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Graduate School Strategies

Where to go for assistance

Graduate School Advising at Bucknell is done primarily through the faculty because they are experienced in graduate school in their discipline and knowledgeable about programs that may be right for you. The Career Center can help you with the decision to go to graduate school, how it fits into your career plans and the process of applying. Our office also offers professional school advising and resources for Pre-Health Professions and Law.

The Office of Undergraduate Fellowships and Research provides information, advising and programming about undergraduate research opportunities, funding and applications for prestigious post-graduate fellowships.

Be Deliberate in Your Choices and Planning

When you are deciding if graduate school is right for you, think about how it fits into your career goals. The choice should be about how the experience will further your career goals, not a reason to delay making decisions about them. For some positions, graduate school is an important next step but there are some fields in which it may be better to get experience prior to getting the next degree. There isn’t always one correct path. The Career Center has resources for researching careers and can help you connect with alumni and employers who can offer their perspectives.

Getting Started

If you are thinking about graduate school as an option, start by talking to a professor in the area in which you are considering. Perhaps it may be someone who you have been doing research with or your advisor. Each academic department has an assigned Graduate School Advisor you can go to with graduate school questions for that discipline. They can suggest others in the department or refer you to colleagues at other universities. They can also help you think through your interests and choose programs that may be most relevant.

The search for graduate school programs is more of a search for a mentor or program rather than the university itself. You can also find programs or potential mentors by looking at the authors of scholarly articles that interest you and seeing where they work and/or went to graduate school.  Once you have identified a program and/or professors there, read the website and the work done there and contact the professors to express your interest in their work and ask if they are planning to take students next year in their program. 

Application Steps

  1. Financing Your Degree: Depending on what type of degree you are seeking, the financing may be from the institution, provided as free tuition and a stipend for modest living expenses in exchange for the student being a research or teaching assistant. Generally, PhD programs will be more likely to provide full funding than Masters programs. Sometimes universities have other sources of assistantships that pay tuition and stipends. You can check the graduate school admissions site for more information on their funding options. Some students find their own funding and are able to bring it with them to the program they choose. For more information about funding and fellowships, see the Office for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.
  2. Examinations: Many graduate programs require GRE scores as part of the application, though some are changing that requirement. Check the programs in which you are interested to find out if a general and/or subject tests are needed. The GRE website provides a great deal of information about their testing options and dates, as well as opportunities to practice. The general exam is computer-based and offered throughout the year at computer-based testing centers that are listed on their website. Be sure to check how COVID-19 is affecting testing options this semester. 
  3. Letters of Recommendation should come from faculty who know your academic work and research. Be sure to ask them if they feel comfortable writing you a letter and provide them the information about your interests and programs well ahead of when they are due.
  4. A Personal Statement is more specific than what you wrote for your undergraduate applications. It should include only field-relevant info and show why this direction is important to you. It should show intellectual passion and be distinctive and unique to you, not something they would be likely to read in all of their applications. Expect to have multiple drafts and consultation with faculty and the Writing Center. The Writing Center will be offering two personal statement writing workshops for juniors and seniors in September (Thursday, Sept. 10 at 3:30 pm OR Friday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 pm) but often work individually with students on their statements.
  5. Timeline: A sample timeline is offered in our graduate and professional school handout. Participate in undergraduate research in your sophomore and/or junior year to get a sense of what is involved in graduate school and to gain experience. Most deadlines will be in November – through late January for the following year. Plan ahead and don’t procrastinate with your examinations, program research, personal statement writing and asking faculty to write letters for you. 

While faculty will be the first point for your graduate school advising, the Career Center can be helpful with the steps along the way. Use Handshake to make an appointment for career counseling, networking assistance with alumni, resume, CV and cover letter reviews, advising and programming for pre-law and pre-health. 

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