Pursue Graduate or Professional School

Graduate School is an advanced program of study beyond an undergraduate or bachelor's degree. Making decisions about graduate or professional school can be difficult. Located in this section are some tools and things to consider as you navigate what, when, where, and whether or not graduate or professional school is the best career decision for you.

Deciding whether to go

In making this decision it is important to assess your interests, values, goals, dreams, and abilities honestly and realistically. Become familiar with types of degrees and degree levels that are applicable to your career goals, as well as the time and types of experiences required by each.

It is important to understand the applicability, marketability and scope of the degree or degrees you are considering, and how they might change your future career path (i.e., possibly narrowing or broadening it)

  • Master's Degrees
  • Doctorate Degrees
  • Professional Degrees (Medical, Law, PharmD, etc.) 

Examples of appropriate reasons for attending graduate or professional school are:

  • You have a passionate interest in a particular subject area, and want to increase your knowledge/skill in this area.
  • A graduate or professional degree is necessary for your desired professional field or desired position.
  • It may increase your professional options and future advancement potential. 

For example, if you are considering graduate school because

  • You want a higher salary, you should first review salary information to see how a graduate degree in your field would likely effect your future salary.
  • You aren’t ready to make a career decision, so you are “stalling,” you should keep in mind that graduate school should be a career decision. Make an appointment at the ECC to discuss your concerns or apprehensions.
  • It seems as if all of your peers are applying to graduate or professional school, keep in mind there is no requirement to go to graduate school. Explore the careers that appeal to you and utilize your bachelor’s degree first.
  • You don’t feel ready for “the real world,” know that this is common, but is not a good reason to commit to the various costs of continuing your schooling. Make an appointment at the ECC to speak with a career counselor. 

One way to gain information about whether or not a graduate or professional degree might be best for you is to talk to individuals who are doing the work you hope to do, or the individuals that hire for such a position.

  • Consider reaching out to alumni over LinkedIn or the KU Mentoring platform, and asking about their position (e.g., what they like about it, what is difficult, what a typical day looks like, what prepared them for their current position, etc.).
  • Set up informational interviews in which you can ask engineers, HR professionals, or others what qualifications or educational background is needed for a particular position, or ask some of the questions listed above, and/or what they might recommend to you.
  • Review occupations of interest in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Consider whether or not now is the right time to continue your education.

  • The momentum you have from your undergraduate studies may be beneficial for starting graduate school.
  • However, some graduate programs may require that you work for a minimum number of years before applying. This allows you to learn new applied skills in the field and to recharge your batteries away from the classroom.
  • Another option is to work and find a program that will allow you to be a part-time graduate student. This is an attractive option to many people. 

Figuring out how you might finance your graduate school education can be confusing and stressful. Investigate ways to finance your education before committing to a program. Even if your tuition is covered by your program, stipends are often small. Consider the following:

  • Keep in mind there will always be unexpected costs that arise (e.g., fees, tuition increases, particularly expensive books or materials, etc.).
  • Some programs offer funding packages where you are guaranteed a job for a certain number of years that pays for your tuition and provides a stipend of some amount. Others do not, but such opportunities are often available even when not guaranteed.
  • Make sure to look at the various types of aid available to you: assistantships, fellowships, grants, loans, scholarships, etc.
  • Some employers might finance a Master’s degree after a couple of years with the company. Know if this is an option for you​​​

Graduate/Professional School Application Timeline

The application process for graduate and professional schools can feel long and overwhelming. Consider using the timeline below as a loose reference as to what tasks you should be considering and completing in order to turn in your applications by their respective deadlines. This Graduate School Application Checklist may also help you stay organized as you engage in this process. 

  • Discuss your interests in pursuing graduate or professional school with your advisor and faculty members in your area of study
  • Research specialties you are interested in within your chosen field
  • Check out the Center for Undergraduate Research for information and opportunities
  • Gain research/laboratory experience in addition to your coursework
  • Research and talk with faculty members about potential programs, eventually trying to narrow your list to 6-12 schools.
  • Start investigating fellowships, scholarships, and financial aid opportunities
  • Narrow your list of potential schools to 6-12, and visit as many campuses as possible
  • Register and begin studying for your respective entrance exam
  • Research financial aid opportunities (scholarships, grants, graduate teaching, fellowship and research opportunities)
  • Consider making a visit to your top schools and talk with any faculty members you would like to have as an advisor (this requires research about the faculty members’ work)
  • Write your personal statement/ statement of purpose, making sure to address any prompts if given
  • Make sure your resume/CV is up to date and have it reviewed by Engineering Career Center staff
  • Contact letter writers to ask if they would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for you and provide them with dates, your resume/CV, and ask if there is anything else that would be helpful to them.
  • Have your personal statement/ statement of purpose reviewed by at least three people (faculty members, Career Center staff, KU Writing Center )
  • Take any necessary entrance exams (GRE, GRE subject tests, GMAT, MCAT, etc.)
  • Prepare application materials
  • Request transcripts
  • Confirm letter writers are working on your letter of recommendation
  • Submit applications and all supporting documents (see check-list)
  • Submit applications for scholarships, grants, graduate teaching, fellowship and research opportunities
  • Follow-up to make sure schools have received all application materials
  • Send thank you notes to letter writers 
  • Prepare your tax return and submit your FAFSA form
  • Determine what school you will attend. Let them know and ask what steps you need to take next? Make sure to inform the other schools that you will not be attending
  • Thank your letter writers and others that have helped you in the process and let them know your plans
  • Make housing arrangements

Quick Guide to Personal Statements and Admissions Essays

Most graduate or professional school applications require a personal statement or an admissions essay of some sort.  Some may provide a specific prompt for you to answer, and others may simply ask you to write a personal statement or statement of purpose. 

In many cases this is your only opportunity to let the Admissions Committee know about you.  This is your chance to associate personal details with your name and to let them know how you would be an asset to their program.  This is also how admissions committee members get a sense of your written communication skills, which is important in all graduate and professional programs.

An Admissions Committee is ultimately looking for students that will be academically and professionally successful.  Illustrate to them how you have been successful in the past.  Below are some suggestions to help you demonstrate this.

  • Tell the committee why you feel you will be successful within their program. 
  • Tell them why you are interested in their program specifically.
  • Use examples of obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome.
  • Tell them about research projects you have participated in.
  • Mention professors you have worked with, and what you have done with them.
  • Mention professors within their program that are in your area of interest.
  • Mention a research project that you would like to participate in.
  • Tell them your specific area of interest within their program.
  • Tell them your professional goals.
  • Tell them about any awards, scholarships, or honors you have received, and why.
  • Tell them about organizations you have been involved with, and what you have achieved in these organizations, regarding leadership roles, significant volunteer work, or group projects.

After you feel you have a complete draft, it is best to walk away from it for a couple of days and then return to edit it with fresh eyes. 

  • Read the exact wording of the essay question again, to ensure you have answered it
  • Make sure everything you’ve written will make sense to someone who hasn’t met you
  • Double check that grammar and punctuation are correct throughout your writing sample
  • Ask yourself if you used the space to communicate why you would be a good fit and a successful student in the program you are applying to (yes, these should be altered for each application)
  • Ensure you are within the document length parameters given, if any, and that all questions were answered if you were given a prompt

After you have edited your own work, it is essential that you ask others to review your personal statement/admissions essay/statement of purpose. This could include reviews from faculty, the KU Writing Center, and/or the Engineering Career Center.  

Letters of Recommendation

Nearly all applications for graduate or professional school will require letters or recommendation in addition to your other materials. Most programs require 2-3 letters, and may or may not have specific requirements about who is to write the letters (faculty members, previous supervisors, etc.

For the most part graduate and professional programs do not base their admission decisions on grades and entrance exam scores alone. Letters of recommendation are included in an admissions packet to provide committee members with a more subjective view of your abilities and attitude towards academic opportunities. If you have the right people saying the right things about you, it can greatly improve your odds of admission. Strong letters of recommendation can enhance your application, even if you feel it is average in other ways.

Faculty members are considered the most well-regarded letter writers by most admissions committees. They can speak to your academic performance and also know the rigors of graduate school. Faculty who are in your area of interest, are an alumnus of your target school, or know a faculty member at your target school are preferable. When considering who to ask, keep in mind it is usually best to have a strong letter from someone who knows you well, rather than someone with an impressive title who doesn't really know you. Graduate admissions committees are trying to predict how successful you will be in their academic programs, so academic references are most important.

Former employers or internship supervisors in the profession you are seeking to enter can also be useful. They can speak to your professional performance and motivation.

  • Make an appointment with the potential letter writer to ask them for this favor in person if at all possible
  • Discuss with them your reasons for attending graduate or professional school, if you have not already done so
  • Provide them with
    • a copy of your resume or CV
    • a copy of your personal statement
    • a document containing information about you that might be helpful for them to include
    • a self-addressed stamped envelope, or information about online entry process
    • if required, the paper form or appropriate link for an online recommendation
    • a deadline
  • Give them plenty of time to prepare a letter- 6 to 8 weeks is recommended
  • Give them the opportunity to say “no”
    • You do not want someone that is not comfortable writing a letter for you
    • It can be helpful to ask if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation
  • Make sure to send them a thank you note, both after they have submitted their letter on your behalf, and again after accepting an offer of admissions
    • This second letter reiterates your thanks and serves to let your letter writers know where you 

Helpful Resources

As you need them, there are an abundance of resources available to you. Some of those resources are free online or in person in your career center office. Check out the links below and the list of books in print available to check out at the ECC. 

Gain research experience

Starting your search

Register for Exams


These Books are available for check-out at the Engineering Career Center, 1410 LEEP2

  • Get Into Graduate School: A Strategic Approach, Kaplan
  • Getting what you came for, Robert L. Peters
  • Graduate Admissions Essays, Donald Asher
  • Graduate School: Winning Strategies for Getting In, 2e, Dave Mumby
  • GRE Premier 2017 Edition, Kaplan
  • How to write a winning personal statement for graduate and professional school, Richard J. Stelzer
  • MCAT (Barron's)
  • MCAT (Kaplan)
  • Paying for Graduate School without going broke, The Princeton Review
  • Princeton Review: Cracking the GRE 2017
  • The Graduate School Funding Handbook, 3e, April Vahle Hamel & Jennifer Furlong


Schedule an appointment with an ECC staff member to talk about applying to graduate/professional school and other career related questions.