Graduate & Professional Programs


Are you considering graduate or professional school after you complete your bachelor’s degree? CLD can help you decide if this decision is right for you and your career goals. Start your graduate and professional school processes now by taking the steps to Explore, Prepare, and Apply.

Graduate school preparation is all about research. Here are some questions to consider:


  • What school will I attend?
  • When is the application deadline?
  • What should be included in my application?
  • Do I need to take an entrance exam? If so, which one?


Start your research now with the resources below.


Research Schools and Programs:

Figuring out exactly what to study and where to attend graduate school can be both exciting and daunting. When evaluating schools and programs, consider the following factors :


  • Location and size
  • Cost and financial assistance
  • Satisfaction of current students
  • Program focus and areas of specialty
  • Current faculty and their research
  • Research and lab facilities
  • Opportunities for teaching, research or field experiences
  • Student to faculty ratios
  • Length of the program
  • Job placement rate


During your evaluation process, don’t hesitate to reach out to program admissions counselors, current students, and sometimes even faculty. Ask hard questions to really understand whether this school or program is right for you.

For more help on researching schools and programs, check out additional online resources or meet with a career counselor.


Admissions Tests:

Depending on the graduate degree you are seeking, you may be required to complete an admissions test or entrance exam. Confirm which test is required of you, begin studying as soon as possible, and register for an exam time that is best for you.


Learn more about the following exams and how to register:

  • GRE: Most graduate schools
  • MCAT: Medical school
  • DAT: Dental school
  • GMAT: Business school
  • LSAT: Law school


Grad School Application Timeline:

Take your graduate school application process one step at a time. 


Summer Before Senior Year:

  • Evaluate various possible graduate programs.
  • Call or write schools to request catalogues or view their homepages online.
  • Determine test requirements, application deadlines, test dates, etc.
  • Meet with faculty members and career counselors to discuss programs.
  • Sign up for required standardized tests.
  • Prepare for tests by taking practice tests.



  • Take standardized tests.
  • Attend a Competitive Graduate School Application workshop.
  • Write draft statement of purpose.
  • Meet with a career counselor to go over the draft of your statement of purpose.
  • Research financial aid sources, fellowships, and assistantships.
  • Request letters of recommendations from faculty members.



  • Order official transcripts from Office of the Registrar.
  • Finalize statement of purpose.
  • Mail applications. Even if the deadlines are later, it is good to get the applications in early.
  • Apply for fellowships, grants and assistantships.



  • Check with all institutions before their deadlines to make sure they received your application and that it is complete.
  • Contact schools about scheduling a visit and or interview.
  • Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you are applying for need-based financial aid, you may have to file a copy of your federal income tax returns.



  • Discuss acceptances, rejections, and other career options with a faculty member or a counselor at Career  & Leadership Development (CLD).
  • Send Thank You letters to people who wrote your recommendation letters, informing them of your success.

Making the choice to attend graduate school and sift through hundreds of programs in your field can be very complicated. We are here to simplify the process. Use the FAQ below to get your burning questions answered. Don’t see an answer to your question? Email us at


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):


Do I really love the field enough to obtain an advanced degree?

Take some time to investigate your field of interest before applying. Talk to alumni or professors in the field and read resources on the subject. Enthusiasm about your field will help you keep up with demands of graduate life.


Is an advanced degree required to enter a particular profession or advance to a certain level within the field?

Some careers in medicine, law, psychology, education and science/technology require an advanced degree. A graduate degree can also enhance your earning power and can influence how far and fast you will advance in a variety of fields. Determining beforehand why you would like to obtain a graduate degree (i.e., more knowledge, increased pay, greater advancement potential, etc.) can save you a lot of time, money, and frustration in the end.


Do I have the financial resources to cover the cost of graduate school?

Saving money for a few years, obtaining loans, grants, fellowships or assistantships are a few options to pay for graduate school. Undergraduate students should note that, although costs of attendance may be significantly higher, often FAFSA awards will be much greater for graduate study. You may even find certain foundations that provide funding for graduate school in your field. Make sure to inquire about funding through the specific graduate department of interest, professional associations as well as SF State's Financial Aid Office.


Do I have the motivation to stay in school for one to seven more years?

Some people find that taking time off after college to "discover themselves" and/or gain work experience helps them to more clearly define their career goals. They may also develop a better perspective on life and have renewed energy to invest in more education. Moreover, some graduate schools, such as the Lam Family College of Business, won't accept students without some prior work experience in the chosen field.


Am I going to graduate school for the right reasons?

Some students want to continue school because they don't feel ready to meet the demands of "real life" or are not clear as to what career to pursue. Graduate school is a large commitment of time, energy and money. Most bachelor's graduates who continue school because they lack career direction will only find themselves much more lost when they finish. You would do best to take time to evaluate your reasons for graduate school before committing to a program.


Do I want to go to school full-time or part time?

Some programs require you to attend full-time, and it may be difficult to get some types of financial aid without attending full-time. On the other hand, attending school part-time does allow you to work in the field, earn money and complete your degree, but over a longer time period. You may even work in an organization that is willing to reimburse your graduate school costs, so keep this in mind when looking for employment while you are in school.


Do I have the personal qualities and skills that are needed to be successful in graduate school?

Intelligence, initiative, self-discipline, time management skills, focus and persistence are all critical to graduate work. Most graduate programs will require that you maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. The ability to establish good working relationships with fellow students, faculty and internship mentors is also important.


Should I attend right out of undergraduate school or work a few years?

If you decide to attend graduate school directly after you graduate, you will most likely still be in 'study mode.' Many students also find it easier to finance graduate school when there aren't other major financial obligations such as marriage, mortgages or children. Undergraduate loans can be deferred when attending graduate school, too. Going to graduate school after a few years of work, on the other hand, allows time to earn some money and gain some experience in your field. Both decisions are good depending on the time, money, experience and energy you have to dedicate to graduate school.


Online Resources:

  • Princeton Review: General information about grad school programs, admissions, and entry exams.

  • Directory of graduate schools and programs.

  • US News and World Report: For graduate program ranking information and statistics.

  • GoGrad: General information about online graduate school programs in various fields.

To successfully apply to a graduate program, you will need to create and assemble application documents that can include personal statements, essays and letters of recommendations. You’ll also need to begin preparing for a possible admission interview. Get started on your application preparation below.



Graduate schools usually require an essay or written statement as part of the application process. Sometimes they will give you a specific topic to write about, but often, they will just ask for a more general essay called a “personal statement” or “statement of intent”, without giving any structure or guidelines.

The purpose of the personal statement is to give you the opportunity to articulate your goals and reasons for applying to graduate school. There is no one correct way to write a personal statement - tell your story in a way that fits you. Keep your statement to about 1-2 pages in length, unless otherwise specified, and consider including the following information:


  • Your academic and professional background/ qualifications
  • Why you are interested in graduate school in your particular field
  • Your career goals or how you intend to use your graduate degree
  • Why you are hoping to attend that particular school or program


Allow plenty of time to research, create, and edit your statement; make sure to visit with a career counselor SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENTa Graduate Advisor, your professors, friends, and mentors for feedback.


Letters of Recommendation:

Letters of recommendation are required by most graduate and professional schools and are an important piece of the application.


Choosing Your Recommendation Letter Writers:

Generally, graduate schools will ask for 2-3 recommendation letters written by people who can vouch for your academic or professional success.

Consider professors, mentors, and work supervisors that you have a positive relationship with (you should not choose family members or friends who you do not have a professional relationship with). Admissions officers like to see specific examples of different facets of the applicant—statements about your skills, accomplishments and character.


Asking for a Recommendation Letter:

Ask your potential recommendation letter writers if they would be willing to write a strong recommendation letter for you, preferably through an in-person conversation. Give them information on what your professional interests and goals are (a draft of your personal statement or resume is helpful).


Submitting your Recommendations Letters:

Most graduate and professional schools will have an online application process where you can submit your letter writer’s contact information. The school will then reach out to your letter writers, asking them to submit either a letter or fill out a form. This means that you will most likely not see the recommendation letter that is submitted on your behalf.

Make sure to start this process early, allowing several weeks for your letter writers to create and submit their recommendations before the application due date. Don’t wait until you’re ready to apply to ask for letters.



Send a thoughtful thank-you note to your letter writers after they submit your letter of recommendation. Make sure to keep them updated as you hear back from the schools you applied to, expressing your appreciation for their help in the graduate school application process.



The graduate school interview is an opportunity for both the department members and the student to meet in-person to learn more about each other. Not every graduate program will require an interview, but many do so prepare yourself for that possibility. If you received an offer to interview, congratulations! The pool of applicants has already been narrowed down considerably before the interview stage.


What to Expect:

The interview process may differ depending on the school or program. Some programs will have applicants meet one-on-one with a faculty member and other interviews will be full weekend events with students, faculty, and other applicants.

Many graduate programs may ask you to engage in small group discussions or activities with other applicants. Try your best to participate actively, while also demonstrating good listening skills when other are speaking. Keep in mind that you are not just being evaluated for your contributions to the discussion, but also your interactions with others.

You'll have the opportunity to see the campus, facilities, meet the faculty, and ask questions. This is your interview too! During the interview, you should evaluate the program just as they are evaluating you.


Prepare for the Interview:

Research the program and faculty in advance, including any unique attributes of the program and faculty research interests.

Practice explaining how your goals, qualifications, and values match what the program has to offer. Schedule an appointment with a career counselor to get feedback and suggestions for your responses to commonly asked questions.


During the Interview:

Breathe, relax, and establish friendly rapport at the beginning of the interviews. If you don’t answer a question to the best of your ability, shake it off so that it doesn’t affect the rest of the interview process.

In addition to showing your interest, motivation, and qualifications to the interviewers, remember to gather the information you need to determine if this graduate program is right for you.

Chat with the current graduate students. They will have great insight into what the program and faculty are like. Current students may have some influence in which applicants are accepted, so make sure to present yourself in a positive manner, just as you would with faculty members.

Remember to send a meaningful follow-up thank you note to each interviewer!


Common graduate school interview questions:


  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your research interests?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to go here, instead of other schools?
  • If you're not accepted into graduate school, what are your plans?
  • Why did you choose this career path?
  • In what ways have your previous experience prepared you for graduate study in our program?
  • What do you know about our program?
  • How will attending graduate school help you achieve your long-term career goals?
  • What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
  • Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it.
  • Describe your greatest accomplishment.
  • What do you plan to specialize in?
  • What do you see as major trends in your field of study?
  • Tell me about your hobbies and interests?
  • Where else have you applied?
  • What questions to you have for me?