DIVISION OF STUDENT SERVICES
If you're thinking seriously about further study in the traditional academic disciplines of the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities (usually master's degrees or PhD degrees), you are on the right page.
Deciding (click to expand)
Begin the process of deciding at least 18 months before the time you think you would like to matriculate in a program (e.g., during the spring of your junior year).
Should I attend graduate school? This is a decision that requires careful thought and one that should not be made lightly. A Reed education pays particular attention to a balance between a broad study in the various areas of human knowledge and a close, in-depth study in a recognized academic discipline. Graduate school is designed for people who especially enjoy the in-depth study and research in a single discipline, so in many ways it can be an extension of that part of the Reed education that introduces you to such focused study. To be successful, you must be self-directed, intellectually curious, hard working, flexible, and committed. If you find satisfaction with extensive writing, researching, and intellectual discussion, you might find graduate school is the place for you; if not, you still have lots of options for meaningful pursuits in a variety of career fields, including advanced study in applied fields in the professions (e.g. health sciences, business and engineering, law, psychology, human services, and education).
The best resource you have available to answer the question "should I attend graduate school?" is the Reed faculty, all of whom have been to graduate school and many of whom have useful ties to faculty in their disciplines from a variety of graduate institutions.
Here are several questions designed to help you in the process of deciding if you should attend graduate school:
- Are your goals aligned with the purpose of graduate education?
- Are you passionately committed to a subject matter or discipline? Are you focused on a narrow topic or an unusual combination of topics?
- Does professional life in the academy or laboratory interest you? Will you teach as well as contribute to a body of knowledge? What will I be doing three to five years after I complete my graduate program?
It pays to find out what kinds of employment are most frequently taken by graduates of the program you are considering. Ask some of the near-graduates what they expect to be doing after they graduate. What percentage of graduates and degree candidates in this department succeed in finding employment? To what extent is the department helpful in enabling the graduate to find suitable work?
- Do you have the financial resources to cover the cost of graduate school? (e.g., grants, fellowships or assistantships)
- Should you take some time off? Are you ready to commit up to seven more years, which many PhD programs might require, to advanced study and research? Would time away from academic pursuits help you to clarify your own goals and career aspirations as you gain workplace skills and possibly new interests and new perspectives on life in general? Will a complete senior thesis improve your application the following year?
- When should I attend? (Note: While 60 percent or more of Reed graduates end up pursuing advanced degrees, both professional and academic, only about 20 percent go directly to graduate school immediately following graduation.) Will a gap year or two or more provide not only added perspective but also improve your chances of acceptance at top programs?
- Consider the costs and benefits of your decision and its timing. Most Reedies spend a year or more doing fellowships, internships, travel, and work before beginning an advanced degree. Some Reed faculty have said that they wish they had taken a year or two to get clear about their own educational pursuits, and because of the demands of the thesis year here at Reed, along with common indecision and uncertainty that students experience as they consider this important move to graduate school, these faculty recommend some time away from formal study. Others encourage application during the fall of senior year, arguing that the costs of delaying or interrupting your academic pursuits outweigh any benefit gained by a gap period, especially if the gap period is not filled with meaningful, relevant, and coherent work or experience. This is an important conversation to have with your academic advisers.
Researching (click to expand)
As you engage in the process of deciding on whether to pursue graduate school, you will want to start to narrow your search to the programs that align with your interests and goals. Ideally, the decision and research process should take place between March and August of the year prior to your planned matriculation (see complete timeline here). Listed below are some of the best sources to learn about graduate programs:
Your Reed faculty know you and they may know colleagues and programs that favor Reed students. Their knowledge of the programs in your field(s) of interest will give you points of reference from which to ground your search. They frequently have colleagues and friends at graduate programs where you might like to apply.
Alumni who are attending or have recently attended graduate school in your field or related field are primary sources of information about program(s), and they can provide advice on the application itself. Alumni at graduate programs typically provide candid information about the quality of the program, the faculty and the students with whom they study. You can search the alumni directory for contacts, as well as check with your advisers in your department and in career services, who can help find appropriate alumni contacts.
Online resources such as Peterson's Guides and Gradschools.com and Graduate Guide offer exploration of graduate schools alphabetically, geographically, and by academic discipline. Current hard copy editions of Peterson's guides are available in the Reed College Library. Previous year editions are available in career services. Here's another useful link for masters degrees hot link: http://www.mastersdegree.net/
Consult your faculty for specialty guides in your field. Use the subject search engine at amazon.com or your favorite online bookstore. Some associations provide advanced study information on their websites (e.g. Society for Neuroscience).
Academic Journals in Your Field
Get graduate school ideas directly by investigating who is publishing in academic journals. Your academic departments will most likely offer access to these, or check with the Reed College Library. The best programs generate the best and the most articles, so look in the journals for writing and/or research that interest you, and find the academic homes of the writers. Wouldn't you like to study with these people?
The Gourman Report by Princeton Review and the U.S. News and World Report Graduate School Rankings
These ranking guides can be useful, though we caution that the criteria by which these sometimes controversial rankings are determined may not match your own set of selection criteria.
The Council on Undergraduate Research
This organization hosts a Registry of Undergraduate Researchers. The purpose of this registry is to facilitate matchmaking between undergraduates who have research experience and a desire to pursue an advanced degree, with graduate schools seeking high quality students who are well prepared for research. The Registry is open to students and graduate schools in the fields of Anthropology/Archaeology, Arts/Humanities, Biology/Biochemistry, Business, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Economics, Education, Engineering, English and Linguistics, Environmental Studies, Geosciences, Health Professions, History, Journalism and Communications, Mathematics/Computer Science, Physics/Astronomy, Political Science, Psychology, Social Work and Sociology.
During summer before applying in the fall, begin contacting directly the schools that look most promising to gather program information, applications, financial aid and assistantship information.
See below for some advice from alumnus Don Asher ’83, including questions to ask every program.
Contact leaders in your field(s) of interest, by Don Asher '83 (PDF)
Questions to Ask Every Program, by Don Asher '83 (PDF)
More tips for the summer prior to your formal application:
- Determine if there are any special admission requirements such as prerequisites, and just what your chances of acceptance are (yes, this probably means checking your Reed transcript).
- Start working on a general personal statement (or, more accurately, statement of purpose).
- Estimate the expenses related to applying to graduate school and begin saving for application fees. The number of schools to which you apply may depend largely on the amount of time and money you're able or willing to invest in the application process).
- If you've already decided to pursue competitive fellowships and awards, continue working on those applications. Contact Jo Cannon about the Reed committee-sponsored nomination processes.
- Sign up for required standardized tests and begin preparation for appropriate exams.
Download PDF: Graduate School – PhD and Masters
Ideally one should begin to investigate graduate school admission during the spring semester of the junior year (or 18 months prior to planned matriculation), and spend part of summer researching schools and getting admission information. The first receipt date for fall testing applications is in early September. Take appropriate tests two to three months before graduate school deadline date and make application to the school 30 days in advance of that date, sooner if possible. Application for financial assistance should be early as well.
Because 50 percent of applicants apply in the last month, you can improve your competitiveness by submitting your application before the rush. Most schools admit students on a rolling basis and it is best to apply when all of the slots and all of the financial aid awards are still available. Reed alumnus Don Asher '83 cites several cases of application mishaps that might have been prevented by early submission in Reasons to Apply Early.
See also 10 Things To Do If You Don't Get In, by Don Asher '83 (PDF).
The Application [links to new page]: includes information and resource on test prep, writing personal statements, cultivating and managing your references, and other general information
What you do during your post-graduation years can make or break your chances of getting in to the program that is right for you. If you know for sure that you will not pursue advanced study immediately, spend some time planning meaningful engagement, whether it’s work, volunteer, travel or pre-requisite study, that will expand your experience, grow your character, provide ample opportunity to demonstrate further achievement, and prepare you for next steps. In short, fill your time with meaningful and coherent work or experience. Use the variety of career services resources early and often to ensure good opportunities upon graduation.
Even if you know you will not be attending graduate school immediately after your undergraduate years, make sure to discuss your longer term plans with your faculty advisers and references. Many faculty, for example, may want to compose a draft of a letter of recommendation during your senior year and hold it, usually on their own hard drive, to be modified when you actually begin the application process a year or more later. In the meantime, you should keep in touch with them on your growth and achievements so when the time comes for the formal letter of recommendation, your references have current information to add to their draft.
Download Reference Protocol (PDF)
When you've been accepted to a graduate program, you should find out if it will match your needs. Read more here.