Applying to Graduate or Health Professions School
Pursuing advanced study in public health or the health sciences offers SPHHS students the opportunity to specialize and gain a deeper understanding and expertise in a chosen field. Whether you are interested in professional training or an academic career, graduate school provides a direct pathway to gaining the necessary credentials to practice at a higher level and achieve your goals. Many health professions require advanced degrees and corresponding certifications as a baseline to enter a particular field. Making the decision to apply to graduate school and navigating the process can be challenging. The SPHHS Office of Career Planning is here to advise you and to provide guidance throughout the process.
Important considerations for students considering graduate school include the following:
Is Grad or a Health Professions school the right choice?
Should I go directly after undergrad or gain some work experience first?
What is the timeline for applications and admittance?
Applications and Transcripts
Letters of Recommendation
Personal Statement and supplemental questions
Tuition and Financial Aid
Scholarships and Fellowships
It is helpful for students to start planning early if they are considering pursuing advanced study at any time in the future. This will allow the applicant to take the pre-requisite courses and perhaps gain some exposure to their field of interest. Appointments with a career advisor can be made as early as your first semester at UMass Amherst to discuss interests, options and goals, as well as to understand the decision-making process and possibilities for growth and change.
Below are some clarifying steps to ask yourself when considering going to graduate school. Source: Idealist.org
Step 1. Clarifying your chosen field
Why do I want to go to graduate school?
Many people completing undergraduate degrees have been consistently enrolled in school for the last 15+ years of their lives and doing something that's not school can be hard to fathom. Though there are many reasons to go to grad school, it is not advisable to pursue further education just to delay the transition to your next step be it work, travel, internship/fellowship etc.
- What experiences have led me to choose this degree path?
- What other experiences would I like to gain before selecting a specific degree to pursue? (If I don't get into grad school this year, what is Plan B?)
- What are my career goals? Are they clear and specific? Do they demand a graduate degree at this time, or are there ways I could work in my field without a degree for a few years? See the Idealist.org Career Center
- Have my mentors in this field earned graduate degrees? Did they go to grad school directly after college? Do they advise that I do so now?
Step 2. Do I need a graduate degree to further my career?
Do I need a graduate degree to further my career?
Many people who think they need to go to grad school are basing those opinions off of biased sources. Take the time to look into job descriptions for jobs that you want now and, in the future, and see if a graduate degree is even required. It is also helpful to look at the job outlook for jobs in your field with bachelor's degrees versus graduate degrees.
Do I have the passion needed to engage in intensive study?
Pursuing a graduate degree is a rewarding experience but will also be a new kind of challenge academically and professionally. Being passionate for a particular field is essential to stay motivated during the more challenging aspects of a graduate program.
- Can anyone already call me a junior expert in my field?
- Can I hold a sustained conversation with someone about my field and how grad school will enhance my career?
- Do I have the academic momentum to continue going to school for a few more years?
- When I read about theories in my field, do I understand them because of situations I have encountered in my personal and professional life?
Step 3. Strengthening your application
What program will best fit my needs and interests?
Graduate degrees often require a greater level of specialization than an undergraduate program. That will mean searching for a program that is a good fit for your interests. It will involve digging deep into the classes offered, but knowing about the faculty, facilities, resources, and relationships that the program can offer you.
Researching Graduate Programs
Applying to graduate programs is a little different than applying to undergraduate programs. Most graduate programs are significantly smaller than the undergraduate equivalent and accept a smaller pool of candidates. Additionally, you will be working much more closely with faculty during a graduate program, especially if you are pursuing a PhD.
Browsing for "the best" programs isn't necessarily the way to find the best program for your interests. It is helpful to talk to people with degrees like the one you are interested in pursuing and see what programs they know about.
In addition to reading about the program, look up the faculty that work at the institution. Take the time to go into scholarly journal databases and see what kind of research is being done in the program. If you find an interest in the research, it will both heighten your passion and help you identify faculty with whom to collaborate if you are selected for the program.
- What will strengthen my application in the eyes of the admissions officers who will read it?
- Why do admissions officers typically prefer more experienced candidates?
- Once you have finished your undergraduate studies, you will have more time, and with a paying job, more options available to study for the GRE and other standardized tests.
Action steps. Ask yourself:
- How much time can I devote to reviewing for standardized tests while I am taking a full course load as an undergraduate?
- Do I need to take a standardized test preparation course?
- Can I afford to take a preparatory course for standardized tests while still in school? Would it be more affordable once I graduate?
- How much time will I have to study?
Step 4. Strengthening your application to jobs later on
Should I develop more hands-on experience in my field before attending graduate school?
People completing their undergraduate degrees sometimes worry that they have to pursue a graduate education right away. However, according to an article from GraduateGuide.com, the average age of a graduate student is 33 years old. It can be beneficial to go into the working world and gain practical, hands-on experience that will shape your expertise and interest in a field before pursuing a graduate degree. Additionally, some employers may offer tuition reimbursement to employees who are pursuing a degree related to their field.
- If grad school is the main selling point on my resume, will it really "sell" me?
- In what ways can I gain meaningful work experience prior to grad school, so that when I graduate I have the edge of experience combined with education?
- Have I explored the idea of a gap year experience? (The term gap year means taking a year usually to explore, to learn experientially, and to learn about yourself. During the gap year you could participate in a term of service or go abroad to volunteer, study a language, or travel.)
Step 5. Improving your financial outlook
Can I afford graduate school? Should I attend graduate school full-time or part-time?
This is a question that only you can decide for yourself. While many graduate programs offer financial aid, fellowships, graduate assistantships, and other ways to pay for your degree, you will likely need to find a way to support yourself during the course of a graduate program.
If you need your work income to help pay for graduate school or you have family responsibilities, it may be best to attend part-time.
If your employer agrees to pay for your tuition while you are still working, part-time graduate attendance can be a win-win!
Some graduate programs, such as many PhD programs, do not allow for part-time attendance, so make sure to check with the graduate admissions program.
- What can I do in the next one to three years that will strengthen my financial standing?
- What financial goals do I have, for grad school and beyond?
- How much more will I actually be earning with this degree, have you done the research and math, is there a return on your investment?