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.

Plan Academics and Finances

Academic Preparation

How do you prepare academically for graduate school? The answer to this question depends largely on the specific programs to which you are applying.

While performing well academically will never be a disadvantage, there are many nuanced decisions that guide exactly how you can best prepare yourself for graduate school through your undergraduate studies. For example, the academic preparation leading up to medical school for a career in Clinical Healthcare will look a lot different than the academic preparation leading up to a graduate program for a career in Psychology and Counseling.

Consider the below information for general guidance to move forward.

When planning for future graduate study, the most important thing for you to pay attention to is prerequisite coursework that may be needed to attend a program in the future. These prerequisites are usually much more focused on specific courses than they are on specific majors, which is why it is often quite possible to pursue a given graduate program from a variety of undergraduate majors (check out our Majors and Beyond page for further considerations).

When in doubt, look at the specific prerequisites a program of interest may have, and if it is unclear, contact the program to ask for additional details. Sometimes, you will need to take additional coursework that you were unable to take at UCSB. In any case, you can usually take these types of classes at a community college, through an open enrollment program at a 4-year institution after you have graduated from UCSB, or through early admission to a graduate program that offers prerequisite coursework prior to enrollment.

In any case, we suggest that you complete as many prerequisites as possible while at UCSB. When this is not possible, there is usually a path forward, but it is best to plan ahead.

In general, your undergraduate academic performance (as indicated by your GPA) will be at least somewhat important and usually very important when you apply to graduate school.

There is no one guideline for what constitutes a “good enough” GPA for graduate school admissions, but the most common benchmark is a minimum GPA of 3.0. This usually represents a floor, not an average, and thus you should intend to obtain a GPA that is higher than this, if possible. This benchmark varies widely for different programs (usually based on competitiveness), and some fields value undergraduate GPA much more than others (e.g., Legal Practice and Clinical Healthcare).

If you need to boost your academic preparation through prerequisite coursework or a higher GPA after your undergraduate studies are completed, some fields offer non-degree granting programs called post-baccalaureate programs. These are specifically intended to help students become more competitive for graduate admissions in a specific field, most notably the medical field.

For more details about post-baccalaureate programs in the medical field, review our Clinical Healthcare tips.

Financial Aid and Planning

Similar to undergraduate programs, accredited degree-granting graduate programs are fully eligible to provide Financial Aid for Graduate or Professional Students. To get started in learning about this, review this Graduate School Preparation Checklist for key steps to complete if you would like to secure financial aid. Eventually, you would submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form when applications are open.

Applying for financial aid in graduate school features many of the same steps as applying for financial aid as an undergraduate. Your Eligibility Requirements will look identical to what you saw as an undergraduate student, but there is one major difference: in almost all cases, you will be considered an “independent student” in graduate school. This means that you will not be required to provide financial information from your parents or guardians, which often makes it easier to demonstrate financial need.

Review the considerations below for additional ways to support your finances for attending graduate school.

While almost all professional graduate programs and many academic master’s programs will require you to pay money out-of-pocket to attend, many Ph.D. programs, especially in the sciences, are fully-funded. For Ph.D. programs, it is common to have your tuition waived and be provided a stipend to cover most or all of your living expenses while attending those programs. Not all Ph.D. programs offer this, but it can be a very real consideration when comparing the overall value of different programs to which you may be applying.

Graduate students often use teaching assistantships, research assistantships, student services assistantships, part-time jobs, or built-up savings to help defray the costs of graduate education. Research the types of opportunities available within each institution you are considering, as this varies quite widely in each instance.

Some employers offer benefit packages that feature financial support for attending graduate school or professional development programs. While this used to be a more common trend within employer benefit packages than it is today, it is still quite possible to find employers that offer at least some form of funding for this. 

If you would like to seek out these benefits, this will usually entail working in a full-time position while concurrently attending graduate school part-time. The degree that you obtain may be under close scrutiny by your employer, as they typically prefer to fund certain degrees that are relevant to their needs, rather than degrees that are unrelated. The employer's stake in this is based on the hope that your new education will eventually add value to their organization through your role.

The total costs of attending graduate programs vary considerably, as related to their governmental funding sources (public vs. private), university endowment, regional cost of living, focus on experiential opportunities, and more. As you calculate total costs, be sure to look for these nuances to gain an accurate impression of the financial investment and the strategies you will need to be successful.

When considering the cost of graduate education, we highly advise that you consider your earning potential in the career that graduate education leads to. It can make more financial sense to go into a large amount of debt for a graduate education that leads to a higher paying field (e.g., attending medical school for a career in Clinical Healthcare) than to go into a small amount of debt (or a even a large amount of debt) for a graduate education leading to a lower paying career.

Given these considerations, financing a graduate education is an important consideration, but it is not the only factor. We encourage you to obtain an accurate perception of the cost of this investment, as well as an understanding that the holistic value of graduate education is challenging to quantify through a single price tag.

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