Preparing for Grad School

Is Grad School Right for Me?

Graduate school is a significant commitment and isn’t right for everyone. Here are some steps you can take to reflect on your interests and assess whether grad school is the right fit for your:

  • Examine your career goals along with your interests and skills – is grad school the best path to get where you want to go?

  • Avoid making graduate school a default choice if you are uncertain about what you want to do post-graduation. 

  • Make an appointment with a Career Advancement adviser for personalized support in making this decision.

  • Talk to graduate students in your prospective field to find out what graduate school is like in that discipline.

Choosing a Graduate Program

  • Unlike a liberal arts education, which emphasizes critical thinking across a range of disciplines, graduate study is characterized by focused training for entrance into a specific academic field or profession.

  • As you consider applying to graduate school, a central question to ask yourself is whether graduate study is necessary to meet your short- and long-term goals.

  • The choice of a graduate school program is a highly personal decision that you will need to research thoroughly, seeking advice from experts in the field: both here at the University of Chicago and your prospective graduate programs.

  • Each graduate program has its own unique strengths and areas of focus. Focus on whether a program meets your individual needs rather than relying on University rankings (such as the US News & World Report).

Academic Preparation

To succeed in both your admissions applications and your time as a graduate student, you need to prepare yourself academically. It is never too early to start taking the steps that will help you succeed.

  • Get to know faculty by attending office hours, taking seminar courses, and/or working as a research/lab assistant.

  • Take challenging coursework that will help you decide if graduate study is what you wish to pursue. Go beyond your department’s requirements to build up your knowledge, skills, and abilities in your chosen field.

  • Take critical theory, methods, or skill-building courses in your field.

  • Write seminar and research papers. This will help you gauge your interest in research and writing and may provide you with a strong writing sample for your application.

  • Look for or create a capstone experience for your College education. This might take the form of a thesis paper or project, or an independent research course exploring a particular topic.

  • Take necessary language courses. Even though your planned graduate work may not involve a foreign language, many programs in the humanities and social sciences require all students to pass a language exam or show competency in a language other than English.

  • Participate in research as much as possible. Use summer opportunities, course work, and/or independent projects to give yourself an edge.

Professional Preparation

Applications to graduate school can be extremely competitive. Here are some steps you can take to help yourself stand out in the applicant pool:

  • Develop strong relationships with faculty.

  • Attend departmental lectures and functions.

  • Attend conferences and colloquia.

  • Conduct research through research assistantships, summer research opportunities, coursework papers, or thesis papers and projects.

  • Submit your work for awards and prizes.

  • Organize colloquia, conferences or exhibits.

  • Apply for research or study grants.

  • Study the foreign language(s) needed for graduate or professional work in your field.