide Career Services office maintains a credentials filing service called eCredentials, which allows you to keep a copy of your academic recommendation letters on file.  The service is free for the first two years and may be particularly useful if you decide to wait for a few years before applying to graduate school.

Application Timeline

Ideally, start planning for graduate school by the third year of your undergraduate program.

Third Year

  • Research graduate programs, prerequisites, and application requirements. Make note of application deadlines for your top institutions.
  • Investigate financial aid options for programs of interest.
  • Register and start preparing for graduate admissions tests.  Take the tests by the summer after your third year.
  • Write first drafts of your application essays that you can customize to different programs.

Fall of Fourth Year

  • Request that your graduate school admission tests be sent to your programs of interest.
  • Request academic recommendation letters.
  • Have your academic adviser, a faculty member, or a member of our staff review your application essays and/or personal statements.
  • Submit all program application materials.

Spring of Fourth Year

  • Check on the status of your applications.
  • If possible, arrange a campus visit to your top few institutions so you have a chance to meet with campus representatives and get your questions answered in person.
  • Attend graduate program interviews, if applicable.
  • Once you are notified of any acceptances, make your decision about where to attend. You may need to consider more than one offer.
  • After you have made a decision, notify the relevant institution and follow up with any additional required materials.
  • Contact any other institutions where you have applied and notify them that you have accepted an offer elsewhere.
  • Send thank-you messages to your recommenders.

Graduate School Mentoring Program

The Graduate School Mentoring Program connects undergraduate engineering students seeking information about graduate school with master’s- and doctoral-level student volunteers.

Request a mentor

 

Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032