Grad School Main > Research & Prepare for Graduate Study
f you are considering graduate school, researching the continuation of your education may feel like an overwhelming task. If you are not sure how to get started or what you need to consider, check out the information
and resources provided on this page.
- Beginning Your Research
- Researching Your Options
- Preparing for Graduate School
- Testing Info
- Funding Your Graduate Study
Beginning Your Research
The earlier you begin your research about graduate studies and potential universities you may want to apply to, the better. This will allow you more time to prepare yourself to be a well-rounded, competitive applicant. It's never too early to begin discovering all of the options that await you and preparing for these new challenges.
As you research your graduate school options, you will probably encounter several new and unfamiliar terms. Before you begin, review a list of the most common graduate terms. This will avoid some confusion and help you get the most from the information you find.
Begin your research by reviewing an overview of the graduate school process.
Researching Your Options
What is graduate school?
Deciding to pursue a graduate education is not a decision to make lightly. Graduate school is a very focused occupation, so it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to study. While an undergraduate education allows you to explore a variety of areas, graduate school dives into the details of a specific topic. You may work closely with one major professor and additional faculty members to design your course of study, particularly if you pursue a PhD. You may become part of a lab group or research team, and work closely with other students on that team. Often, these students work on similar, but not identical, topics as you.
How do I determine if a graduate school is right for me?
Graduate school requires a lot of commitment, both from you and the people with whom you will be working. Your major professor will invest a great deal of time, energy, and training to help you succeed. Determining the major professor you want to work with is one of the most important decisions you can make. While the reputation of the school you are considering is important, even more important is the reputation of the program and the professor with whom you want to work. As a full-time student, you will generally commit two years working toward a master's degree and an additional three to four years working toward a PhD. You may not necessarily have scheduled school breaks (such as winter, spring, summer, and fall breaks) as vacation. Understanding this ahead of time will prevent some unexpected frustration.
Approach the graduate school process with the same attitude you would approach a job because ultimately, that's exactly what it is.
When researching various graduate programs, important questions to consider are:
- Are you going to enjoy working here? Are the people and environment going to encourage and support your best efforts?
- What are the course offerings and how are they scheduled (i.e., day or night classes)?
- How many graduate students has your potential major professor had?
- What is the average length of time it has taken for one of this professor's students to graduate?
- What have been the professor's current students' experiences and how long have they worked with this professor? How long do they anticipate their degree completion to take? (Talk to the students directly.)
- What are the expectations and management style of your potential major professor? When does s(he) expect you in the office? Will (s)he be available when you have questions?
Remember that the interview process is a two-way process. Not only is your school of interest trying to determine if you would make a good graduate student, but you should try to determine if your school of interest is going to be a good fit for you!
Where can I go for more information?
Although your best resources of information about potential graduate schools and programs are often your professors, advisors, career services staff, professionals in your field of interest, and peers pursuing graduate study, there are several online resources where you can search for schools and programs that may fit your interests and needs. These include:
- All About Grad School
- Council of Graduate Schools' "Resources for Students"
- Peterson's Education Center
- Princeton Review
- U.S. News & World Report (Publishers of America's Best Graduate Schools)
Preparing for Graduate School
Once you have determined that graduate school is right for you, think about how to begin preparing and positioning yourself to be a competitive applicant and eventually a successful graduate student. Consider these resources as you begin your preparation:
- Preparing for Graduate School presentation and Timeline for Applying to Graduate School from the Purdue University Graduate School
- Guide to Writing Your Personal Statement
Next, establish your graduate education goals and make yourself more marketable by obtaining experience relevant to your area of interest. This will give you the opportunity to:
- assess your level of interest
- identify the skills and education you need to launch your career
- relate and apply your studies to actual work and professional settings
- acquire new knowledge and skills
- gain hands-on experience relevant to your area of interest
- network with professors and employers
- meet other undergraduate and graduate students
- refine your graduate education and career goals
Unlike your undergraduate experience, the majority of your degree requirements in graduate school may not be predetermined, especially if you pursue a PhD. Instead, you may help define what classes you take and what research or other scholarly activities you pursue. The most successful candidates enter graduate school with a clear outcome in mind.
Use internships, cooperative education programs (often referred to as co-ops), part-time employment, and summer research programs to refine your career objectives. These experiences will help you determine:
- if graduate school is right for you
- what you need to accomplish in graduate school to be successful in your field
Examples of some types of programs you may wish to investigate are:
Gain valuable work experience, establish important contacts, and determine if a particular career is a good fit for you! By interacting with professionals in your field, you can determine the educational requirements for the position you want and decide if attending graduate school is your next best step. Once you know what you're working towards, it's easier to determine the best path to get there. This will make designing your course of study in graduate school easier and more effective.
Consider some of the following resources for internships:
- Environmental internships
- Internships in Indiana
- Internships around the country
- Internship opportunities around the globe
- Internships administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and Oak Ridge Associated Universities
- Internship opportunities from Purdue's Center for Career Opportunities
- Listing of several NASA internship and research programs
- NASA student job opportunities
- Search for internships and post your resume online
- Science Internships for Undergraduates and Graduates
- Smithsonian Institution internships
- The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars
Summer Research Programs
Work closely with faculty, graduate students, and researchers on actual projects being conducted at the host institution! These programs give you an inside look at graduate school and introduce you to the type of work you may encounter as a graduate student. Anyone considering a career in research or post-secondary academia will also gain valuable insight into the life- and work-styles of these professions.
Begin by exploring some of the following options:
- Summer research programs at Purdue University
Explore a wide variety of programs open to both Purdue and non-
- Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) Summer Research Opportunities Program
The CIC is a consortium of 12 teaching and research universities
in the Midwestern United States.
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute's (HHMI) searchable database of summer programs
HHMI funds summer research programs focusing on biomedical
research and the sciences at colleges and universities around the
United States. Please note: When using HHMI's database to
locate summer programs, be sure to search by "Active grants only"
so your results display only active programs.
- Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) Program
The LARSS Program includes work on a research project under
the supervision of a mentor researcher, attendance at technical
lectures by prominent engineers and scientists, and participation
in a poster session.
- Listing of several NASA internship and research programs
Application form includes links to a variety of NASA-sponsored
- The National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates
Students work with faculty and other researchers at a host
institution either within the United States or abroad. Under-
graduate students supported with NSF funds must be
citizens or permanent residents of the United States or
- NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program
This program is an on-site mentored research experience that is
open to full-time rising undergraduate juniors and seniors with
coursework concentrations in engineering, mathematics, computer
science, or physical/life sciences.
- Naval Research Enterprise Intern Program
Provides opportunities for students to participate in research at a
Department of Navy laboratory during the summer. Participants
must have completed at least their sophomore year.
- Research programs administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for
Science and Education and Oak Ridge Associated Universities
This Web site posts opportunities from around the country in a
wide variety of fields.
- Summer research opportunities at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Summer research opportunities may include positions related
to theoretical calculations, laboratory measurements, data
analysis, computer programming, and electronics design,
fabrication, and testing.
- Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) Summer Intern Program
Undergraduate students interested in careers in astronomy,
astrophysics, physics, or related physical sciences may work
with an SAO/Harvard staff member on a research project and
attend field trips and discussions. Must be a U.S. citizen or
- Spaceflight and Lunar Sciences and Technology Program (SLSTP)
An academically challenging, seven-week summer course
held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SLSTP
promotes space-related learning experiences for students
majoring in engineering or the hard sciences.
- Summer Institute on Atmospheric, Biospheric, and Hydrospheric
Goddard Space Flight Center provides undergraduate
students majoring in the physical sciences with research
opportunities in the atmospheric, biospheric, hydrospheric,
and solar and space plasma sciences, both theoretical and
In addition to the above resources, you may also wish to consult with undergraduate advising, career services, undergraduate research, and financial aid offices at your current institution for further assistance.
Depending on the university you apply to and your field of interest, you will likely need to consider preparing for and taking one or more standardized tests. Typically these tests are completed in your senior year before you begin applying for graduate study, but always be sure to check with the universities you may apply to in order to determine their specific requirements and deadlines.
- The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is often required for admission to graduate programs. The GRE has a general test component, which is most often required for graduate admission, as well as several GRE Subject Tests that focus on a specific field of study.
- Free GRE preparation materials may be found on the official GRE website, at www.Number2.com, and also at www.varsitytutors.com/practice-tests.
- The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) may be appropriate for any individual interested in studying business administration or management.
- If you are considering law or medical school, you will also want to review information about the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).
- The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System), and PTE (Pearson Test of English) are common English proficiency tests. Often, one of these tests is required for individuals whose native language is not English.
Funding Your Graduate Study
Before seeking out specific sources of financial support for graduate school, you may first want to review an introduction to funding your graduate studies from the Purdue University Graduate School. The Funding Database lists specific opportunities available at Purdue and other sources not associated with the University. Other resources you may find useful as you determine the options available to fund your advanced degree include:
- American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation
- American Council of Learned Societies (Humanities Research)
- American Indian Graduate Center Fellowship for Native American Graduate Students
- College Answer: The Planning for College Destination
- Community of Science (COS) Funding Opportunities
- Fellowship programs administered by the Oak Ridge Institute
for Science and Education and Oak Ridge Associated Universities
- FinAid! The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid
- Fulbright Fellowships
- National Association of Fellowships Advisors Scholarships Listing
- The National Academies Fellowships Office
- National Science Foundation (NSF) Funding
- Peterson's Scholarship Search
- Purdue University Division of Financial Aid
- Purdue University Funding Database
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