Grad School 101

Master Graduate School

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As an undergraduate student at UCSB preparing for the modern workforce, chances are that you have heard a thing or two about graduate school. If you are considering furthering your education beyond your bachelor’s degree, you may have wondered if graduate school connects with your specific career goals.

Graduate education does not only include master’s and doctoral degrees; law school, medical school, business school, and many more professional programs are considered here as well. As with any significant investment for your future, it is important to explore graduate school with diligence and discernment. Use this page to sort out the differences among the options available.

Identify Target Programs

What Makes a Good Program

The process and criteria involved in selecting your target programs for graduate school will likely be different than what you experienced when choosing to attend UCSB as an undergraduate. 

When reviewing graduate programs, focus on the specifics of the particular program instead of the general prestige of the institution. Most of an institution's prestige is usually derived from its undergraduate programs, rather than its graduate programs; a school with a prestigious undergraduate reputation may not have the most prestigious graduate program in your discipline, and vice versa.

It is important that you take a moment to identify which attributes of a graduate program are most important for your academic and career success. To clarify what you value most, rank key factors in order from “most important” to “least important.”

Here are some common criteria people consider in graduate programs:

  • Accreditation/validity of the degree
  • Course of study and curriculum
  • Graduate career outcomes
  • Research/teaching opportunities
  • Internship/experiential opportunities
  • Distinguished faculty
  • Relevant campus resources or support
  • Online vs. in-person
  • Full-time vs. part-time
  • Admissions requirements
  • Cost (e.g., tuition, housing, transportation)
  • Financial aid or assistantships
  • Campus culture and lifestyle
  • Region and location
  • Year-round weather


Learn More

Gain further insights with GoGrad’s Guide to Choosing a Graduate Program.


Finding Programs

General Resources

To find large directories of programs nationally and internationally, graduate school information aggregators can be helpful starting points.

Here are three of the most widely used resources:

Some of these sources include rankings of graduate schools and programs; if you use these ranking systems, be sure to understand how the rankings are generated and whether they refer generically to the institution or specifically to your graduate program of interest.

In addition to using graduate school aggregators, you can find programs by asking your immediate network for suggestions through word-of-mouth, including professors, TAs, and anyone you know who works in a related field. You can also look for more leads through certain professional associations or affinity groups related to your field of interest. It is worthwhile to identify key associations, review their websites for resources, and consider getting involved as a student member, if membership is available.

Additional Resources for International Programs

You may be considering attending an international graduate school. This can be exciting for some students, but it is helpful to be aware of the common advantages and disadvantages of this option.

Typically, students consider graduate programs abroad for a few different reasons:

  1. The graduate programs within your interest are significantly more affordable abroad.
  2. There is a particularly strong graduate program within your interests, and it happens to be located abroad.
  3. You have a strong desire to live abroad and learn in a new environment.

Regardless of your primary motivation for considering graduate programs abroad, what is most important is that the degree will be seamlessly transferable to the United States (or to your future target region) once your education is finished. Keep in mind that graduate degrees in some fields (e.g., Legal Practice, K-12 Teaching, and Clinical Healthcare) do not always transfer seamlessly from abroad back to the United States, or to other regions of the world.

If your field does not easily allow for professionals educated abroad to practice here in the United States, then you may want to think twice before studying abroad for graduate school. Usually, the more licensing that is required for a given profession, the more difficult it is to transfer degrees from abroad back to the United States to obtain licensure and practice in the field.


Learning More About Programs

While you want to review as much as you can online about a graduate program, it is often not enough to make an informed decision. Once you have gained an initial interest in a program, the next step is to connect more deeply with the program to learn more.

Program representatives (i.e., admissions officers, in most cases), take proactive efforts to make themselves available to prospective applicants at various points in the year. Many programs offer information sessions in-person or online to help provide an overview of the program and address commonly asked questions. Additionally, some program representatives attend fairs, conferences, and events to connect with prospective applicants.

To learn more about these opportunities, review the program's website or reach out to inquire further. Be sure to check out the Graduate School Fair held annually in fall quarter at UCSB, as well as other information sessions with graduate programs through Career Services. You can view our Events page for the latest information.

Search online for the contact information provided by the programs that interest you. Graduate programs list contact information for this very purpose, to answer questions from prospective applicants via email, phone, or other means. Though many students are hesitant to contact programs in fear of asking a “dumb” question or jeopardizing their chances of admission, these fears are largely not an issue when you take a few simple steps to prepare.

Here are some tips to help you reach out to a program with confidence and leave a good first impression:

  • Anticipate that your request may be initially received by an admissions officer, rather than a faculty member.
  • Begin with a brief introduction about yourself, including the background of your education, experience, and interest in the program.
  • Ensure that you have closely reviewed the program's website to answer your initial questions, and state that you have done so when you reach out.
  • Ask for their insights as related to the criteria that matters most to you in your graduate school search, such as learning more about what makes a strong candidate or what financial aid is available.
  • Consider inquiring about the career outcomes of graduates from the program, but acknowledge that this kind of data is very challenging for programs to collect and it may not always be available to admissions officers.
  • Keep your questions professionally polished, open-ended to avoid a simple "yes" or "no" answer, and neutral to avoid bias.
  • Express a sense of gratitude for the assistance you receive, regardless of how helpful it actually is for your search.

In this process, you can make a great impression, which will reflect well on you if you eventually apply. Be courteous, respectful, and thoughtful in your approach, and your experience will be positive. Do not underestimate the value of this kind of interaction; you can often learn more in a 10-minute conversation than in 10 hours of online research.

Though program representatives are typically your primary contact to help you learn about a program, it is very important that you obtain a range of perspectives. Program representatives are employed to be helpful resources, but they typically serve as a type of "salesperson" for the program and thus communicate with a level of bias toward the program's value.

Students and alumni of the graduate program can help you understand the experience from a user perspective. There are a few main ways that you can connect with these types of individuals:

  1. If you know someone who has attended the program (or even the institution in general), reach out to them to ask if they would be willing to offer their advice to you.
  2. Ask a program representative if they are able to put you in touch with someone who has attended the program to help you gain more clarity about the student experience.
  3. Visit the campus in-person and strike up a conversation with students on-campus.
  4. Use our LinkedIn tips to learn how to grow your connections with LinkedIn Alumni who have attended the program, to study their career outcomes and reach out with questions.
  5. Look through our Handshake Help Center tips to learn how to search the platform for students and alumni who have attended other institutions and made their profiles public.

It is usually helpful to directly reach out to faculty members within a graduate program. For programs that emphasize academic research -- particularly Ph.D. programs -- it is essential that you do this to network with potential faculty mentors prior to your application.

Most institutions provide faculty contact information through the website of the academic department. Typically, it is best to reach out to faculty through email.

In your message, be sure to emphasize specifics when you can, so that it is clear to the faculty member that this is personally meaningful to you and not some generic template email that you send to everyone. Do this by citing specific research interests that you share in common or other reasons why you are specifically reaching out to them.

Here is an example of a possible email to a professor at a research-oriented graduate program that interests you:

Dear Dr. Nolasco,

I am currently obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara and am looking to pursue graduate education. I am very interested in your research regarding the intersection of religion and philosophy with Roman politics. Would we possibly be able to set up a 20-minute phone call to talk more about your research and any opportunities there might be in the future for an individual like me to assist in your research efforts? Thank you in advance for your time.

Patricia Diego

Learn More

Because most of these interactions involve a conversation, we encourage you to review our tips to help you Do Informational Interviews with success.

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