Should you apply to graduate school?

By Ashleigh Viveiros
Special to

October 16, 2003 - So you've just finished your undergraduate degree in history, English, biology, or whatever, and you've realized two things: you enjoy your field of study, and you love school so much that you want to go back.

Okay, so maybe love is too strong a word. Maybe you just kind of like school, but you know you need more education in your field before you can jump into the real world. You need to take it to the next level. You need to go to graduate school.

If you've never really thought about grad school before, you'll want to do some research before you fork out thousands of dollars for another couple of years of study.

First off, keep in mind that grad school is going to be very different from your undergraduate program. While the first few years of your university experience consisted mainly of course work that taught you the theoretical basics of your career, most grad programs are all about research, research, and more research.

"In most graduate programs, the students don't take as many hours of course work," says Kevin Slippert, communications coordinator for the University of Manitoba's Graduate Studies Department. "They have a lot more time to concentrate on their research."

Which means it's up to you to figure out what you want to get out of your time in grad school.

"(Students) should have a sense of what kind of research they want to do," says Slippert, who advises students to search around for the school that will provide them with the best opportunity to do that research, by way of courses and professors.

"That's how you get the most out of your graduate program, by hooking up with a professor who has some knowledge in your research area," he says.

Once you've found the school that will best meet your research needs, the application process begins.

Admission details vary from school to school and even from program to program, but it's a safe bet that you'll need to have an undergraduate degree from some recognized university and will need to meet the minimum GPA requirements (usually around 3.0) to be accepted. You'll also need a few letters of recommendation from your professors and might need to submit a letter of intent, which basically outlines why you want to continue your studies.

More competitive programs have interview processes to further screen out applicants. Find out early if that includes your prospective program and prepare to face a firing squad of professors wanting to know why they should let you into their faculty.

Remember that it takes a certain kind of person to pursue graduate study. At the University of Manitoba, for example, only 10 per cent of the school's 27,000 students are in graduate programs.

"You have to have a commitment to your studies to get through graduate school," says Slippert. "It's a way more in-depth knowledge of whatever you're studying."

Modified on April 23, 2009