The decision to pursue a graduate degree is one that students approach with careful consideration. For most students, finances are a major issue. Graduate school tuition is significantly more expensive than undergraduate rates, but a smart choice in a degree program can pay off after graduation. After deciding to pursue a graduate degree, The Princeton Review suggests taking the initial steps in this order.

Research Programs And Schools

The first step is choosing the right school and program. Keep in mind that the application to the school and the graduate program are two different applications. Students attending a college offering graduate and undergraduate degrees must still apply to a graduate program. When researching, make a list of desired jobs. Find the degree programs that match those, and research them on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site. Look at the average annual salary, job duties and the projected future job growth. It is best to choose a degree program that best matches preferences, better-than-average job growth and a good salary.

Research Financial Arrangements

Students planning to use financial aid, grants or scholarships should spend some time calculating how much their degree could cost. Be sure to add any technology fees, books and other expenses. For some students, it may be best to work a few years and pay off student loans before adding more loans. Students who qualify for federal or private grants should gather a list of possible resources.

Study For And Take The GRE Test

This test is required for entry into a graduate program. It tests a student’s knowledge base of what he or she learned while enrolled in an undergraduate program. There are several resources online for GRE preparation and free GRE practice tests. Be sure to take some practice tests before registering for the actual test. If the scores earned the first time are unsatisfactory, register to take the test again. After earning a satisfactory score, it is time to work on a statement of purpose.

Compose A Statement Of Purpose

This statement is a general requirement for graduate programs. Avoid writing it quickly. It is important to give the piece plenty of thought. The statement may not be the main determining factor in acceptance, but one that is poorly written is easier for the admission committee to overlook. The Purdue Owl provides some great resources for help in composing and polishing a statement of purpose.

Select Several References

Graduate program applicants should have at least two references, which are also called recommenders. Former professors are helpful in this area. Also, research any desired schools and their professors whose work and research matches individual goals and interests. It is important to have references or recommenders who are easy to contact, so work on building a good professional relationship with them.

Apply To Several Programs

Submit applications to several different schools and graduate programs of interest. Some programs may have additional requirements. For health-related programs, criminal background checks and immunizations may be required. Request transcripts from any colleges previously attended, but make sure transcripts are sent directly to the desired graduate program’s admissions department.

Apply For Financial Aid

Fill out a current FAFSA form on FAFSA.gov. Research additional private scholarships and apply. Be sure to add school codes for all schools where applications were sent.

After finishing all of these steps, wait for the federal aid award letter and acceptance letters from the graduate programs. The school choice may be based on personal preferences or financial aid allowances in relation to tuition rates.

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