Many BU graduates pursue additional education, either directly after graduation or a few years later. Additional academic credentials can be a benefit to advancing your career, but isn’t the right choice for everyone.
Making the Decision
Pursuing an advanced degree is a big commitment of time, money, and effort. Before taking it on, make sure you are going for the right reasons and at the right time for you.
To Go or Not To Go
The first part of the decision is to determine whether or not to go. Examine your motivations for considering additional education. Good reasons include going because you want to pursue future study in a specific academic area or because it will help you achieve clear career goals.
Questions To Consider
- What are my short- and long-term career goals?
- Am I prepared to meet the extensive research, course work and writing demands of an academic program at the graduate level?
- Are there alternative educational programs that would assist me in attaining my goals (e.g. vocational/technical training, additional coursework, professional seminars and workshops)?
- Is graduate school a necessary prerequisite for achieving my goals?
- Am I motivated by my desire to postpone my entrance into “the real world”?
- Do I have the financial resources available to me at this time to cover the costs of graduate school?
- Will the time and money spent on a graduate program ultimately translate into the greater career mobility and financial rewards that I aspire to?
- Do I have the interest, enthusiasm, motivation, abilities, and personal qualities to succeed in a graduate program?
- Are there prerequisites that you would need to take to prepare for the program?
- What are my current obligations? Does making a prolonged commitment to graduate school make sense at this time?
Now or Later?
Deciding to go doesn’t mean you have to go immediately. Some programs prefer applicants with several years of full-time work experience.
The benefits to going immediately include continuity of learning, earlier entry into a professional field where the advanced degree is required (law, for example), and possibility that it is easier to finance before other commitments (family, etc.).
The benefits to waiting include additional time to explore career interests or to decide on which programs are right for you, work experience may help refine your career goals, and the chance to recharge after completing an academic program. Plus, you may have the opportunity to have a future employer finance some/all of your additional education.
In either case, if you’d like to talk through the decision, make an appointment in Handshake. If you are considering either a health profession program or law school, you can also speak with Pre-Professional Advising.
There are many options to choose from and there’s not a single right way to choose. First, make sure you are considering accredited and legitimate programs, then focus on your priorities and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each program. Connect with admissions staff to learn more about the program and what makes a candidate stand out. Some graduate programs host information sessions to specifically recruit from BU (check our calendar). Visit their campus if you can to speak with admissions staff.
Factors To Evaluate
- Admissions Requirements: Are there prerequisites? Do you meet any requirements?
- Curriculum, Academic Focus: What’s included in the program? Do the courses interest you? How long will it take to complete?
- Faculty: What are their research interests? What experiences do they bring? Do they align with your interests?
- Location, Facilities: What are their libraries and other facilities like? Is it near any other institutions, researchers, and libraries?
- Reputation: What do others in the field or in general think of the program and the faculty?
- Costs: What are all the costs? Remember to include living expenses. Do they have any financial assistance and how would you qualify or apply?
- Community: Is it a place where you can be happy? Is it an inclusive environment?
- Graduation, Career Support: What percentage of students graduate? Where do they go after graduation? What career support is available?
Types of Degrees
There are two categories of degree programs that generally align with how you will use the degree.
Professional degrees give you a specific set of skills needed to practice in a particular field. Master’s degrees include those in education, business, engineering, or other professions requiring specialized training. Generally, this type of master’s degree is considered a final degree and often involves an internship, a practicum, or field work. The doctoral degrees in this category include those in law, business, medicine, and other health professions. Program length varies widely from 1 to 4 years.
Research degrees focus on advancing research and scholarship in a particular field. Master’s degrees may be a final degree or a step toward a doctorate. A research doctorate or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) typically involves coursework and a major research project culminating in a dissertation. Master’s degrees in this category typically take 1-2 years while a PhD usually takes 4-6 years or more of full-time study.
In general, you will need to submit:
- Application form
- Personal statement or statement of purpose
- Nonrefundable fee
- Financial aid application
- Official transcripts
- Test scores (usually sent directly from the testing service)
- Letters of recommendation from faculty or employers (3-5, submitted directly)
- Other: Some programs may require or accept other materials such as a portfolio, sample projects or research papers, or resume/CV.
If you decide to pursue additional education later, you can use a dossier or credential service such as Interfolio to confidentially and securely store and manage letters of recommendation, transcripts, and related documents.
Standardized tests are a common admissions requirement for many degree programs, some of which will accept more than one type. Research which tests the programs you are interested in will accept. Because testing dates may not align with application deadlines and advanced scheduling is required, plan ahead to make sure you have test scores to submit. Scores are typically valid for several years.
Common Standardized Tests
- GRE (Graduate Record Examination) General: Required by the most programs in many fields and includes quantitative, verbal, and analytical sections
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test): Most often required by MBA or business programs
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test): Required for some but not all health profession degree programs
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test): Required by some law programs
- MAT (Miller Analogies Test): Assesses analytical thinking, accepted by many programs as an alternative to the GRE
Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose
Some programs ask you to respond to specific questions in your statement, while others provide more open-ended instructions. In either case, this is your chance to show your enthusiasm for the field and the specific program as well as to demonstrate why you should be accepted. Like a cover letter for a job application, the personal statement helps you market yourself to the admissions team and to make a strong connection between you, your experience and career goals, and the program.
Make sure your prose is concise, and the content is thorough, accurate, organized, and enthusiastic. Among the general elements admissions committees look for: writing ability, clarity of goals, level of academic knowledge in the subject area, and maturity. Where possible, give examples of related experience and activities.
For help with the content of your personal statement, make an appointment in Handshake. If you are applying to a health professions program, make an appointment with Pre-Health Advising. If you are applying to law school, make an appointment with Pre-Law Advising. For proofreading or help with grammar, use the COM Writing Center.
An advanced degree can be pricey. Be sure you understand all of the costs involved as you explore ways to finance your education.
Fellowships, Scholarships, Grants
Fellowships, scholarships, and grants are based on academic achievement and are generally competitive. Some are portable and offered by an organization for study at any school while others are institutional, so offered by or for a particular university or department. The BU Office of Fellowships and Scholarships helps BU students with external and BU-specific options.
There are different types of assistantships, but all require a time commitment and some type of work. Teaching assistantships involve assisting or teaching undergraduate classes in your field. Resident assistantships involve working as a live-in assistant in an undergraduate residence hall. Research assistantships involve working on a specific faculty research project.
Loans are available through a variety of private and public lenders. Look into Stafford Student Loans, Perkins Loans, loan programs specific to your interest area, and loans from private lenders. Be sure to understand information on rates and repayment terms.
Employer-Funded Tuition Assistance
Employer-funded tuition assistance can be a great option if you want to go to school part-time. Most employers will expect that you are studying something relevant to your current career field, but not all will require this. Some employers have a waiting period for this benefit; others have a dollar limit per year. Talk to your supervisor or Human Resources.
National service programs and the military both have funding options for those eligible. In addition, there are opportunities for loan repayment in exchange for work in a particular field or location after graduation.
The timeline below is based on an applicant looking to start graduate school in the September following a May graduation and gives a general idea of the tasks that need to be accomplished. Don’t panic if your plan or the schedule needed for your field or a specific program differs. Find out when your applications are due and work backwards to set your own schedule.
Summer before Senior Year
- Research graduate programs; become familiar with faculty research interests, entrance requirements, entrance tests, and application deadlines
- Contact graduate programs of interest and request admissions information and financial aid applications
- Take practice entrance exams (GRE, GMAT, MCAT, etc.)
- Review for and take necessary entrance exams (the GRE general test and/or other required tests)
- Begin to draft a personal statement of your academic and professional goals
September, Senior Year
- Register for the GRE subject test, if required
- Narrow down your list of prospective schools
- Identify and contact individuals to request letters of recommendation (agree on a deadline!)
- Obtain feedback on and continue to refine your personal statement
- Continue research on financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, and educational and personal loans
- Retake the GRE, if necessary
- Order official transcripts
- Begin to tailor your personal statement to the graduate programs to which you are applying
- Make contact with students, professors, administrators, and/or alumni at your prospective schools
- Follow up on letters of recommendation to make sure they are completed
- Secure official transcripts
- Finalize your personal statements; have them reviewed by appropriate faculty, staff, and professionals in the field
- Complete application and begin sending out packets
- Begin preparing financial aid applications
- Finish sending out all applications, keeping copies for your records
- Check with each school to ensure that all materials have been received, including transcripts, letters of recommendations, and test scores
- Focus on financial aid: complete the FAFSA online and apply for private and educational loans, grants, fellowships, and assistantships
- Prepare for any interviews that you may have; use Big Interview and/or schedule a mock interview at the CCD
- Continue to make contact with program representatives to check on the status of your application
- Make contingency plan in the event that you are not accepted or choose not to go to graduate school. Make an appointment at the CCD for help if needed
- Relax and wait to see if you are selected as a potential candidate
- Arrange to visit programs that you are selected for; many departments hold admitted students days in March and early April
- Figure out your financial situation. This will help you decide where to attend
- Accept and decline offers in writing and/or by phone as soon as you have made a decision
- Contact your recommenders to let them know where you will be next year and thank them again for writing a recommendation
Request Letter of Recommendation
I hope you are doing well. I wanted to let you know that I was really inspired after _____________, and it has led me to decide to pursue further education in ___________. I am in the process of applying for ________ program at ABC University. My application requires a recommendation letter from a ______ [their role: professor, former or current supervisor, etc.] and since __________ [the reason you are asking this person specifically] I was wondering if you would be willing to write a recommendation letter for my application.
If you are willing, the application is due____________, which allows four weeks to complete the letter. I would also be happy to meet with you if you would like to learn more about why I am applying to ____________ and what skills make me a good fit for the program. I have attached my resume which I submitted along with my program application materials. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing back regarding your decision.