Academic Advising Programs University of North Carolina Campus Box 3110 Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3110

November 2006


I. INTRODUCTION This handbook is intended for anyone who is contemplating attending graduate school once they have completed their undergraduate degree at UNC. It contains information about the nature of graduate education, how to prepare for graduate education, how to select a graduate program, and the graduate school application process. While this handbook hopes to answer many questions about graduate school, it is likely that you’ll have some that are not answered here. Please feel free to schedule an appointment with one of the pre-graduate school advisers in the Academic Advising Program. They can tell you a great deal more about graduate education and answer any remaining questions that you have.

II. WHAT IS GRADUATE SCHOOL? The term graduate school refers to all post-baccalaureate educational programs that award advanced degrees. Entrance into graduate school requires a bachelor’s degree. After completion of the graduate training you may have earned a Master’s degree, Ph.D., graduate certificate or professional degree.

Professional and Other Graduate Degrees A distinction can be drawn between professional and other kinds of graduate degrees. Professional degrees include business (MBA), dentistry (DDS and DMD), law school (JD), medical school (MD), pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and 2

These programs are typically not administered by the “Graduate School” of a university. degree.D.. For information on those degrees.P. medicine.l among others.A. The distinction between professional and other kinds of degrees should not be drawn too sharply.S. Joint DMD/PhD. This handbook does not focus on professional degrees.A.H. practicing medicine or law). are the most common. including M. with some programs requiring a little more time. and others. The practical relevance of the latter piece of information is that your application may have to be sent to the Graduate School rather than to an academic department.veterinary medicine (DVM). M. JD/PhD. or law).P.. Master’s versus Ph. Under normal circumstances.D.D. JD/MBA. since there are now a growing number of joint degree programs. earning a Master’s degree will take two years. the Master’s and Ph. M.P. MD/PhD. click on the links for pre-law school advising and pre-health science advising. M. Master’s degrees come in different flavor. and other programs are of interest if you would like to conduct research but would also like to practice in a profession (e. During this time you will take advanced courses in a particular field. These degrees are typically more research oriented and they are almost always administered by the Graduate School.g. dentistry.. MD/M.H. There is also a wide range of graduate certificates that can be earned. Of the other kinds of degrees.. sometimes as a part of obtaining one’s Master’s or Ph. The downside of these programs is that they can take considerably more time to complete than a straight-out professional degree.. You may also be asked to take a 3 . DDS/PhD.g. The pre-health and pre-law advisers can help you to identify these programs and discuss the pros and cons of a joint degree. Their focus is usually less on doing research and more on providing the necessary skills to engage in a particular profession (e.

Just conducting the “field work” can take a long time. In many cases. or conducting experiments. III.D. curriculum varies greatly by field and university. but this usually means that they will only admit students who already have a Master’s degree. with graduate students spending countless hours in libraries and archives. students earn their Master’s degree along the way and may be asked to write a Master’s thesis as well as a dissertation. Master’s theses are smaller and more circumscribed projects that can usually be completed within the time span of one or two semesters. which decides if you can continue in the program. A small number of programs compress their Ph. many Ph. In comparison. but it typically involves taking courses for the first two or three years. In some programs the Master’s thesis is used as a benchmark to decide whether you can continue in the program. taking comprehensive examinations in one or more sub-fields in the second and/or third year.D. especially when they are pursuing a joint degree program.D.D. goals.comprehensive examination in one or more sub-fields and to write a thesis or create a final project. Earning a Ph. and personality. students often spend considerable more time on it. The dissertation is a major piece of original research. and interviews. In practice. and writing a dissertation in the last year. IS GRADUATE SCHOOL FOR ME? Whether graduate school is the right choice for you depends on your academic ability. The organization of the Ph. students take longer than four years. Successful pursuit of a graduate degree requires 4 . Some programs will have an examination at the end of the first year. degree typically requires four years. Although many programs allocate only one year to writing the dissertation. surveys. requirements into three years.

at least not at this point in your life. Apart from the financial costs. They have discovered that they are passionate about a particular subject. which can sometimes be recovered through scholarships and stipends. perhaps because of the inspiring teaching by one of UNC’s professors. persistence. programs. Here are some things to consider when deciding if graduate school is right for you. there are opportunity costs. IV. If you’d rather be making a living or have an abundant social life. then graduate school is probably not a wise choice for you. SELECTING A FIELD Most students know what field they want to study if they decide to go to graduate school. Graduate education is also costly.D. If you find yourself answering yes to most of these questions. Or they have discovered that an advanced degree in a particular field is required in order 5 . then graduate school indeed may be a good option for you. You will be spending several years of your life working extremely hard and often long hours. then graduate school may not be the right choice for you.talent. Do I enjoy learning? Am I academically and intellectually equipped for graduate school? Do I need graduate school for the profession that I am interested in? Am I willing to make significant sacrifices of time and/or money in the foreseeable future? Am I willing to put other aspects of my life on hold? Am I passionate about the subject matter that I wish to study? Am I a self-starter who can structure his/her own time? For Ph. and dedication to the chosen field. in particular: Am I passionate about doing research? If you find yourself answering no to most of these questions. unbelievably hard work. extremely high motivation.

V. This is a great place to explore your future. You can also set up an appointment with a counselor via the website. it is helpful to seek out more information. more specifically. Potential information sources include the following. The Career Services website provides a great deal of information. If you are one of these students. or perhaps you are passionate about many things and cannot quite decide what to focus on. SELECTING A GRADUATE PROGRAM Many things figure into the selection of a graduate program. Perhaps different fields all give access to a profession. (1) What is the reputation of the university and. as well as several assessment tools online. In this case. They can also perform assessments of your interests and aptitudes. then feel free to skip this enter a profession. Some of the most important criteria are the following. - Professors: The UNC faculty is a great resource for information about graduate education. - Career Services: Career Services can help you to explore different careers and your suitability for them. Career counselors know the educational requirements for different professions. and about the prevailing admissions standards. All of this can help you to decide exactly what field is appropriate given your goals. about job prospects. They can tell you about the nature of graduate education in their field. Sometimes it is less clear what the appropriate field is. the graduate program? (2) What kind of student does this program typically accept? Am I this type of student? 6 .

but this may have been too recent to affect the rankings. You should consult both the overall rating of a department/program and the rating of the particular subfield that interests you. Perhaps the aforementioned program just hired a star polymer chemist. News ranking of graduate programs. then the program may not be such a good choice after all. programs with good reputations frequently have better placement records and better facilities. Keep in mind that rankings do not always reflect recent changes in a program.S. A good source for assessing a program’s reputation is the U. For example. If that is the area in which you seek training. You may also wish to consult the National Research Council and sources such as phds. Also keep in mind that 7 .(3) Is there faculty that I would like to work with? Do faculty interests match my own? (4) What is the placement record of the graduate program? (5) What facilities does the program offer? (6) Does the program offer financial assistance to its students? It is important that you give some thought to these questions because settling on a graduate program may be one of the most important life choices that you will ever make. Factors to Consider Reputation The reputation of a graduate program is of great importance and affects the answers to several other to obtain a sense of program rankings and ratings. a chemistry program may have a solid overall reputation but it may be weak in the area of polymers. getting into these programs is usually also a lot more difficult. For example. On the other hand.

while the number of applicants can measure in the hundreds. So ask yourself: Would I admit myself to this institution based on my credentials? 8 . educators. The key to your own realistic evaluation of your desirability to any graduate program is your own assessment of the match between the record you have compiled and the level of achievement that is probably expected by the institution. However. they are looking for excellence and promise. (2) undergraduate GPA and curriculum.) Rather than staring yourself blind on ratings and rankings. So what are graduate admissions committees looking for in applicants? In two words. Graduate programs want to admit those students who will become outstanding researchers.g. A detailed discussion of these can be found below. they rely on several pieces of information: (1) admission test results. especially more senior professors). faculty at UNC. (3) letters of recommendation. faculty citations. Much will depend on the actual number of slots that are open in a particular year and on what your competition is. Unlike Law Schools. few graduate programs will tell you ahead of time what GPA and test score will get you in. While ratings/rankings are based on objective indicators such as research productivity of the faculty. by speaking with UNC faculty you can get a pretty good sense of which programs are the most competitive in a given field. and placement record. Who Is Accepted? Graduate school admissions are competitive. the weight that one places on these things could easily vary from one person to the next. In making this assessment. and leaders in their field. (Some ranking engines such as phds.rating or ranking a program is to a considerable extent subjective. it may be better to use them as one source of information and to obtain additional information from other sources (e. and (4) CV and personal allow you to manipulate these weights. The number of slots is often small.

scores of well-meaning graduate students discover that their interests are poorly suited to the program in which they have been accepted. an accurate mental picture emerges of whether there is anyone who does (remotely) what you are interested in. (Of course.) Finding this information is easy these days. Even more wonderful is that you have been accepted into the program. Apart from preventing frustration. To be sure. While it is inadvisable to 9 . and their teaching and research interests. faculty may still leave but at least there will not be a problem right at the start. but they all focus on something different from what you would like to do. Full of enthusiasm you start your graduate studies and then it hits you. By taking a close look at the faculty.Fit So you discovered that program A is the best program in your field of interest. Nobody on the faculty does exactly what you want to do. So now you have a choice: find a new program or change your interests. It is common for graduate students to change their interests or even their subfield once they have entered a graduate program. considering your interests in light of those of the faculty can help you write a better application. then this will make your application stronger. Every year. Graduate admissions committees often look for hints that an applicant would fit the program—is there a likely adviser/mentor on the faculty? If you can link your interests to those of specific faculty members. this situation is. for the most part. Either way. This scenario is not nearly as far-fetched as it may seem. While it is important to consider fit. the outcome is not quite as perfect as you had hoped. That is wonderful. their CVs. preventable. there are many bright specialists in your subfield. it is equally important to keep an open mind. Most programs have websites that provide biographical sketches of their faculty and many faculty members have websites of their own. Sadly.

they generally will have a good sense of how well certain programs place their students. Some departments provide information about their placement record on their websites. Therefore. or Placement Director of that program. It is also subject to economic conditions: even the best graduate programs may find it difficult to place their students during an economic downturn. Placement is inherently more difficult in some fields than in others. it is equally unwise to narrow your interests down too much. firms. offices. Research Facilities 10 . After all. What percentage of graduates finds a job right after they finish? Where are those jobs situated? Are they in good agencies. Director of Graduate Studies. although this is relatively rare and is likely to happen only if a program is proud of its record. Placement Record Ultimately. graduate school is a means toward an end—a job that you enjoy. holding these factors constant. The best way to find out about the placement record of a graduate program is to ask the Director of Admissions. it is important to inquire about the placement record of a graduate program. universities. that situation may make it impossible to find any graduate program that fits your interests and may also make you a less attractive applicant. You can also talk to UNC faculty members in the admission to a program where no one works on the problems that you are interested in. organizations. or does the program have difficulty placing its students? How long are graduates typically on the market before they find a (permanent) job? You should keep in mind that job placement depends on many factors. Nevertheless. some graduate programs do have a better placement record than others and this should be a major consideration in selecting a program.

There are exceptions to this rule. Those students usually work in the lab as a member of a research team. Master’s students almost always pay their own way. (Some may require it as part of “practical training. It may be worthwhile to find out if a program will let you do this. unless they entered as PhD students and choose to leave with a (terminal) Master’s degree. often depending on the size and wealth of the university in which the program is housed. there are living expenses and expenses for research. Often this work will form the basis of a dissertation. you should not get your hopes up. etc. libraries. it is sometimes possible to obtain your Master’s degree while working full. they may ask you to serve as a research or teaching assistant for a certain number of hours per week. Apart from the cost of tuition. You should find out what facilities are available. Funding Graduate school can be expensive. However. laboratories. In the natural sciences. Such resources are more plentiful in some graduate programs than in others.Graduate students rely heavily on data centers. computers and other equipment. Some of these may be recovered through tuition remission and stipends.or parttime. and computer facilities. libraries. it is common for graduate students to be funded as part of a grant. In general. so it is worthwhile to explore funding opportunities across different graduate programs. archives.”) Funding opportunities in PhD programs are much more plentiful. In return. On the positive side. through agreements with other universities.). either on campus or off-campus (e. books. Do not expect that your every desire will be met. 11 .g. Most programs provide for tuition remission (they pay for or reimburse you for tuition) and stipends. but do make sure that you will be able to do your work. there is little funding in Master’s programs.

but it is important to put funding into perspective. An annual stipend of $15.The amount of funding varies greatly across programs. First. whereas a stipend of $12. make sure that you can afford to live in a place (without having to take a job that would distract from your studies) but do not expect to live in luxury. so make sure to take this into consideration when comparing the offers from different graduate programs.000 may not get you very far in New York City. It is tempting to opt for the graduate program that offers the best funding. It is generally better in private than in public universities and it also varies across disciplines. stipends for PhD students often span nine months as well. A lot of money now will mean little in another four years when you find yourself struggling on the job market because you picked a poorly ranked program or one with a weak placement record. Georgia. Second. Correspondingly. funding should take second place compared to quality of the program. If funding is not everything—and surely should not be the decisive factor in choosing a graduate program—it is still important to evaluate and compare the financial packages that are available across the programs in which you have been accepted. Summer funding is sometimes available. Here are some things to look for. funding levels should be gauged against the cost of living. since professors are not expected to teach during the summer. When it comes to funding. (1) Does the financial package include tuition remission (most do) and health insurance (many do not)? These are major expenses. If summer 12 . fit. (2) Does funding cover summers? Academic salaries are usually based on nine months of work. and placement record.000 may go quite a long way in Athens. although this is often on a competitive basis and may not be guaranteed.

although perhaps only for one conference per year and only partially. it typically is for four years. and occasionally Master’s students as well. you may find yourself needing this funding down the line. While it is difficult to anticipate your needs five years from now. others do not. 13 . After all. There is one other aspect of funding that deserves attention—reimbursement for travel expenses. (3) Is funding guaranteed? Some programs guarantee funding only for the first year. then you should plan on finding a job during the summer. Other programs do not reimburse travel expenses or do this on a competitive basis. Some graduate programs will reimburse travel expenses. Funding for subsequent years is competitive and depends on your class ranking. (4) For how long is funding guaranteed? If graduate funding is guaranteed. are expected to attend professional meetings and conferences. However. and still others will do this on a competitive basis. You should ask about this when you are trying to decide between programs. This is a major part of the graduate education experience but can also be a major expense. That is the amount of time it is expected to take to complete your degree requirements. Some programs make fifth year funding available. it is worthwhile to investigate if fifth year funding is even an option in the program that you are considering. since conferences are really of great importance and you would not want to miss them because you cannot afford to go. Other programs guarantee funding as long as you make satisfactory progress toward the degree (and as long as no financial calamities beset the program). PhD students.funding is not guaranteed. many PhD students find themselves still working on their dissertation in their fifth year.

it is clear that not all will. You have to be realistic about your chances of getting into a program. You feel you can get a fine education in these programs. Finally. not the sunniest or snowiest. It is better to pick a good graduate program so that your first job may be in a nice location. This means you may wish to consider fall-back options— programs that may not be at the top of your list but that would be acceptable and where your chances of admission are good. Besides.Factors Not to Consider The most important factor not to consider when applying for graduate school is location. even though they do not appear on all of the top 20 lists. While it may be tempting to spend your years in graduate school near a sunny beach or a nice ski resort. or whatever other criterion may cause you to prefer one location over another. but if you were they would be at the top of your list. Setting Realistic Goals While all graduate school applicants would like to get admitted to their top choice program. Pick one to three from your wish list. VI. this does little to enhance your long-term goals.e. it is wise to apply to several graduate programs. then to pick a poor program in a nice location that may ultimately produce no job at all or a job in a not-so-nice location. if you take your graduate education seriously then you will not be spending too much time in the sun or snow anyway. be sure to pick one or two backup programs. programs which you feel sure you can gain admission and where you would be comfortable with your choice. You are not sure you will be admitted to these programs. THE APPLICATION PROCESS 14 . For the typical student. i. Pick two to four programs that are acceptable. You want the best graduate education you can get.

interviewees will also be asked to give a presentation of a research project. application costs will probably force you to focus on a limited number of graduate programs that you will apply to. (3) a personal statement. In some cases—most notably. so it is important to take all of them seriously. Placement Exam Practically all graduate programs require that students take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations). the natural sciences and psychology—the process may be two-tiered. these interviewees are invited to campus for one-on-one meetings with the faculty. the admissions committee or department makes its final selection of students it would like to admit. and (5) letters of recommendation (usually three letters of recommendation are required. Each of these components plays a significant role in the admissions process. LSAT. (4) a CV. undergraduate transcripts are not free. First. and placement exams cost money as well. Next. Graduate schools charge for processing your application. This makes it all the more important to select those programs carefully (see above). graduate school applications are a one-step process: you submit a written application that is evaluated by the admissions committee. Be prepared to spend some money on the application process. Components of the Application The written portion of your application consists of: (1) the results of your placement exam (submitted under separate cover). Once the campus visits are over. Sometimes. If you pursue a joint degree program. (2) your undergraduate transcript(s) (often also sent under separate cover). You may also have to submit a writing sample. you will also have to take the MCAT.In most cases. they may have to be sent under separate cover). a group of interviewees is selected. or other appropriate placement exams. In practice. The GRE has two 15 .

mostly in the natural sciences. The GRE subject test is offered in a small number of areas. you will only have to take the general test. Obviously. as it often is in the natural sciences. cell. the subject test becomes a critical yardstick for determining who has the requisite field-specific background knowledge to take advanced course work and become a productive member of a 16 . biology.components: (1) the general test and (2) the subject test. The GRE general test measures verbal and quantitative reasoning. and (3) analytical writing. while quantitative reasoning becomes more central when you are seeking a degree in statistics. The weight of the components depends on the field of study. computer science. The test has three components: (1) verbal reasoning. It makes this assessment in a general manner. you are also required to take the appropriate subject test. Information about these tests can be found at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) GRE website. This is the level of knowledge graduate programs expect incoming students to have for successful completion of a PhD in the specific field. The general test is computer-administered yeararound at many different test centers around the world. Graduate programs care about the first two components in particular. i. Admission committees frequently start by rank-ordering applicants according to their total GRE scores. it is safe to say that all components carry some weight in considering your application. physics. literature in English. and analytical writing skills that are essential for a successful graduate career. In some fields. However. mathematics. verbal reasoning will count more when you seek a PhD in English. They frequently set cutoffs as to the minimal acceptable performance on each component. These tests gauge subject-specific knowledge in a particular field (biochemistry. (2) quantitative reasoning. critical thinking. but some also take a close look at the third component. psychology). and molecular biology.e. without requiring detailed knowledge about a specific subject area. chemistry. In most cases. Especially when graduate course work is limited.

Given the importance of the GRE. The GRE website also offers useful information about test preparation. which means that test results are unlikely to fluctuate much from one test to the next. graduate schools are looking to improve their average GRE scores. you can retake the GRE. A student’s GRE score is a good predictor of how well they will do in the first year of graduate school. practice may not make perfect but it surely enhances your chances of obtaining a decent score. Transcript 17 . you may not find much of an improvement in your test score or you may find that it actually deteriorates from the first attempt.research team. and April. it is essential that you take this test seriously. You can also take a course with a commercial test preparation company such as Kaplan or Princeton Review. which in turn is a good predictor of whether the student will be able to complete graduate school successfully. Just as colleges are striving to improve the average SAT score of each successive class. Subject tests are paper-based tests that are administered at a limited number of test facilities in November. The importance of the GRE cannot be overstated. December. Thus. The UNC Learning Center offers GRE prep classes throughout the year. If you retake the exam. then the new score will be sent along with the two most recent scores from the past five years. Retaking the GRE thus makes the most sense if your performance was negatively affected by unusual circumstances such as illness on the day of the test. you should keep in mind that the GRE is designed to tap your chronic aptitude. With the GRE. What if you perform poorly on the GRE? In this case. However. Otherwise. it may be wise to take a test preparation class. If you choose not to do a prep course than at least obtain copies of past tests so that you can practice them. You should consider taking a prep course the semester before you take the GRE.

you will need to ask the Registrar’s to compute the major GPA as this is not done routinely. Graduate admission committees look for serious students who are well-rounded. avoid doing them because they lead to an easy A. Internships and independent studies can be useful. UNC Chapel Hill does not have the reputation of being “easy” so good grades earned here will count for something.You will also need to send an official transcript of your undergraduate record at UNC and any other institutions of higher education that you may have attended. Try to avoid P/D+/D/F courses since admissions committees may view these as an easy way out of a requirement. However. If the problem is isolated. Try to engage in internships and independent studies that prepare you for graduate school.] Graduate admissions committees pay considerable attention to your undergraduate GPA but they also take into consideration the institution where you earned it and the difficulty of the curriculum. The official transcript can be obtained from the Registrar’s Office for a nominal fee. but you will need to explain what you did in these courses since this will generally not be clear from the transcript. Some graduate programs would like to see the overall GPA along with the GPA in your major(s). As far as your curriculum is concerned. [Check this. In this case. then there is a good chance that you’ll be accepted somewhere. if perhaps not in your top choice 18 . the manner in which you meet these requirements is of some importance. Anything that could reflect negatively on this should be avoided. To be sure. a poor undergraduate record may keep you from being accepted into graduate school. however. What should you do if your record is blemished? The first piece of advice is not to panic. you should of course meet the UNC general education and major requirements. Becoming engaged in a research project or writing an honor’s thesis can also help to strengthen your undergraduate record. Taking more advanced (as opposed to introductory) courses will show that you are a highly motivated student who can handle more complex material.

and any other information that is useful in framing your application (e. For a PhD you should also stress your passion for research. For example. In terms of conveying your interest. Try to be specific in stating your interests. The cover letter should frame your application: it should draw attention to those aspects of your record that you would like to stand out for those reading your application. you should use this as your entryway into the evaluation process. Explain why you had a bad semester or why your grades in the first couple of years were not what they should have been. Illustrate your interest by referring to specific things 19 . Personal Statement A good personal statement can make a lot of difference. the reason why you are applying to the particular graduate program. One bad grade will not end your ability to attend graduate school. when applying to a PhD program in political science it is not all that helpful to reveal that you are interested in “politics. why did you have that bad semester?). Point to any improvements you have made. The cover letter should stress your interest in obtaining a graduate degree in the chosen field.graduate program. Thus.” It would be much more telling if you said that you are interested in the causes of war or electoral behavior (and do so in a way that reveals your passion for scientific research on these topics).g. especially not if you can explain that grade. Apart from explaining blemishes on your transcript—which should be a minor element—the personal statement is foremost a place to convey your enthusiasm for a particular field and graduate program and a place to highlight your credentials. Another way to think of it is that the cover letter is often the first thing admissions officers see in your file. The key is to explain the blemishes on your transcript in your cover letter. you should sketch out your career goals and how the degree would help you accomplish these goals. your credentials for seeking a degree in this field.

Try to avoid telling your life’s story. This kind of information will show that you have given thought to the application and that your interests match those of the program. For PhD programs it is useful to reference any research experience (working with faculty or writing an Honor’s Thesis) you have. (Important: Note that the operant word here is “highlight. PhD admissions committees will look for these kinds of experiences and the cover letter is the best place to highlight them. But it is an essential component of a good letter. Here you can point to the coursework you have taken in preparation for your graduate education and your performance in those courses. since admissions committees want to know if you would fit into their program. The second component of the cover letter is to show your credentials. you can say that you realized your passion for research when writing your Honor’s Thesis and that it was at this time that you realized you wanted to become an academic. This aspect is often forgotten. highlight only those experiences that demonstrate your passion and credentials for obtaining a graduate degree.) A final aspect of the cover letter is to show your interest for the specific program that you are applying have done. For example. in part because it requires tailoring your cover letter to each specific program you are applying to. You can convey your enthusiasm for a particular program by highlighting the strengths of the program and how these strengths match your interests.” Cover letters should not repeat your CV verbatim but rather focus the attention of admissions officers to certain parts of it. Even better is to list specific faculty members that you would like to work with (and to explain why). Curriculum Vitae 20 . You can also reference internships and independent studies in as far as they illustrate your credentials.

The focus does not have to be exclusively on academic experiences. AB. nationality. the degree(s) you are pursuing (e. an Honor’s Thesis. Another section of the CV should highlight relevant experiences. i. the anticipated completion date. and marital status generally need not be listed on the CV. 21 . date of birth. all institutions you have attended. One section of the CV should describe your undergraduate education. This kind of information is often solicited through other means. however. independent studies. including UNC. for example through queries by equal opportunity officers and international student centers at the university where you are applying.e. Do not go overboard listing these other experiences.Your curriculum vitae (CV) is the place where you should list your contact information and all experiences and credentials that are relevant to your graduate school application. BFA.g. It may also be useful to add a skills section to the CV where you can list your proficiency in computer software and/or foreign languages. BMus). Gender. but do not provide too much detail as this can be found on the official transcript. if you are writing one—in sum a lot of the things that UNC recognizes as experiential learning. At the beginning of your CV you should list relevant contact information. BS. and (if relevant) the major GPA (make sure these match the transcript). then admissions committees might draw the mistaken conclusion that you are not a very serious student. your major(s) and (if applicable) minor(s). If you create the impression that you are spending more time on extra-curricular activities than on your academic pursuits. participation in faculty research projects. This can include internships. the overall GPA. You can also list other experiences such as those working on campus or in the community if they provide information about you as a person and/or your fit to the chosen field. You may also wish to briefly summarize relevant coursework.

The important thing is that you should put some thought into soliciting recommendations. (A waiver pledge is usually printed at the top of the recommendation sheet. not graduate students). Many ask for these to be sent under separate cover (e. since they are in the best position to comment on your scholarly potential. These letters reflect the professional judgment of faculty and others about your qualifications for graduate school. there is little point in going to the faculty member who had you in a 400-student class four years ago. If you are applying to a research-oriented PhD program you probably want to have your recommenders be all faculty members (professors. he or she is unlikely to remember you. so that they can write something specific about you. in a sealed envelope). assuming you have waived your right to view your recommendation letters. then you may seek some recommendations from practitioners with whom you have done internships and who could comment on your suitability to your chosen field. unless you have cultivated a personal relationship with this person. If you are seeking a degree in social work or clinical psychology. Hence. This means that you should select your recommendation writers carefully. Considerations other than familiarity may enter your selection of recommenders. As such.) The key to a helpful letter of recommendation is that it should provide detailed information. On the other hand.g. Seek them from people who know you and whose 22 . Vague letters that are full of boilerplate language but short on specifics will not be very helpful to admissions officers and will therefore carry less weight. Most graduate programs require three letters of recommendation.Letters of Recommendation Letters of recommendation are another key component of a graduate school application. asking your thesis adviser to write a recommendation makes a great deal of sense. they provide invaluable information to graduate admissions committees. They should be people who know you at more than a superficial level.

and whether you can bring relevant data to bear on that question.judgment will mean something to those in charge of evaluating your application. For example. These kinds of samples will give admissions officers a good sense of your ability to conduct research and to communicate its results. Writing Sample Many graduate programs require that you submit a writing sample. In selecting a writing sample you may do some tailoring to the graduate programs you are applying to. then you should just send the best research paper that you feel you have ever written. Short assignments written in introductory classes will generally not make for good writing samples. this assumes that you have sufficient writing samples lying around to make these kinds of adjustments. since these assignments typically do not require in-depth research. it is again of the utmost importance that you put some thought into selecting a particular sample. The writing sample will tell admissions committees whether you can communicate effectively. if another program is more qualitatively focused. Particularly good writing samples are Honor’s Theses or reports written while conducting research with a faculty member (provided you did the writing). 23 . then you may do better by sending a paper that is based on archival research or indepth interviews. you will be doing a lot of research and writing. Getting these kinds of recommendations can really help your chances of getting into graduate school. if they involve extensive research. whether you can analyze a question logically and thoughtfully. Especially in PhD programs. if one program in sociology values quantitative research. Of course. If not. Given the role that the writing sample plays. Papers written for advanced classes may be a better choice. than you may select a paper that uses statistical analysis as your writing sample. However. The writing sample is a way to see if you have an aptitude for these endeavors.

after all. it is essential that you inform yourself about the program. for example. You probably did this when you applied.) Is there the expectation that you will give a talk? Who will you meet during the interview and how long do these meetings last? By asking these questions you can plan for a successful interview experience. the program will want to see formal attire. To make sure that those questions have been answered. Finding faculty bios and CVs is easy in this electronic age and with JSTOR and other electronic journal databases. The first thing you should find out about the interview is the program’s expectations. but it never hurts to re-acquaint yourself with a program. getting access to a person’s research is not all that difficult either. Second. but there are exceptions. Third. Sometimes it is useful to 24 . look through their CVs. What sort of attire do they expect? (In many cases. in certain natural science and psychology programs. This is true. In addition. But there is an equal expectation that you have some questions about the program and its faculty. it is conventional to ask potential graduate students to come in for an interview before the final decision about admissions is made.Graduate School Interviews In a number of disciplines. realize that interviews are a two-way street. so it is essential to properly prepare for them. It will certainly leave a positive impression if you have read their work and can carry on an intelligent conversation about it. Do not ask questions that have already been answered in written materials that the program sent you. it may be useful to write them out and check them off during the interview. program faculty will want to find out about you. These interviews are extremely important. Look up their bios. you should familiarize with the people whom you’ll meet. and read some of their research. But any other questions are fair game. Nothing is more painful than meeting faculty and not knowing anything about them. that would not make a good impression. Of course.

You should try to anticipate questions and develop responses. or is it a more general audience? How long should your talk be? Will there be a question-and-answer period and how long will it be? Is the expectation that you use Powerpoint or other presentation software? Should you prepare a handout? It is also important that you practice the talk. will make the experience more enjoyable and productive. PREPARING FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL AT UNC 25 .ask the same question of multiple faculty members. that the content makes sense to an audience. just to get different perspectives. Appearing to be thoughtful will leave a good impression and is better than dismissing a question with the cliché that it is a really interesting point and that you’ll have to think about it. There will almost certainly be unexpected questions. Should this be a research talk or a more general talk? Who will be the audience? Will it be specialists in the area of the talk. This. and that slides come over clearly. then it is important to establish what the expectations are. For those unanticipated questions. If a talk is required. it is OK to take a moment and to try to formulate a response. The general rule about interviews is that preparation will make the whole experience less anxiety provoking. which can only help your chances of being admitted to the program that is right for you. but some questions can be anticipated and it is useful to have a response formulated in your head. VII. in which case you may be able to skip over certain well-known ideas. in turn. You will leave a positive impression and will get your questions answered. Practice will allow you to make sure that you can deliver your message in the allotted time without speaking too quickly.

choose challenging courses. To cultivate these relationships. opting for challenging courses is a definite pre.D.You can do a lot to prepare for graduate school and to strengthen your application while you are at UNC. do not expect to enter a Ph. Master’s and Ph. For example. and expectations. it is generally best to enroll in smaller classes where faculty will get 26 . which generally do not care much about your major. Starting with majors. In terms of course selection. programs often expect that you have been trained in a particular field as an undergraduate. It helps to strengthen your application.D. This will make it much easier to find letter-writers when it comes to applying for graduate school. Moreover. the UNC faculty is an excellent source of information about graduate education and careers in the field that you are interested in. It is essential that you cultivate relationships with faculty. since the level of advanced courses is a lot closer to what you will encounter in graduate school than the level of introductory courses. demonstrating that you do not shun difficult courses and can excel in them. This will give the best sense of what it will be like to be a graduate student. it is important that you put considerable thought into them. in terms of reading load. cultivate relationships with faculty. although this requires permission from the instructor. Academic and departmental advisors will be able to help you with selecting courses. It also helps to prepare you for graduate school. program in chemistry if you majored in music and took no chemistry beyond a few introductory courses. Choosing a major thus takes on extra importance when you have graduate school in the back of your mind. difficulty of the material. Among the many opportunities that UNC offers you should definitely attempt to pick an appropriate major. Exceptional undergraduate students may even consider enrolling into a graduate level class at UNC. It is just one more reason to see your academic advisor frequently. This is not true of all graduate programs but it is true of a good number of them. and engage in research. Unlike Law School and Medical School.

Finally. In addition to acquiring research experience. With all of these. - Engaging in faculty research: In this case. Honor’s and advanced courses. A study abroad experience can also help to strengthen your application. First-year seminars. research design. You will also have to defend your research in front of a committee of 2-3 faculty members who will ask questions about your know their students better. it will be important to describe the experience in your personal statement and to explain how it helped you to prepare for graduate school. Some options include: - Writing an Honor’s thesis: The Honor’s thesis is a piece of research that you conduct yourself under the supervision of a member of the faculty. it would be very useful if you could get involved in it while at UNC. and findings. To see if research is for you. 27 . taking charge of a small piece of it. Solicitations for student participants in faculty research are generally channeled through the Office of Undergraduate Research. as can Burch field research seminars. which also provides other research opportunities for undergraduate students. These kinds of research experience will look great on a CV and they are also excellent opportunities to cultivate relationships with faculty. programs. especially in Ph.D. you may also think about appropriate internships and independent studies that can help to strengthen your CV. you will be working on a faculty member’s project. graduate work involves a strong research component. and capstone seminars are an excellent place for you to get to know some faculty and for faculty to get to know you.

- Take a break for one or two years and acquire relevant practical experience. Ask yourself if there is anything you can do that will enhance your chances of getting into a (better) graduate program. - If you did not get into any program. Here are some things that can enhance your chances. This will strengthen your CV and will also show that you are serious about your desire to attend graduate school. consider completing a Master’s degree in that program. 28 . Once you have the Master’s. do not get too discouraged. While this surely is a disappointment. - If you got into a less desirable program.VIII. reassess your selection of programs. The Master’s is another credential on your CV that may make you a more competitive candidate for programs that you deem more desirable. you can always apply elsewhere. WHAT IF YOU DO NOT GET INTO GRADUATE SCHOOL? There is a possibility that you will not be admitted to any of the graduate programs you applied to or that you are admitted to a program about which you have grave reservations. Were you aiming too high? Are there other feasible programs that you chose not to apply for? Going back to UNC faculty members to ask for advice may be a good option at this point.

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