Grad School Preparation

Preparing for graduate studies – it is never too early to start

You have already taken on the challenge of an undergraduate education. Now it is time to consider pursuing a graduate degree. Read below for more information on preparing for and applying to graduate programs.

1. Exploring Graduate Studies
       - Where do I start?
       - Is a PhD for me?
       - Faculty Recommendations
       - Selecting a Stanford graduate program
       - Application Fee Waivers


1. Exploring Graduate Studies

  • Where do I start?
    • Get assistance. Don’t assume that you are supposed to know how to successfully apply for and finance graduate school. Ask someone!
    • Talk to current graduate students, ask your professors, find which administrators at your university are responsible for assisting students with preparing for graduate studies.
    • Utilize your campus resources and the web.
  • Is a PhD for me?
    • While you may only be considering a Master’s degree, we strongly encourage you to consider pursuing a PhD.
    • A PhD can prepare you to do many things, from serving as college professor and teaching high school students to running a nonprofit organization and working in industry.
    • Most PhD programs do not require a Master’s degree – you can apply directly from your bachelor’s degree. 
    • If you want to learn more about what it means to pursue a Ph.D. and how it might fit into your future plans, talk to someone! Professors, graduate students, and graduate school officers like are great resources for information. Don’t be afraid to ask!


2. Key Components of the Graduate Application

  •  Participation in Undergraduate Research
    • You should particpate in multiple research opportunties while an undergraduate (freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior), at your own institution and at other institutions including independent projects, summer research programs and class projects
    • Research programs expose you to faculty and graduate students who can go on to mentor you and assist you with the graduate school process.
    • Many universities provide paid summer research opportunities for students from other institutions.
    • Learn more about getting involved in undergraduate research here.
    • Your research experience will be a significant part of your personal statement.
  •  GRE:
    • Take the GRE as early as possible during your sophomore or junior years (Scores last five years).  Don’t wait until the Fall of your senior year while you are busy finishing graduation requirements and filling out applications.
    • Prepare yourself for the test. The content included in the general GRE was covered in high school for most students, but studying is necessary for good scores.
    • Fee reduction voucher : If you qualify for undergraduate financial aid, apply for the GRE fee reduction voucher before taking the test. This same fee waiver can be used to waive graduate school application fees at many universities.
    • Some departments also require GRE Subject test scores. The Subject tests are only offered 3 times a year – April, October, and November – so plan accordingly if you need to take a Subject test to meet department requirements.
  • Faculty Recommendations
    • Get to know 3 to 4 faculty members who can write strong recommendations.
    • Don’t wait until your senior year to cultivate these relationships.
    • Don't know how to get started - Visit faculty during their office hours and ask them what led them to pursue a PhD and become a professor.  This question will start a productive conversation.
    • Faculty can also provide useful feedback on your personal statement.

3. Funding Graduate Studies

  • Within your reach
    • Don’t let financial considerations be a barrier to considering a PhD. Many students don’t realize that a graduate education can be in their reach.
    • Many programs (including Stanford) provide four to five years of funding for admitted doctoral students that includes tuition and a stipend for living expenses. Find out what standard packages are for programs of interest. Master's programs have limited funding.

  • External Fellowships
    • External fellowships can make you a more attractive applicant.

    • Find out what external fellowships are appropriate for your field and apply early!  Many federal agencies, private foundations, government agencies, corporations and professional organizations offer awards for graduate study.

    • Here are some places to look for funding opportunities: UC Berkeley Fellowship List, Columbia Database

4. Applying to graduate programs

  • Exploring Schools
    • When considering graduate schools, the best way to determine whether there is a match is to explore the research being performed by faculty, not the department name. The same research may be performed in several different departments.  Don’t assume – ask.
    • Check online information on graduate programs, read faculty research papers, and contact faculty adn departments that interest you.
  • Explore Stanford graduate programs.
    • Stanford has graduate programs in seven Schools - Humanities & Sciences, Engineering, Earth Sciences, Medicine, Business, Education and Law.
    • In addition to strong traditional departments, Stanford has a strong focus on collaborative, interdisciplinary research that crosses boundaries between departments. The "thin walls" between academic disciplines encourages creativity and innovation.
      • You may find that degree-granting department names that exist at other universities may not exist at Stanford.  This is not because those same research questions are not being explored, but because of Stanford’s unique focus on collaborative, interdisciplinary research.
      •  You should apply to the department most closely related to your field of study. If you do not find a particular department name, consider your research interest, identify Stanford faculty doing similar research via the Stanford website, and apply to that faculty member's department.
      •  Once a student arrives, he or she can join one of the many interdisciplinary research centers that include faculty and students from across the campus who are working on similar topics.
    • Explore research at Stanford.
  • Application Fee Waivers
    • Find out about application fee waivers offered by each university – applying to graduate school can be expensive.
    • Stanford offers several application fee waivers.

5. Graduate School Prep Timeline

  • Freshman/Sophomore Years
    • Focus on your studies
    • Participate in research
    • Begin developing relationships with faculty members who may write recommendations in the future (Go to office hours, Talk to faculty about their research)
  • Junior Year
    • Prepare for and take the GRE
    • Focus on your studies
    • Participate in research
    • Identify graduate fellowships in your field
    • Start exploring graduate schools
    • Identify faculty members who can potentially write recommendations. Do you have at least 4?
  • Senior Year
    • Summer
      • Check out applications and requirements for graduate schools AND fellowships
      • Begin work on your personal statement/research statement
    • August/September
      • Apply for application fee waivers
      • Contact faculty members for recommendations
    • October-January
      • Complete grad school applications
      • Complete fellowship applications
      • Take GRE subject test (if required)