Welcome to the Campus Philly Graduate School Resource Guide presented by Saint Joseph’s University!
Deciding to enroll in grad school is an exciting decision—and summer is THE perfect season to prepare for your application. That’s why we’ve partnered with Saint Joseph’s University to give you ALL the details you need to prepare for the grad school process.
This resource guide is packed with advice from college recruiters and graduate students, along with financial tips, testimonials, and resources for anyone considering going back to school or continuing their education.
We’ll be covering a range of topics, from deciding on the best program to the best time to start applying! Want to skip ahead to a specific topic?
Here’s what we’re covering in this Guide:
- How Do I Know if Grad School is Right for Me?
- Senior Year—The Year That Really Counts. What Should I Be Doing, and When?
- Attending Grad School as an International Student
- I Received an Offer… How Do I Decide Which School is Best?
- I’m Worried About Being Able to Afford Grad School. What Financial Options Do I Have?
- I’m Going to Grad School! What’s Next?
Let’s get started!
How Do I Know if Grad School is Right for Me?
Start Thinking about Grad Programs During Your Junior Year
Getting a head start on your grad school research will definitely be helpful in ensuring that the application and selection process runs smoothly. We suggest starting to think about what field of study you would like to pursue and which schools have the best programs during your junior year of undergrad. This will give you the time to research courses, along with employer demands and salaries, all as you receive advice from admissions counselors and really determine your best option.
If you are considering a graduate degree in medicine or another health profession, you will want to start your planning as early as Sophomore year to ensure that you are completing all required prerequisites and shadowing hours on time. If you do not plan to take a gap year, you will apply to these programs the summer between junior and senior year!
You can reach out directly to the Admissions Office at the schools you are interested in and they can share the best tracks and courses for you based on your field. They can also advise if prior, relevant full-time work experience is an expectation for admission to your specific program.
Talk to Advisors, Professors, and Current Graduate Students
Reaching out to your current advisors, professors, and anyone you may know in grad school now is a great way to get more knowledge and hear real stories! Your current advisors and professors are there to help you and are great resources for understanding which programs and courses are right for you.
Another great option is visiting the Career Development Center on your campus. They’ll be able to help you determine your career goals, share knowledge of programs, and give you even more advice on grad school application best practices.
It’s also great to build relationships with professors and departments on campus early so you have many options to choose from when it’s time to get a recommendation letter!
Do you know someone who is in grad school or recently graduated? Ask them about their experience! They’ll be able to share real stories, give timely advice, and be a great support system for you as you start this process.
Want to see what other students are saying about going to grad school at SJU? Skip to their testimonials!
Senior Year—The Year That Really Counts. What Should I Be Doing, and When?
After taking the time to do your diligent research in junior year of undergrad, your senior year is the time to start taking the necessary steps to apply for grad school!
Here’s a senior year timeline breakdown to keep in mind as you are planning:
At the top of the fall semester, you should request all the necessary applications from admissions and financial aid. Once you have received them, keep a list of deadlines handy. Remember that every school and program may have a different process and various deadlines. Keeping a list will help you keep track of all the deadlines to your prospective schools.
Register for a graduate exam (if one is required by the grad program you are considering). You’ll want to find out which, if any, exams are required and take the time to prepare and study for the test. See the individual testing websites for preparation materials and sample questions!
You may have to take:
- GRE – The Graduate Record Examination
- GMAT - Graduate Management Admission Test
- MAT – Miller Analogies Test
- LSAT – Law School Admission Test
- MCAT – Medical College Admission Test
You’ll also want to begin thinking about who you can ask to write a letter of recommendation in September. It’s ideal to ask someone that you have developed a relationship with in undergrad; someone that can speak positively to your strengths. Once you’ve determined the best person or people, make sure that you determine the right dates for them to send the letter directly to the school, or to you, so that you can send it along with the rest of your application!
This is the time to start filling out applications for admission, grad assistantships, and financial aid. You’ll need your official transcripts sent with your admission application, which you can typically get from the Registrar’s Office. Make sure to allow a few weeks for your transcripts to be processed before they can be sent (especially during busy times of year)! If you need any help or get stuck at any point, always feel free to reach out to the admissions counselors.
Begin writing your personal statement and resume. A personal statement is an admission essay that shares a little bit about who you are and demonstrates that you’re a good fit for a particular program. Some applications may ask you to submit one so the school can learn more about your experience and passion for the field of study you’ll be learning about. Be aware of any word limits and specific information requested in the personal statement prompt.
Many graduate programs require you to submit a resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV) with your application materials. This should include your previous education history, extracurriculars, and awards you received in undergrad, and your work history. Both your personal statement and resume should complement your application to show your commitment to the program. Be sure to visit your Career Development Center or Writing Center during drop-in hours, or make an appointment if you need help writing or editing your resume or personal statement.
It’s time to complete and submit all admissions application materials and forms! This includes your application, financial aid forms, transcripts, graduate exam scores, personal statements, letters of recommendation, and resume or curriculum vitae. Before sending off, double check all your materials for accuracy, spelling, and grammar!
Between the months of December and January, you should contact the graduate admissions offices of your chosen schools to make sure they have received ALL of your application materials. If your application is incomplete, you’ll want to determine the best process to get the missing materials over to them.
It’s evaluation time! Depending on the school’s application process, offers of admission should be rolling in after February. This is an exciting time to review all of your offers and decide which program is best for you based on interest, tuition, offered scholarships, the length of the program, and any other factors you think are important. Once you’ve made your decision, notify all schools—no matter if you are choosing to accept or reject their offer. Once you have accepted an offer and notified your school of choice, you are on your way to grad school!
NOTE: If you decide later on in your senior year that you would like to go to graduate school, it may not be too late! Many schools and programs have a rolling admissions cycle, accepting applications throughout the spring and even during the summer. Check with the admissions offices to determine if this is an option for you!
Attending Grad School as an International Student
If you are an international student and are considering applying to graduate school, there are specific documents that you’ll need to complete the process. The information and advice we share should not be considered legal advice, but we suggest you directly reach out to the International Student Office on your campus for more details!
First step is that you’ll need an I-20 form to apply for your F-1 student visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Once you are admitted to your selected school, you will be given access to the I-20 form.
To fully complete the I-20 form, you’ll need:
- Proof of financial support for tuition and living expenses for your first year of study in the United States.
- A scanned copy of your passport
- Your home address and phone number in your home country
Once your I-20 application is complete, the school’s International Student Office will review your documents. This process can take up to 10 business days.
Once you’ve received your I-20 verification from the International Student Office, you will need to pay a SEVIS fee, which is short for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. This is a database used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to monitor information about students and exchange visitors who are in the United States. You’ll need to complete a Form I-901 online and submit it along with the SEVIS fee, which has to be paid at least three business days prior to your visa interview.
After paying the SEVIS fee, you’ll need to use your verified I-20 to apply for a Student Visa from a United States consulate in your home country. This application process includes a short interview in English, the application form DS-160, and the application fee. We encourage you to check on visa wait times in the city of your new school and read tips on how to apply for a visa.
When applying for a Student Visa, you should always make sure that all your information is accurate. Any information that is withheld or incorrect on your application could possibly result in a visa denial. Additionally, it’s good to keep in mind—especially as you’re going through the application process—that the school and government can possibly look into your online and social media presence.
Each school may have a different process and deadline, so make sure to reach out to your admissions counselor for the most accurate information.
I Received an Offer… How Do I Decide Which School is Best?
First things first: book a campus tour! You can do this during admitted students days, which are dedicated times for prospective students to visit campus and learn more about the school. Or, you can book a tour individually through campus admissions. See what you like about the campus, the resources available, and the departments that you will be working closely with.
Attend and Observe Classes
We suggest attending and observing classes whenever possible. This is a great opportunity to meet with faculty and students, and ask questions about classes, course work, and anything else that you may want to know more about. While attending, it may be good to ask for the email or phone number of a student in the program or professor to use for any questions that may come up later on.
Google is your new BFF
Research everything you can! Research the faculty at the institutions, too, because their research and interests will generally fall in line with the curriculum for many courses. This research will help you to determine if the programs at the particular schools are a good fit for you, in terms of both your academic and research interests, along with your professional goals.
Financial aid can be a deciding factor in choosing one school over another. Negotiation may be useful in this situation. At some institutions, it is possible to use your financial aid package from another institution as leverage to renegotiate aid. If financial reasons prohibit or limit your ability to visit schools, check for upcoming information sessions. Representatives from many schools often have virtual or in-person events to talk directly with prospective students!
I’m Worried About Being Able to Afford Grad School. What Financial Options Do I Have?
We understand that determining the best way to afford school can be difficult. We want you to know that there are options available like assistantships, scholarships, and other financial resources to keep the cost manageable.
Some graduate programs offer aid in the form of assistantships, including teaching or research assistantships, that provide tuition remission and may include a small stipend. You’ll want to contact your graduate departments directly to check for listings and application forms. Assistantships will require you to work a certain number of hours per week, so you’ll want to make sure that you are able to balance both your academics and work responsibilities to have a successful assistantship. Many scholarships or assistantships require you to submit additional application materials, such as a resume, letter(s) of recommendation, and/or a personal statement, so be sure to have these items prepared early, too.
When thinking about scholarships and fellowships, you’ll want to first see if there are any directly available from your university’s Admissions or Fellowship Office. If you also choose to apply to external scholarship programs, you’ll want to make sure you are getting your information and applying on reputable websites.
Here are some good resources to begin your research:
- Unigo Scholarships/Scholarship Experts
- National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Opportunities
- Black Excel – 100 Minority Scholarship Gateway
- College Board Scholarship Search
Campus Philly’s Financial Resource Guide
Financial literacy is important at any stage in your life, but especially as a grad student! So, we created a Financial Resource Guide exclusively for college students and recent grads—and it’s packed with advice from our friends at Citizens, along with tips, tricks, and resources. Citizens even has a scholarship that is open on a rolling selection basis!
I’m Going to Grad School! What’s Next?!
Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated the application and admission process and now the time has come: you’re going to grad school! Get excited for all that’s to come as you pursue an advanced degree.
As you are preparing for the next step in your journey, we suggest connecting with people who can tell you more about your new program and school. This includes professors, program directors, department heads, and fellow students who have gone through the process.
We got the chance to connect with a few Saint Joseph’s Graduate Alumni about their personal experience in school. Check out what they had to say!
“Deciding to return to Saint Joseph’s in pursuit of an MBA in Food Marketing, while being a full-time entrepreneur, couldn’t have been a better or more rewarding decision. The support of faculty, staff, and my fellow classmates really contributed to the success of French Toast Bites” –Charisse McGill, Owner of Lokal Artisan Foods, Class of ’21
“I am happy that I selected Saint Joseph’s University to seek my master’s degree in criminal justice. Although I am an online student, I feel a sense of community with my professors and classmates. I am excited to be one of the first people pursuing the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging track and look forward to seeing the program grow. This track is giving me the necessary skills to evoke change in organizations for the benefit of the community.” – Khalil Lemons, Development Coordinator, Class of ‘22
“Almost 30 years after graduate school, I’m happy to be back in school again. I thought I’d closed the door on my college career. But new job opportunities opened me to new possibilities as a second-time student. I wanted an online reading intervention certification program that would challenge me to grow personally and professionally. What began as a random search for schools online resulted in me joining the welcoming community at Saint Joseph’s University. SJU’s supportive Education Department faculty inspired me to dust off my pencils and highlighters, embrace new tech tools, and give it a go again.” Kelly Owens, M.Ed. Literacy Teacher, Class of ‘23
If you’re interested in connecting with more people who work or have attended your new grad school, we suggest using resources such as LinkedIn and Alumni platforms like SJU Connects to start building those relationships!
Phew! We packed A LOT of information into this guide. Let’s stay connected. If you have any questions about any of the resources mentioned above, reach out to us or our friends at Saint Joseph’s University. (Thanks for all the tips, Saint Joseph’s!)
We’re so excited for your decision to take the next step in your education; you’ve got this! Feel free to share this guide with a friend—you never know how helpful it could be.