Graduate School

Not all Hope seniors pursue work options after graduation.

Every year about 20% of graduating seniors enter a graduate program. And approximately 45% of working graduates indicate that they plan to attend graduate school in the future.

Of those pursuing graduate study from the Class of 2014, 89% were accepted into their first or second choice of schools. As you think about whether graduate or professional school is right for you, connect with your faculty advisors and the Career Development staff for assistance.

Exploratory Questions
  1. What do I want to accomplish in my life?
  2. What are my long- and short-range professional goals?
Questions to Evaluate
  1. Is graduate study necessary for me to achieve my long- and short-term career goals?
  2. What type of value, if any, do I place on attaining a graduate degree?
  3. Can I realistically invest the time and money to pursue another academic program?
Reconsidering Graduate School

If you answer yes to the following questions, you should reconsider applying to graduate school:

  1. By going to graduate school, am I simply delaying my career decision-making?
  2. With my undergraduate major, do I worry that I have no immediate job options?
  3. Am I concerned that the economy is slow and the job market is lousy?

There are no absolute guidelines about when to go to graduate school. Once you've made your decision in favor of graduate study, you must consider when it is best to begin. Speak with faculty advisors and people currently pursuing programs of your interest in order to hear their perspectives on immediate entry versus delayed entry. Some graduate programs encourage work experience before enrolling; check with the program coordinators.

Singling out possible programs
  • Consult with faculty and alumni for graduate program recommendations
  • Access to cast the net wider for possible programs
  • Check the website of programs of interest
  • Consider reviewing journals tied to your academic discipline
Investigating further
  • Consult the application materials for possible programs online
  • Review evaluations of possible programs in journals and other publications (e.g., Compass section of U.S. News and World Reports) as well as associations tied to your discipline
  • Consider touring campuses of interest; many programs have designated days to visit, talk with students and sit in on classes
Comparing Graduate Schools/Programs

When reviewing graduate programs, consider:

  • Size of the school and department
  • Geographic location
  • Philosophy of education
  • Residence requirements
  • Work or experiential learning opportunities available
  • Career assistance provided
  • Reputation of the school and the specific program
  • Number of faculty in the department
  • Quality of research conducted by the faculty
  • Amount of aid/assistantships offered
  • Requirements such as GPA, standardized tests, etc.
Making Your Decision
  • Begin your applications early; if any schools have rolling admission, apply there first
  • Consider applying to five to seven schools
  • Have one or two “stretch schools” and one “sure bet” in your application mix (and more for M.D., D.O. and dentistry applications)
If possible, visit the schools you’re interested in. Contact the school’s admissions office or the chairperson of the department to which you are applying. Some schools may have a special visitation day set aside just for prospective students. If the distance requires an overnight stay, the department may be able to pair you with a current grad student for lodging and transportation.

Pay attention to the range of details and deadlines, including whether any schools you’re considering have rolling admission or a modified rolling admission. Apply early!

  • Access applications online from the graduate schools you’re applying to
  • Be thorough: Review the entire application and pay attention to the details
  • Copy and store your application for future reference
  • Contact the school several weeks ahead of the deadline to confirm that your application has been received
Developing your graduate school essay
  • Review and reflect on the questions posed by the admissions committee, then brainstorm ideas and core themes that you want to convey in your essay.
  • Make sure your essay reflects your persona, your individuality. Engage the reader with a bold or interesting opening statement.
  • Provide a clear and compelling rationale for pursuing this line of graduate study by including:
    • Specific reasons for your interest in that particular area
    • Reference to academic and research distinctives
    • Short- and longer-term goals and experiences that might differentiate your application
    • Study or internships and community leadership or engagement
  • Pause for a while after you’ve finished your initial version, then come back to continue the editing and revision process.
  • Initially, have it reviewed by a peer in the writing center, and then ask a faculty member or two to provide you feedback. Several sets of eyes reviewing it is wise, given the range of perspectives represented by the admissions committee.
  • Keep a copy of your essay and review it before any interviews to ensure that you’re sharing consistent content through the process.
Submitting your Transcripts
  • Contact the Hope College Registrar’s Office for details about having your transcripts forwarded to the schools where you’re applying.
  • If you’ve attended schools other than Hope, contact their registrar’s offices to forward transcripts from other colleges or universities you’ve attended, if needed.
Preparing for Interviews
  • Although most graduate programs do not require an interview (except for many health profession programs), your school may include one as part of the process. We can help you prepare for the interview.
  • Practice your interviewing skills in a recorded mock interview with Career Development staff. Practicing is key to gaining confidence for the real thing!
  • Try InterviewStream, an interactive interview practice program accessible through JobStop. Refine your interviewing skills at your convenience.

Most schools require three letters of recommendation, preferably from persons qualified to evaluate your academic or work potential and performance (e.g., faculty and former employers). Give your references plenty of time before the application deadline (minimum of three–four weeks) to write the letters. At least one letter should come from a faculty member in your major field. You may also wish to obtain a recommendation from a professor in an unrelated discipline, such as your minor. Learn more about obtaining a letter of recommendation.


Most graduate programs require a specific examination as part of the application process.

Keep in mind that some registration deadlines are set early in the school year. Developing a plan early will help ensure that you have the time you need to apply on time and with well prepared materials.

Scheduling your exam
  • Many exams (e.g., GRE, GMAT) are taken on a computer, and you can schedule your preferred dates online. Fall dates are the busiest and fill up quickly.
  • Some graduate schools require two exams; for example, the GRE Subject Exam and the General GRE.
  • Check the registration deadlines for the exams you need. If you do not register in time, you may have to pay extra for the exam or have to take it later.
Preparing for the Exam

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the layout and content of the exam. Take several “trial runs” before you actually take the test. We have several helpful preparation guides in our Career Library, and several organizations (e.g., Kaplan and the Princeton Review) provide structured courses to help you prepare.

 Entrance Examination Resources

Begin planning for graduate school at least one year before you’d like to enter. Below is an approximate planning schedule. Some schools will have rolling admission, and others will have a standard deadline. Submit your application as early as possible (October) if a school has a rolling submission.

Junior Year/Summer (at least one year Before entering graD school)
  • Start browsing through guides to graduate programs and college or university websites
  • Prepare and register for required standardized tests
  • Determine test requirements, application deadlines and test dates
  • Meet with faculty members to discuss programs
  • Investigate national scholarships
Senior Year/September
  • Take standardized test(s) if you haven’t already
  • Draft your statement of purpose or personal essay
  • Research financial aid resources, fellowships and assistantships
  • Discuss your statement of purpose and possible programs with faculty members
  • Request letters of recommendation early
  • Update your résumé and have it reviewed by the Career Development Center
  • Apply for fellowships, grants, assistantships and scholarships
  • Give your letter of recommendation writers the proper forms and addresses for sending their letters
  • Send thank-you cards to your writers
  • Prepare with a mock interview through the Career Development Center
  • Order official transcripts from the Registrar’s Office; check to see if fall semester grades can be sent in time to meet deadlines
  • Discuss acceptances, rejections and options with faculty and/or Career Development staff
  • If you would like to defer enrollment for one year, contact your graduate department
  • If you are rejected for admission, contact the school to discuss reasons for your rejection and gain suggestions on how to get admitted in the future
  • If you are applying for need-based financial aid, you may need to file a copy of your income tax return

Monetary support to attend graduate or professional school is available from several sources:

  • Universities
  • Government
  • Banks
  • Private foundations
  • National scholarships

Information about financial aid can be found from:

  • Graduate or professional school websites
  • Descriptive literature published by universities
  • Government units and foundations
  • Individual faculty and staff members

Financial support for graduate education may vary widely among institutions. Thoroughly investigate the availability of financial aid in all its forms as you progress through the admissions process. The Career Development Center can assist you in this process.


Deadlines are usually quite early. Request a financial aid application when you ask for admissions application materials.

Types of Financial Aid

Fellowship — Graduate-level equivalent to a scholarship

  • Typically competitive and given on the basis of scholastic achievement
  • Contact the school’s financial aid department for more information
  • May also be available from the federal government through the institution to which you are applying

Teaching or Research Assistantships — Often available through the academic program of study

  • Typically 10–20 hours per week in exchange for a stipend and/or waived or reduced tuition
  • Request for information should be made to the department of the program that interests you

Resident Assistant or Residence Directors — Programs in which graduate students earn a stipend or room and board (or both) by living and working in undergraduate residence halls

College Work-Study Program — Part-time employment opportunities during the academic year, as well as part- or full-time summer opportunities