Graduate school is a lot of hard work and can vary from two to seven years to complete, depending on the program. The first year is usually the hardest. You will find that classes are a lot more rigorous than undergraduate classes and as a rule you will be spending a lot more time in the library than you ever did before! There is an enormous amount of reading and classes can seem overwhelming. Additionally, most exams are short answer and essay and not multiple choice or True/False. However, on the brighter side of things, faculty will spend more time with you and give you greater attention. You now have a chance to get to know the faculty members better. Classes are relatively small in size, and your classmates also become your study partners.

While the graduate school experience will vary from discipline to discipline and from school to school, some aspects of graduate school are the same. For degrees that involve research, you will be required to choose a committee to supervise your research, and a faculty advisor to chair that committee. Choosing your advisor is a very crucial part of your graduate school plan. Some programs require that you choose an advisor in the first year, while some programs allow you to choose one half way through the program. Either way, you must put a lot of thought into the process. You might want to approach a professor with whom you have already had a class that you enjoyed very much. Talk to senior graduate students who are already working with faculty members. Familiarize yourself with the various research groups in your department and the activities they are involved in. Some useful questions that you need to ask them and yourself would be:

  1. Do I like this area of research?
  2. Who will choose the committee?
  3. How long does it take for students who are working in this field to graduate?
  4. Does this professor have good rapport with students?
  5. What are my opportunities for professional placement?

This process will culminate in finding an advisor and a research problem, called a thesis, that you will pursue until completion. Some graduate programs provide an option of either writing a thesis or taking a comprehensive exam.

For students pursuing a Ph.D. most schools have some kind of comprehensive or qualifying examinations you will need to take about two years after you join the program. This can be a very stressful experience and many students do not pass it on their first attempt. Once you successfully pass your “quals” and are a doctoral candidate, things brighten immediately. You will now be taking advanced level classes, concentrating more heavily on your research, and begin making professional contacts. Your advisor will treat you like a colleague, and soon you will find yourself in a situation where you will be considered to be the authority on certain aspects of your thesis. You will publish your original research in professional journals and present your work at professional conferences. A good advisor will guide you though this period of transition, and therefore we cannot emphasize enough the importance of picking your advisor carefully. Completing a Ph.D. takes very serious commitment; but if you are willing to do the work, the satisfaction is immense.

We wish you all the best, and hope that you benefited from this guide.