Choosing a graduate school

Once a student decides to apply to graduate school, the selection of schools becomes an important decision. Prospective graduate students need to develop objective and subjective criteria for good decision-making. The following section suggests criteria and some resources to help gather information.

Objective and Subjective Criteria

A list of criteria can be very useful for evaluating graduate school programs. The following factors are adapted from Howard Figler’s PATH: A Career Workbook for Liberal Arts Students. Additional academic, geographical, and personal factors can be added.

Suggested Exercise: Make a list of criteria that are important to you in selecting a graduate program. What programs match your criteria?

Selecting a program

People Resources

  • Macalester professors, advisors, alumni, and others who have attended graduate school
  • Career Development Center career counselors
  • Potential employers in your field
  • Graduate school representatives that visit campus each fall
  • Current faculty, students, staff at the graduate school

Internet Resources

  • - Online resource for grad school and program information. Browse by program or school and read a variety of articles.
  • The Education Supersite - Search more than 35,000 graduate programs, including business schools, law schools, and more.
  • National Association of Graduate and Professional Studies (NAGPS) - Includes information on taxes, financial aid, and benefits of NAGPS membership, including grad student discounts and regional/national conferences.
  • U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools - View school rankings and find detailed information about more than 1200 schools.
  • Financial Aid for Law School - Law School Admission Council Online, awards, loans, and advice specific to law students, LSAT, admissions testing.
  • Financial Aid for Medical School - Professional organizations and other resources specific to medical students, loans, and admissions testing.
  • Pre-Med Advisor - Financial aid for medical school.
  • Take the GMAT - The Graduate Management Administration Council (GMAC) provides information about graduate business schools, admissions and testing, as well as tips on financing your M.B.A.

Professional Schools

Education Certification/MEd

To pursue teaching, one must major in education or attend graduate school and obtain a Teacher's Certification.

Education Resources

  • Minnesota Rules: Teacher and Other School Professional Licensing
  • Certification Requirements for 50 States
  • Teach for America – No grad degree required. This website contains information on recent college graduates of all majors and cultural backgrounds who commit two years to teach in under-resourced urban and rural public schools.
  • Best Education Schools
  • Education Week - Interested in knowing more about educational issues all over the country? This publication provides news and information about issues in education for educators.
  • Education Digest - Provides reviews of periodicals and reports on education as well as monthly columns and features.
  • Public Education Network - This organization's mission is to "build public demand and mobilize resources for quality public education for all children through a national constituency of local education funds and individuals."
  • Teacher Certification, Government Jobs, - Provides information on the different types of teacher certification tests, plus sample questions.

Want to teach abroad after graduation? See the following websites for more information:

Law school

Thinking about law school can be overwhelming. Use these resources to assist you in planning.

Preparing for Law School

About the LSDAS

Almost all ABA-approved law schools and several non-ABA-approved schools require the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS). The LSDAS is a 12-month subscription that prepares and provides a report for each law school to which you apply.  The report contains information that is important in the law school admission process.  Your report will include:

  • An undergraduate academic summary
  • Copies of all undergraduate, graduate, and law school transcripts
  • LSAT scores and writing sample copies
  • Copies of Letters of Recommendation

You don't need to register for LSDAS at the same time you register for the LSAT.  A good idea is to register for the LSDAS approximately six weeks before you plan to apply to law school.  This should allow enough time for you to gather transcripts and other documents, while maximizing the finances invested in the twelve-month subscription.

Register for the LSDAS

Taking the LSAT

The LSAT is a standardized test required for admission to nearly all law schools.  Read more about taking the LSAT.

MBA Programs

The Application Process

MBA programs vary in selectivity and qualities. Spend time researching the programs that interest you. The application process will evaluate a candidate's general presentation, academic profile, professional work experience, and personal qualities. Factors influencing a student's performance include: academic background, work experience, personal characteristics and post-MBA goals. According to Peterson’s Guide, "Whatever your profile may be, make sure you can articulate your reasons for pursuing an MBA clearly, succinctly, and persuasively both orally and in writing.”

Basic Application Requirements

  • Application to the graduate program
  • Undergraduate performance
  • Transcripts verifying the baccalaureate degree
  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) scores
  • Recommendations from those familiar with the applicant’s academic performance
  • A written personal statement or essay
  • Academic prerequisites of each graduate school
  • GRE test scores

Possible Requirements

  • An interview
  • Resume
  • TOEFL scores (if applicable)
  • Check with each school for specific application requirements
  • In your application and interview, consider the reasons why you are interested in each specific program, why they should be interested in admitting you, and why you and the school are a good match.

Finding the Right Schools

Not all MBA programs are alike. Programs can help one either become specialized in a field or just explore possibilities. New international markets create new possibilities for MBA holders.


Master of Public Health

Master of Social Work

Medical School and Health Professions

Application Timetable

Each school and program has its own requirements and deadlines for applications. It is the student’s responsibility to fulfill the requirements on time!

Junior Year: Spring-Summer

  • Talk to faculty, advisors, counselors, and others to discuss graduate programs
  • Request and read graduate program
  • Determine admission and test requirements, application deadlines, test dates, etc.

Senior Year: September-October

  • Take graduate admission test(s)
  • Write draft of personal statement
  • Request letters of recommendation
  • Research financial aid options

Senior Year: November-December

  • Order official transcripts from the Registrar
  • Finalize personal statement according to program requirements
  • Mail applications in early so you will have time to attend to missing information
  • Contact programs to make sure your application is complete

Senior Year: January-April

  • Complete GAPSAF form
  • Contact schools about the possibility of visiting
  • Discuss acceptances and rejections


Some graduate schools require interviews as part of the application process. An interview shows the school how the applicant thinks and approaches problems. The applicant may be asked to deal with controversial issues and should think about some possibilities in advance.

Consider the following:

  • What are the questions that might be asked?
  • What is this program seeking in applicants?
  • What do you have to contribute to the program and the field?
  • How will you benefit from the program?
  • How will the program contribute to your career goals?
  • What do you want the interviewer to know about you?
  • What are some questions you would like to ask?

Tips for Preparing for Interviews

  • Practice the interview in a mirror
  • Practice the interview with a counselor and discuss feedback/suggestions
  • Use video equipment to record your practice interviews
  • Research the school, program, and your qualifications and characteristics

Financing Graduate School

Investigate the financial aid options available for graduate education. The types and amounts of funding available are often based on financial need and/or merit.


  • FastWEB―For graduate fellowship/scholarships. Take about 20 minutes to fill out individual profile that then enables FastWEB to search for scholarships based on specific majors, heritage, etc. FastWEB completes the results of the financial-aid search in approximately five minutes.
  • National Association of Graduate and Professional Studies (NAGPS)―Includes information on taxes, financial aid, benefits of NAGPS membership, including grad student discounts, and NAGPS regional/national conferences.
  • Thomson Peterson's Graduate School Planning
  • Financial Aid for Graduate School―Options and tips for funding education, GRE information, admissions testing, scholarships, and fellowships.
  • Financial Aid for Business School―Awards, loans, and advice specific to M.B.A. students, admissions testing, M.B.A. Explorer, GMAT, and loans.
  • Law School―Awards, loans, and advice specific to law students, LSAT, admissions testing, Law School Admission Council Online.
  • Medical School―Loans, professional organizations, and other resources specific to medical students, admissions testing page.
  • Pre-Med Advisor―Financial aid for medical school, MCAT.
  • Take the GMAT―The Graduate Management Administration Council (GMAC) provides tips on financial your M.B.A., as well as information about graduate business schools, admissions and testing.
  • The Foundation Center―For students and parents seeking scholarship information, educational institutions looking for funding, and nonprofit organizations supporting education in your community.
  • Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Programs (CFDA)―Government-wide compendium of all 1,499 federal programs, projects, services, and activities that provide assistance or benefits to the American public. These programs provide grants, loans, loan guarantees, services, information, scholarships, training, and insurance to millions of Americans every day.


Sending in completed application forms does not signify the end of the graduate school application process.

To ensure consideration of their applications, students must complete the follow-up steps:

  • Contact each graduate program to make sure they have received completed application materials.
  • Contact appropriate sources regarding missing materials and communicate with the graduate program.
  • Continue to research programs by speaking with students and faculty and reading literature.
  • Determine which program(s) match your interests/needs best and rank them in terms of admissions preferences.

Acceptance or Rejection

Once the application process is completed, graduate programs make admissions offers. Although acceptance by more than one school will provide choices, it can potentially contribute to more stress and anxiety. During the waiting period, keep the following suggestions in mind:

  • Remember that a prospective student must also decide whether to accept or reject an offer for admission.
  • Think about how to respond to possible acceptance/rejection scenarios.
  • Although ranking one’s preferences for graduate programs is helpful, the acceptance/rejection process can be complex. For example, a student who has not heard from his or her first choice for a graduate program may receive an offer from their second choice. In this situation, the student could choose one of several options: a) immediately reject the offer; b) immediately accept the offer rather than wait to hear from their first choice; or c) ask for time to make a decision and contact their first choice to see if they are still being considered or wait to hear from the program.
  • Seek support (e.g., parents, friends, faculty, and counselors at CDC and the Health and Wellness Center) during the application process.

Alternative Plans
Think about alternative plans in case of rejection. Students may want to seek support from friends, faculty, family or perhaps counselors if they are very disappointed. Some students will feel relief, realizing that they actually didn’t want to go to graduate school. The next step is to consider other options, whether or not a plan was in place before receiving the rejection letter.