Applying to Graduate School: An Overview

Dear all,

Since the day I arrived for my final semester at Duquesne (I will be a December graduate), I have been preparing my applications for graduate schools.  Students enrolled in liberal arts programs might have interest in pursuing a graduate degree (Master’s Degree and/or PhD’s) in their chosen field of study after graduation, so I offer this overview of the application process as a basic reference-point for someone considering a path similar to my own.

If a graduate degree is necessary or at least beneficial to a given student for his or her career aspirations, many universities around the country offer opportunities at little to no cost in exchange for part-time employment such as teaching, writing, or office-based assistant programs. Graduating liberal arts students are often qualified to apply to a wide range of programs. In other words, they aren’t limited to only those programs that are similar to their undergraduate majors. For example, I have a friend who has a B.A. in Theater Arts, but he is now enrolled in Duquesne’s M.B.A. program (Master’s in Business).

Most crucial to the application process is, of course, one’s decision to apply. After years of meditation on this issue, I have decided within the last year to take concrete steps toward pursuing either a PhD in Philosophy (my first choice) or a Master’s degree in English Literature (my second choice – I am a double-major in Philosophy and English). Such a degree would help me realize my dream of sharing the texts that have influenced me so deeply during my time at Duquesne with young adults at a college or independent high school.

Once you have resolved to apply, there are four parts of most graduate applications in my chosen fields. They are: undergraduate transcript, a writing sample, GRE test scores, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. My writing samples are simply revised term-papers from recent Philosophy and English courses. The GRE is a standardized test similar to the SAT. Taking it was no fun, but it was necessary to perform well on it. So, I recommend studying for it thoroughly. One can register for it online and take it at a university/testing center that is hopefully nearby. Statements of purpose are short documents in which students explain their goals and interests for their graduate education. I have asked several professors to proofread and comment on mine to ensure that they are appropriately written. Finally, I have asked 3-4 professors from each of my desired fields to write recommendation letters. I chose those professors with whom I’ve taken the most courses since they are most familiar with my work. Although these requirements may vary depending on the type of program, my example may give you basic idea of what graduate school admission committees require.

I hope this will help anyone who may be discerning whether graduate school is his or her “road to travel.” Best of luck, and be sure to consider McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts as a potential option! 😉


Kristian Sheeley


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