Graduate School Preparation

Deciding to go to graduate school isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. It requires time, money and clear goals. In fact, choosing the graduate program that is right for you requires you to think about many options. While this process can be intimidating, don’t worry, we are here for you! 

Utilize the resources below to follow a structured approach for thinking through your decision, demystifying the process and building an effective application. 

Getting Started

It’s true that no one can give you the answer to whether a second degree is the right next career step for you given your unique circumstances. However making your decision can be a lot easier by using all the resources available to you here at CNS Career Services. It is perfectly alright to debate the decision for sometime or even gain experience while doing so! 

Here are recommended steps to get started:

  • Ask the right questions and be honest with yourself: Ask yourself whether graduate school is the right fit for you. To get to the answer, check out our page: Is graduate school the right fit for you? You may have to go through them multiple times — it’s natural! 
  • Get involved: Think about getting involved in research or get experience related to your graduate field of choice, including volunteering opportunities.
  • Connect with people around you: Talk to professors, advisors, UT Austin alumni, family and friends who attended graduate school or work in the field or industry you’re interested in. Get an idea of what the experience is like — it’s always a good idea to get diverse perspectives! However, keep in mind that you are the best judge of what is best for you.
  • Talk to a CNS Career Coach: Make an appointment with a CNS Career Coach and discuss your options given your circumstances. We can help you at any point in the process! 
  • Talk to people in the field: Have career conversations with people in the field you are interested in to determine if graduate school can be beneficial.
  • Maintain your transcript: Get strong grades in prerequisite courses or courses related to potential graduate programs.

Creating a Timeline

There are many things to take into consideration before, during and after you have applied to graduate school. Find all the details below to help you see the bigger picture and find a timeline of your own:

Note: This timeline assumes application deadlines are in December for an August start date. If your applications are due after December or you’re applying for spring admission then your timeline may be shifted in one direction or the other. Schedule an appointment with a CNS Career Coach to create a personalized timeline!

Determining Graduate School Options

Need help in researching which graduate schools to look at before diving into documents and requirements?

Documents and Requirements

A key contributor to successful applications is preparing in advance. This includes knowing what to expect in terms of the documents needed to complete applications and entrance exams to pass. 

Application Documents

Here is a curated list of usual documents required as part of the graduate school application but make sure to check out school websites in detail!

Now you know what documents you would need to prepare. But the bigger question is how? 

Don’t worry! We have a detailed guide to help you do just that. Sift through guidelines and tips for creating the application documents that will help you shine:

Graduate Entrance Exams

Entrance exams are required for most graduate and professional school programs. Make sure you read the admissions website for each graduate program so that you know which exams are accepted and the expected scores. Use the links below to access more information about each exam on their specific websites:

Free resources for preparation are available through the UT Library: Resources

Making Your Decision

Once you have received your offers to graduate school, making a decision can be difficult if you have received multiple offers. There are many different factors that should be considered when making your decision. Keep in mind that you are looking for a program that will be the best fit for your interests, career goals and needs.

Criteria for Choosing a Graduate Program

  1. Reputation of the School, Department and Faculty
  2. Faculty to Student Ratio
  3. Focus of the Program and Faculty Research Interests
  4. Type and Quality of Research and Facilities
  5. Geographic Location
  6. Alumni Employment Statistics
  7. Financial Aid and Funding Offered

While these are the usual criteria followed, feel free to add any other element that might be of importance to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I start applying to graduate school?

Most applications will open in September. For this reason, have a good idea of where you would like to apply so that you can fill out basic info ASAP and request letters of recommendation. Your letters of recommendation may be the component that takes the longest to get submitted. Requesting them ASAP will expedite the process. Some applications have more than one due date: the early consideration date and the final due date. If your application is received by the early date it may be considered before applications submitted later and you could be offered an interview before other students have even submitted their applications!

When do I have to decide where I am going?

Most programs will inform you soon after interviewing whether or not you will be admitted to the program. Usually you will then have until April to make a final decision. You do not need to make a decision when admission offers are made. (AKA go to ALL of your interviews!)

When should I get involved in research?

As early as possible. Even if you aren’t certain if you want to pursue research/graduate school getting involved early can be a good indicator as to if you enjoy and are interested in research. Additionally, being involved in research early gives you the opportunity to pursue multiple research experiences and maybe even get published!

Should I be doing summer research experiences?

If you are applying for a Ph.D. program in a STEM field then research experience is a crucial part of your application. You can do all your research in labs at UT Austin or do Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) at other universities. Summer research programs are available at most colleges, medical schools and research institutions. Applications are usually due in February. You can pursue these at any time but most will require 2 letters of recommendation so keep that in mind. Consider talking to your professors or lab instructors on their experiences doing summer research and what they recommend for you. The summer is a great time to try out different kinds of research.

Who should write my letters of recommendation?

Most programs will require 2-4 letters of recommendation to apply. Ideally at least 2 will come from professors who have supervised your research (independent research, NOT lab courses). It is appropriate to have one recommendation come from a course instructor, especially if you’ve taken an upper division or graduate level course with them. Make sure you are attending office hours regularly and chatting with your professors so they can get to know you better. Depending on the program, a supervisor for an internship or on-campus job may also be an appropriate reference. Make an appointment with a CNS Career Coach to talk through your options and strategize.

When should I take the GRE?

GRE scores are good for 5 years so you need to plan accordingly. If you want to take a GRE prep course be sure to plan in time to take the exam. You will know your score (preliminary) as soon as you finish the test if you take the computerized test. You have to wait at least a month in between tests so if you want to have the opportunity to retake, plan accordingly. If you have time in your schedule, we recommend taking the GRE in the summer before your senior year.

Create an account at to find testing locations near you.

When do interviews take place?

Not all programs require interviews, but many Ph.D. programs will. These can occur anytime from late January to early March. Think about the number of schools you are applying to because if you end up going on 8 interviews that could add up to missing the equivalent of 2 weeks of class. Check out our Graduate School and Academic Interviews Guide for more information.

What are some funding opportunities for graduate degrees?

Keep in mind that most STEM Ph.D. programs will actually PAY you to attend graduate school. However, you will most likely have to pay for a master’s program yourself. Make an appointment with a CNS Career Coach if you aren’t sure which situation you will be in for your graduate school path. We have also compiled some graduate funding opportunities below:

If you need assistance planning for medical, dental, physician’s assistant, veterinarian, optometry, physical therapy, occupational therapy or pharmacy school, please check out the Health Professions Office website and schedule an appointment with a health professions coach.


We are here to help you at every step in your graduate school journey. 

Make an Appointment with a CNS Career Coach