Banner carriers for the Graduate School walk at Commencement

Graduate school: Applications, Funding and More

Are you thinking about attending graduate school?

  • There are several items to consider before applying to graduate programs, including your goals, field of interest, finances, and other life commitments. Before diving into any research, it is important to take time to reflect on all of these factors and to discuss your interest in pursuing graduate studies with your personal support network.

    Does your field require it?

    If you're considering graduate school primarily for career reasons, be aware that the job or career you're interested in may not require an educational background beyond your bachelor's degree. Explore the career field you're interested in thoroughly before making your decision. What you may find is that your bachelor's degree is perfectly adequate for securing you an entry-level job in the field of your choice. In many fields, your skills, abilities, talents, portfolio (history of your experience, samples of the work you have done), and contacts make more of a difference in recruitment than an advanced degree.

    You may find that it will be more important for you to focus on getting some professional experience (through work, volunteer work, or an internship) or some specialized training (technical or skills-based courses or programs) and to pursue contacts through networking rather than to pursue an advanced degree, which may or may not be helpful to you in terms of career advancement.

    Do you want to deepen your knowledge?

    The most important reason for choosing to pursue graduate study is because you are passionate about a specialized area of study that you'd like to explore in an academic setting where you can participate in the academic discourse within a community of scholars, under the guidance of faculty mentors, and be trained to engage in scholarly research. This pursuit  is important to you despite the job outcome at the end of your degree.

    Is now a good time?

    A very important question you must ask yourself is if right now is a good time for you to continue onto graduate school, or if you should wait until later.

    If your field requires an advanced degree and deepening your knowledge in a specialized area through school is important for you, then yes, absolutely. Waiting is a valid option as well. It could be that you would like to take a mental break from school and allow yourself time to rejuvenate. You may also not be entirely sure what graduate program interests you yet, so exploring the world, gaining experience, and taking on different opportunities may help provide you with more direction.

    Other elements of your life you’ll certainly need to consider are if you have other life commitments that require your time and how continuing your education may impact those commitments. This can include being responsible for taking care of family or loved ones, or being present for a significant other or other important relationships; are you willing to, right now, sacrifice the time needed to successfully engage in your graduate studies? Graduate school is also a financial investment, so before applying, you are encouraged to assess your financial health--current debt, monthly expenses, and personal budget--and a plan to factor in the additional costs of graduate school. Based on how you answer these guiding questions, you will hopefully make a more informed decision about waiting for another time or applying to and attending graduate school right now.


    What can I do right now to strengthen my resume?

    There are a variety of ways to strengthen your resume and enrich your experience, but it is important to be intentional about how you spend your time as well.


    Volunteering: do you currently volunteer in any capacity? There are many ways to volunteer, whether it be in-person or online, and most volunteering opportunities are flexible to work around your academic schedule. If you are not sure where to start, think about what matters to you and see if you have a skill set that would be of use to that particular cause. For example, if you are fluent in another language and passionate about animal rights you could look for translation opportunities at animal rights organizations. A great tool we recommend is VolunteerMatch.



    • Leadership roles: have you had the opportunity to be a leader within a student organization, on a project, or through volunteering? While leadership roles are not mandatory for a great graduate school application, they do help show your range of skills and that you have the ability to work with others. Remember that leadership does not always have to be a role like President, leadership is taking any additional responsibility outside of regular participation.


    • Get published: have you submitted anything for publication? This does not only apply to our English majors - there are multiple ways to be published within your field of interest as an undergraduate, you just have to do a little research. The perfect place to start is with the UW's Undergraduate Research Program


    • Internships: have you thought about pursuing an internship in your field of study or something related? The UW has many strong internship partnerships already in place, but you can intern virtually anywhere that accepts interns. A great place to start is at the UW Career & Internship Center.


    • Study abroad: have you studied abroad? Studying abroad provides opportunities for networking, research, and further academic exploration. We offer many opportunities for study abroad and you can get started with the UW Study Abroad.
    • Talk with mentors/advisers

    Certain careers, on the other hand, will require an advanced degree: if you want to be a lawyer, a college professor, or a researcher, then graduate-level training will be necessary preparation for you. Before deciding on a graduate program, you should investigate the career field thoroughly to make sure that you have a good understanding of what kind of graduate study will best prepare you, and how you should prepare. Talk with your professors, with current graduate students in your chosen area, with alumni in your chosen field, and with advisers or career coaches about what kinds of programs may be right for you.

  • Now that you have given careful thought to graduate school, it’s time to start your research. This is an important part of the process to help you compile a short list of schools and programs to apply to. Identify an organizational system that helps you explore programs that meet your interests and needs; contact schools to learn about admissions and prerequisite requirements, visit campus and connect with current students, alumni, and faculty, and look for options and opportunities to help fund your education. In addition to school and program pages like this, here are some other angles to consider.

    Web search

    •  After talking with your faculty mentors about schools that best address your research areas of interest and considering your location needs, begin web site research on the graduate schools on your shortlist. At the very minimum you will find necessary admissions requirements and prerequisites. It is at this point that an excel spreadsheet  can help you keep track of the multiple schools’ requirements and deadlines.  Make sure to view the graduate application webinars that many schools provide. HAS offers both a checklist and a research template that might be helpful here.


    Visit campus

    • If you have the financial means, it is very revealing to make a visit to the campuses you are interested in. That allows you to potentially sit in on sample graduate classes and meet current graduate students, staff and faculty. Making those personal connections, seeing the community dynamics can be  powerful  evidence  that will help with your final decision. You can also ask to talk with recent alumni from the program you are interested in.



    The general wisdom, in this economic climate, is to make sure you have funding for any Humanities graduate program. That funding often comes in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships or fellowships. There are many sources for graduate loans, but in the Humanities, unless you are independently wealthy (which most aren't), you will want to be cautious about how much debt you take on. A fantastic resource at UW that allows you to talk to real people about your funding questions for future grad study is the Graduate Funding Information Service(GFIS) hosted through the libraries network, but the UW Office of Merit Scholarships also has a searchable funding database that you can use to filter and sort for programs that support graduate study. Remember: not every funding opportunity requires that you have an admissions decision in hand before you apply, so it may be possible to apply to funding sources before you start your grad program.


    Test scores

    • Finding out  in advance which test scores are required  for each of your  graduate  programs allows you to study, take practice tests and retake a test if need be. These exams include  GREs, World language requirements, Language proficiency tests to name a few.

    Faculty recommenders/mentors

    • Your faculty mentors are invaluable to this process, not only will they write your critical letters of recommendation, but they can help you revise your statement of purpose, perfect your writing sample and portfolio, help guide you towards the programs best suited for your needs and be a necessary contributor to your conversation while making your final decision. They are also in community with the scholars in your field, providing sometimes necessary  insight and potential connections with those scholars.


    Critical essay, Statement of purpose and Portfolio-

    • Besides having your faculty mentors read your application materials, you will want to workshop them with your peers both in and out of  your area of expertise. Also make sure to use professional writing tutor centers like UW’s Odegaard Writing and Research Center. The UW's own Graduate School has extensive resources on getting ready for applications, available here.


    Location/ Cost of Living

    • Many students don’t take this seriously, but it can actually be one of the most important elements to consider in making a successful decision about graduate school programs. Even if you have funding or tuition is lower, what are the costs of living for 2-8 years in a given location? Are you an outdoors person? Do large urban centers give you energy? Do you have strong political beliefs that some regions might not share? Is there a place in the world you have always wanted to explore? Graduate programs can be that perfect way in. Through your program, you will have a beginning community in a strange new place.  Remember, if you are applying for an MA/PhD this town/city will be your home for years, not months.
  • Submitting an application involves several moving parts, especially if applying to multiple programs. Each graduate school generally requests the same information, but be prepared to include statements of purpose, critical essays, admissions test scores, letters of recommendations, transcripts, a resume or CV, and additional materials i.e. portfolio demonstrating relevant work. Remember to be mindful of various deadlines and fees associated with applications, transcripts and testing.


    We know it can be hard to ask your faculty members to write letters for you. And, they know that when they agree to support you with a letter, they are also agreeing to help with your whole process. There are many academic articles out there that guide students how to ask for faculty mentor guidance and support. Here are two to get you started:

    Not every graduate program requires an interview as part of the process, but you can still prepare as if they do! Learning interview techniques and response strategies will serve you well in a variety of different situations, and our Career & Internship Center has some incredible resources to start you off strong.

    • Congratulations on being accepted to graduate school! To move forward with which program offer you accept will require additional thought and consideration, including revisiting the early stages of your discernment process and reviewing the research you have already conducted. With many programs requiring a decision in the Spring, you’ll want to be confident with your decision by assessing each program side-by-side regarding costs and funding opportunities, location, and program culture/fit. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to tap into the network you have developed and reach out to the current students, alumni, and faculty you have previously connected with. Good luck!!