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Graduate Schools and Colleges

Career Services assists students with graduate/professional school planning in several ways. Career Counselors are available to work with students individually to help them develop their career plans and begin the first steps to preparing for graduate school. Click on the links below for samples, descriptions and guidelines. Call 756-2501 x4 to schedule an appointment with your Career Counselor.

Exploring Graduate Study

Personal Interests and Goals to Consider

  • How a graduate education fits into your personal and professional interests and growth
  • Trends, developments, and characteristics of fields of interest; publications describing current research
  • Individuals, programs, and centers teaching and/or conducting research in interest areas
  • Personal considerations of time, finances, and support, as well as necessity to work
  • Interest and ability to travel and relocate

Information to Research when Preparing for Graduate Study

Researching Graduate Programs

A good place to start your graduate school research process on the web is at Career Services: College Information Links

Program of Study

  • Degrees offered
  • Majors or areas of emphasis or concentration
  • Field work or research options
  • Percentage of students attending full-time/part-time

Admissions Preferences

  • Preferences for recent graduates or work experience
  • Degree in subject or course prerequisites
  • Relative importance of test scores, grades, recommendations, statements, experience
  • State residence

Follow Up of Graduates

  • Positions taken by graduates
  • Department and/or campus assistance in job search

Faculty

  • Size of department; depth in the faculty
  • Diversity and type of research and teaching interests
  • Publications and affiliations
  • Availability for class and appointments

Fellowships and Financial Aid

  • Type and amount of awards available
  • Criteria used for choosing recipients

Internships and Field Experience

  • Availability and type of practical experience

Facilities

  • Libraries, research, laboratories, equipment

Accreditation

  • Accredited and by whom

Application Process

ADMISSION CRITERIA The specific criteria and their relative weights vary, depending on the academic discipline, the particular institution, and number of applicants. The most important criteria generally include:

Degree and Grade Point Average

  • G.P.A., either overall or in upper division or major courses
  • Bachelors Degree in the field or completion of specified courses
  • Conditional acceptance or nonmatriculated basis if deficiencies exist?

Application, Statement, and Letters of Recommendation

  • Application and clear statement of purpose  Note: There may be school and department forms
  • The application process is centralized for some types of professional schools
  • Two to four references standard (may be required form or format)
  • Official transcripts (2+) from all colleges attended

Qualifying Examinations

Examinations which may be required:

  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) - general & specific subject exams
  • Miller Analogies Test (MAT)
  • Law Schools Admissions Test(LSAT)
  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
  • Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  • Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT)
  • Dental Aptitude Test (DAT)
  • Veterinary Aptitude Test (VAT)
  • Optometry Admissions Test (OAT)

Personal Interview, Portfolios, Auditions

Screening may address objectives, finances, choice of program

  • RELEVANT WORK, RESEARCH OR OTHER EXPERIENCES & PROFESSIONAL INVOLVEMENT

Financial Aid & Support

Much of the financial aid at the graduate level is merit based, often in the form of a fellowship that may or may not have a service-related component (such as an assistantship). Most of the awards are given by the academic department, and many are for Ph.D. students. Types of financial aid available include:

Merit based monetary awards, including grants, fellowships and scholarships 

  • Tuition scholarships or waivers - reduce or fully cover tuition
  • Fellowships - support for college costs, typically with no payback, provided by the institution
  • External grants & funding - private foundation or federal agency

Loans (through banks, the government or the educational institution)

  • Federal loans are typically the most common funding source for graduate students

Federal Work Study - need based Assistantships

  • Graduate Assistantships - 10-20 hours work/week; typically pay full or partial tuition and stipend 
  • Teaching Assistantships - teaching, recitation courses and/or assisting a professor with office hours, ½ time
  • Research Assistantships - assisting ongoing research; can lead to own research project
  • Residence Assistantships - room and board and a stipend in a college residence hall

Timetable for Applying to Graduate School

Approximate Deadline Dates

October - January:

Deadlines for fellowships outside of the school.

January 15 - March 1:

Deadlines for applications and fellowships for fall entry.

You should begin in the summer before your senior year of college or at least a year before you plan to start graduate school. Study deadlines for specific programs carefully since they may vary significantly depending on the institution to which you apply. Financial aid deadlines may be earlier than admissions.

Summer/Early Fall

  • Write draft statement of purpose 
  • Start browsing through guides to graduate programs and college catalogs
  • Meet with Cal Poly faculty members to discuss statement and possible programs
  • Sign up for required standardized tests
  • Visit schools; meet with faculty and graduate students in programs

Fall

  • Take standardized tests
  • Request application materials from programs
  • Ask for letters of recommendation (i.e. faculty, advisors, supervisors, mentors)
  • Order transcripts 
  • Research financial aid; complete applications for sources with early deadlines
  • Finalize statement of purpose

Early Winter

  • Complete application and financial aid forms
  • Give recommenders forms to fill out (if provided) or addresses to send letters to
  • Mail applications; watch deadlines for admissions and financial aid
  • Contact programs to set up possible interviews
  • Follow up by phone to verify all materials have been received

Application Checklist

__  Statement of Purpose
__  Letters of Recommendation
__  Transcripts
__  Standardized Tests
__  Applications for Admission
__  Applications for Financial Aid
__  Applications for Fellowships
__  Income Tax Return (if necessary for financial aid applications)
__  Scheduled Visits or Interviews

Frequently Asked Questions

Work First or Go Directly to Graduate School?

Work experience can help with the decision to attend graduate school, to clarify career goals, and focus on an area of specialization. Most programs expect you to have clearly defined interests and an area of specialization. Some graduate programs, such as MBA schools, encourage people to get work experience first. For professions requiring education beyond the baccalaureate level, such as law, medicine or university teaching, going directly to graduate school may be your first choice. If your grades are marginal, you may need to work while taking courses part-time to demonstrate to a department that you are capable of succeeding.

To How Many Schools Should I Apply?

A recommendation might be to consider programs that are desirable to you, though highly competitive, programs that are desirable, with more likely chances of selection, and programs you are confident about getting into which meet your criteria. Apply to as many as you can afford, considering also the number of letters you must ask your references to write.

Testing/Essays/Curriculum Vitae

Fields of Study

Business

Education

Law

Health Professions

Psychology

Social Work

Study Abroad

California Colleges

Distance Learning

Writing the Personal Statement

Topics

  • Turn something distinctive about yourself into an interesting way to launch your essay
  • Remember who and what your intellectual influences have been
  • What writers/articles in your field of study have influenced you
  • Favorite professor
  • Best paper or exam you ever wrote and why
  • Most important book, play, article, film you ever read/saw. How has it influenced you?
  • Single most important concept you learned in college
  • Define your career goals
  • When and how you first became interested in this career and how this interest has evolved
  • Academic and non-academic influences
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Experience from family life
  • Your motivation for a career as a…
  • 1 year, 5 year, ultimate goals

What to Include

Academic Background

  • How have you prepared yourself to succeed in graduate school?
  • What body of relevant knowledge will you take with you?
  • Significant study or lab skills
  • Research or publications completed to date
  • Influence of family/early experiences

Personal Philosophy

  • Be careful of stating opinions that are too strong or controversial
  • Any problems and/or inconsistencies in your record
  • Address GPA issues related to personal or academic problems, including change of major
  • Account for gaps in time or a sporadic school or work history

Special Conditions

  • Disadvantaged background; large (35 hours/week) workload outside school

A Successful Statement…

  • Has great opening lines or paragraphs
  • Conveys at least a glimpse of the applicant's personality
  • Substantiates specific academic preparation and knowledge of subject matter
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the challenges as well as the rewards of a chosen career
  • Gives a sense of maturity, compassion, stamina, teamwork skills, leadership potential and general likeability usually without addressing these issues directly (tells a story rather than gives a list)
  • Says what you really mean by describing an event or emotions and thoughts in detail
  • Gives specifics, with DETAILS
  • It's far better to give your essay a complete description of one incident than to cram it full of activities and accomplishments without any hint of what they meant to you, your motivations for doing them, what you learned, or emotions evoked.
  • Shows how you will use the graduate education in your planned career and establishes that you understand your place in the "big picture"

Tips

  • Writing the statement will take a lot of time. Begin early.
  • Demonstrate that you've read the catalog carefully, researched the program, and considered your reasons for applying to the particular school.
  • Direct your focus at that specific program; refer to faculty with whom you have been in contact.
  • Get the name of the program you are applying to into the statement. Know the exact name.
  • The committee is looking for diversity that extends beyond ethnic/racial. This could also mean people who have had different life experiences and people who have unusual career plans.
  • The essay doesn't have to be chronological, and it doesn't have to cover your entire life.
  • Write the essay for your first choice school first. Then modify it as needed for your other targeted schools.
  • Don't mail the first choice application until you've finished several complete applications (this won't work for AMCAS, etc.)
  • Ideas used in other essays can help fine tune the application of your first choice school.
  • Use the essay to explain weaknesses or deficiencies, but if you do, it's best to keep everything positive. Explain how the experience has enlightened you or revealed positive traits.
  • Grammar, spelling, and punctuation must be perfect.
  • Spelling errors in a specialized, technical vocabulary of your field are deadly.
  • Don't begin all paragraphs with my or I. Vary sentence structure and length. Use active voice.
  • Get multiple readers, considering how many and who. Select some readers to check grammar and spelling, style, and adherence to guidelines.
  • Print out on laser quality printer, with easy to read fonts. Fit text in space available without altering or shrinking it to fit to the point where it's not readable. Don't print on both sides.
  • All the best essays will be both honest and direct.
  • Don't attempt to guess at what you think people want to hear.
  • Sincerity and truthfulness should be clearly evident.
  • Read your essay carefully before an interview. Be prepared to discuss and defend as called for.
  • Keep copies of everything.

Do Not Consider

  • Say you "always" wanted to be a…
  • Write something maudlin or overly sentimental
  • Fake it or have someone else write it
  • Criticize, state opinions that could be offensive, make political statements or raise religious issues
  • Overly self-promote; understatement is good
  • Be flip, flighty, glib or "cute." Be careful about using humor
  • Write a laundry list or catalog of achievements
  • Tell them what they already know about their program or profession

Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation

How to Select Writers

Letters should be written by individuals in a position to evaluate you and who are familiar with your capabilities in the field. Select people who know you well from more than one area of activity in your life, if possible. They are generally professional references, not personal or character references, unless that is specifically asked for. The most helpful letters come from faculty who have had contact with you in a classroom or non classroom setting, such as a research lab. The person writing the letter should know you well enough to write a strong, personalized letter.

References may be professors, advisors, mentors, supervisors of work, projects, internships or campus or community activities. Professors who have taught for a number of years can compare you favorably with larger numbers of students. Consider writers who may be familiar with the colleges to which you are applying, possibly an alumni of that college.

Always contact your potential writers to ask their willingness and ability to serve as a reference, when requesting a letter or giving their name as a reference during the application process. Make an appointment, and meet with them.

What to Provide

Provide your writers with a copy of your resume and personal statement for reference, and if appropriate, possibly documents such as transcripts, evaluations or autobiography. If a form or additional materials are required, ask if they would be willing to complete the forms, and provide them with any information or descriptions of programs that may help them.

If a letter is to be sent directly to an college, provide an addressed, stamped envelope. Let the writer know a time by which the letter needs to be received by the college, and give them sufficient time to prepare it (at least one month, preferably longer).

Content

Letters provide information about you from a point of view other than your own. They indicate the capacity in which the writer knows you, i.e., as a professor, supervisor, etc. The writer may also state how long they've known you, and in which classes or projects. 

Effective letters typically mention your specific accomplishments and activities; they should be descriptive of quality achievement and performance. You can write a statement of characteristics, activities, or accomplishments you would like mentioned. The letter should reflect the style of the individual writing.

Tips

Colleges may want the letters sent directly to them, with the student waiving the right to read the letter prior to its mailing. Select your letter writers carefully; have confidence they will comment favorably. Always send a thank you.  It is suggested that you later follow up with your letter writers to share the outcome of your graduate school application process.

Letters are usually sent to colleges as part of the application file. Follow the guidelines provided to know where to have letters sent, if they are to be sent directly from the letter writer, and deadlines for receipt of all materials. An application file may be started with additional materials such as letters and test scores arriving later.

If you plan to take time off between Cal Poly and applying to graduate school, it is a good idea to stay in touch with faculty you may later request a letter from.  Before you graduate and leave campus, consider meeting with potential recommenders, inform them of your anticipated timeline and ask if they are willing to serve as a letter writers once your application process begins. To ensure your faculty advocates are well-prepared, communicate periodically sharing updates on what you are doing in your field, your plans for graduate school, etc.

Successful Interviewing

Before the Interview

  • Attend an Interview Skills Workshop given by Career Services.
  • Be prepared to discuss how your skills, interests, and background can be of benefit to the organization.
  • Research the position, the organization and the community.
  • Find "insider" information including company mission statement, strategic objectives, corporate values and pertinent organization changes.
  • Have a professional telephone greeting on your cell phone or answering machine.
  • Practice answering questions out loud with a friend or family member. You may also make an appointment for a mock interview with your career counselor.

Preparing for Questions

  • Know the information on your resume.
  • Prepare an agenda for the interview, listing the points you want to make.
  • Create a list of the skills/qualities you have to offer an employer (organization, leadership, computer knowledge, dependability, flexibility, etc.) that relate to the position you applied for.
  • Think about 1 or 2 weaknesses and what you have done to successfully overcome them.
  • Prepare detailed descriptions of relevant situations that reflect positively on you. Be ready to describe the situation, your action and the outcome.
  • Prepare for all types of questions, including open-ended, situational, and behavioral
  • Research salary information so that, if asked, you have a reasonable range in mind
  • Don’t speak negatively about your peers, faculty, former employers or other companies
  • Be prepared with questions to ask the employer (refer to back of handout)
  • Conclude the interview on a strong, positive note

Professional Image

  • Take time to be well groomed: moderate makeup, light or no perfume or aftershave, ironed clothes, polished shoes
  • Dress in business attire: for males the usual dress is a suit or dress jacket and slacks; for females it is a suit, dress or pantsuit
  • Select shoes, handbags, briefcases and watches that are conservative. Avoid flashy jewelry and accessories
  • Be courteous to everyone you meet: receptionists, secretaries and others
  • Be confident, poised and enthusiastic
  • Be professional and use professional language
  • The more professional you look and act, the more likely employers are to assume you can perform the job successfully

During the Interview

  • Arrive early
  • Bring extra copies of your resume
  • Be sure to know the correct spelling and pronunciation of the interviewer’s name and whether use of first or last name is appropriate. Ask if you’re not sure.
  • Meet the interviewer with a firm handshake, a friendly smile and a polite greeting
  • Use body language to show interest (appropriate posture and eye contact)
  • Listen attentively to the questions
  • Ask for clarification when you don’t understand a question
  • Give complete answers and use specific examples and accomplishments whenever possible
  • Use illustrations, descriptions, statistics and testimonials to support your claims
  • Answer questions with honesty and sincerity
  • Be aware of the time allocated
  • Remember to breathe, smile and be yourself!

Follow Up

  • Ask about the next step in the process
  • Thank the interviewer and collect a business card
  • Take a moment to make some notes after each interview
  • Write and send a thank you email and/or letter within 1-2 days to everyone who interviewed you
  • Forward any requested materials promptly
  • If you have not heard from the company within 2-3 weeks, contact the interviewer and inquire about the status of the position
  • Keep a record of all interviews, correspondence and subsequent follow-up
  • Be persistent and maintain an optimistic outlook

The Telephone Interview

  • Be prepared by keeping resume and notes by the telephone
  • Clarify and write down the name(s) of the interviewer(s) to whom you are speaking
  • Speak clearly and directly into the telephone
  • Exhibit personality and energy through voice tone and inflection
  • Be factual in your answers
  • Provide details and examples of your experience
  • Take notes

The Behavorial Interview

  • Review the job description carefully
  • Know how to relate your experiences and skills to the position
  • Select situations and experiences in which you have demonstrated the behaviors important to the current job
  • Be prepared to discuss how you personally contributed to the success of the project, situation or event described
  • Talk about specific actions, behaviors, and results related to the job
  • Listen carefully to the questions, ask for clarification if necessary, and make sure you answer the questions completely.
  • Be detailed and specific, make sure each situation has a beginning, a middle and an end

Questions Frequently Asked

Education and Academic Achievements

  • What factors determined your choice of major?
  • Why did you choose Cal Poly?
  • In what campus activities did you participate? Were you in a leadership role? How did you lead?
  • Which courses have you enjoyed the most? The least? Why?
  • What is your GPA? Is it reflective of your best efforts?
  • If you could do so, how would you plan your education differently?
  • Describe your most rewarding college experience? Your greatest challenge?
  • Were you financially responsible for any portion of your college expenses?
  • Give me an example of a project (or Senior Project) you have completed and take me through the steps you used to complete it.
  • Describe the system you use for keeping track of multiple projects? How do you track the progress of various projects in relation to their deadline? How do you stay focused?
  • Tell me about a time when your professor (supervisor) was not available to clarify an assignment; how did you proceed? Was there anything you would do differently? What was the outcome?
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you took an unpopular stand regarding an issue at school (work). What was the situation? What was the outcome?

Personal

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Describe one of your accomplishments.
  • If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
  • Who are your role models? Why?
  • How do you determine or evaluate success?
  • Describe how you set an example for other peers/employees.
  • Give me an example of something complex that you needed to effectively communicate to others. What made it complex? Why was it difficult to communicate?
  • Tell me about a risk you took to achieve a goal.
  • How would you rate your writing skills? What steps have you taken to improve your writing skills? Describe the most difficult report you had to write.
  • Tell me about something you have done that is very creative.

The Job

  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • What is your idea of how our industry works?
  • What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
  • What type of work environment do you prefer?
  • What interests you most about this job? Least?
  • If you were hiring a graduate for this position, what successful characteristics would you look for in a candidate? What qualities would a successful manager possess?
  • What are some of the key challenges you think a new person in this position would face?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What contributions would you make to our organization?
  • What do you know about our company? Our product? Our service?

Experience

  • Describe your job-related skills and experience and how they would relate to this position.
  • What have you learned most from some of the jobs you have held?
  • What did you enjoy most about your last job? Least?
  • How do you think a former supervisor would describe your work?
  • Tell me about an event that really challenged you. How did you meet the challenge? In what way was your approach different from others? What solution did you provide to your employer?
  • Explain your role as a group/team member and an example of how you persuaded other people to take action. Were you successful? How have you dealt with conflict within a group situation?
  • Describe a time where you made a compromise for the overall good of the team. Why was compromising the right thing to do?
  • Give me an example of your ability to manage or supervise others.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stress that tested your coping skills. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you wish you had done more planning. What happened? How could it have been avoided? What did you learn from this experience?

Career Goals

  • What are your long range career goals? How are you preparing yourself to achieve them?
  • What specific goals, other than those related to your occupation, have you established for yourself for the next 5 years?
  • What characteristics do you possess that will make you successful in your career?
  • Who or what in your life influenced you most with regard to your career objectives?

Questions to Ask Employers

  • Why is the position available?
  • What are your company's goals for the next two to three years? What are the long term goals?
  • What outside influences affect your company's growth?
  • What are some common characteristics of successful employees within your company?
  • What are some characteristics of your company that make it attractive?
  • What is the greatest challenge facing your staff (department) now?
  • What is a typical day like?
  • What types of assignments may I expect the first six months on the job?
  • What type of training is available?
  • Why do you enjoy working for this company?
  • What has been your career path within this company?
  • Is relocation likely or required?
  • What are your expectations for new hires?
  • How will the person who accepts this position be evaluated? By whom?
  • When can I expect to hear from you?
  • Do you have a detailed description of the position for which I am being considered?

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