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Graduate School Guidance

Graduate School Guidance

The University of Dayton offers guidance to students interested in attending a graduate school after completing their undergraduate degree(s). Here you will find information on choosing a graduate program, navigating the application process, test requirements and selecting a faculty mentor.

Choosing Graduate Schools

Attending graduate school is an amazing opportunity to further your understanding of a particular field. You should not apply to graduate school simply because you do not know what else to do with your life. Graduate school is hard, and you should feel confident in the field of study you have selected. Sometimes that confidence can only come with “real world” work experience. 

Selecting graduate programs is a different process than selecting schools for your undergraduate experience. Graduate schools need to be strongly driven by your research interests and career goals. The goal is to find programs that meet your research needs and faculty with interests similar to yours.

Seek advice from several members of UD's own faculty. Faculty members in your department will know a great deal about programs that will interest you. Be sure to include faculty members with a strong research or publishing agenda. The newest tenure-track hire in your area is also an excellent resource. Here are some key considerations when you talk to faculty:

  • Depending on your career aspirations, the prestige of the university, program, and advisor you select for your graduate studies can play a critical role.
  • What are the benefits of obtaining your master’s degree versus a Ph.D.? How will this affect your job opportunities? How will this affect your salary?
  • Should you apply to the master’s program or to the Ph.D. program directly? Should you pursue your graduate degrees at different universities?

The expected job market should factor into your decision making. For example, individuals choosing careers in science or engineering will have a variety of options including industry, government labs, and academia. On the other hand, individuals pursuing advanced degrees in the humanities are far more likely to have academia as the primary option. How competitive will it be to find the types of jobs you are interested in? Where do you need to go (or with whom do you need to work) to make that happen?

Consider your ability to integrate into the types of programs to which you are applying. For example, some universities accept a large number of applicants and then allow the competitive nature of the program to determine success rates. Alternately, programs may select fewer and more promising applicants and then provide a nurturing environment.

Similar to choosing an undergraduate program, select schools ranging from "reach" schools to "safety" schools. To determine safety and reach schools, you can consult resources such as U.S. News and World Report. Rankings of schools, complete with average GPAs and median standardized test scores, will help you understand your chances of being accepted into the program.

Application Process

Most applications will emphasize some combination of the following elements:

GPA. Realistically evaluate your GPA compared to other likely applicants. Chances are that the application materials will specify a minimum GPA requirement. Note that the expectation is that you will easily surpass this mark. Also consider that the same GPA from different universities will carry different weights.

Standardized Test(s). Many programs will require some form of standardized test, typically the GRE. Law school requires the LSAT and medical school requires the MCAT.

Evidence of Research. Writing a thesis or producing evidence of undergraduate research can be critical. If interested in an undergraduate thesis or research please understand this involvement is time consuming and not to be left until your senior year.

Letters of Recommendation. You should select those writing letters of recommendation carefully. The best letters are from faculty (although employers can be a good choice as well) who know you and your work. Make an appointment at least one month prior to any deadline to request a letter of recommendation.  You may need to provide each of your references with a packet of information to facilitate writing a thoughtful letter. Consider including the following:

  • A "fact sheet" describing your course of study, your overall GPA as well as your GPA within your major, your standardized test results, scholarships, awards, accomplishments, research experience, internships or relevant employment, international study, extracurricular activities, leadership positions and service commitments. Do not be modest and do not edit to decide what is important.
  • A statement pertaining to your career objectives and motivation for attending graduate school.
  • An unofficial copy of your transcript.
  • A list of all of the specific programs to which you are applying, the address of the web site for each program, an indication of whether the letter of recommendation is to be submitted directly to the program or returned to you for inclusion with your application, and the deadline for submission of the letter of recommendation.
  • Any forms that must be completed by your references, and, if the letter is to be submitted directly to the institution, a stamped and addressed envelope to facilitate submission of the letter of recommendation.

Writing Sample. Take the time to carefully craft your writing sample and/or your personal statement. Plan on writing, editing, and rewriting to capture the attention of the readers. Also be prepared to write multiple personal statements, as different institutions require different lengths and often want you to emphasize various points and answer different questions.  Be sure to speak to the specific prompts of each school. Seek feedback on your essays from a variety of sources. The essays are your best chance to portray your tenacity, passion and forethought about your graduate aspirations. For your personal statement, be honest about your skills and accomplishments. Say something substantial about you, your background and your goals. This is not, however, a reiteration of your resume.

Selecting a Graduate Advisor

You want your graduate research to be on a topic that sparks your intellectual curiosity. Consider advisers whose research interests match your own. Familiarize yourself with his or her research before engaging them in a conversation.

Ideally, you will be getting a stipend and your tuition paid. In fact, many advise that you should not consider a program unless you are offered these benefits. Ask about the duties expected of you as a teaching assistant, graduate assistant or research assistant. Different schools have different expectations, and so do different faculty members. The definitions of various assistantships are a bit blurry, but here are some general rules:

  • Teaching Assistantships:  A teaching assistantship in an academic program provides a stipend to a student who is typically required to spend 10-20 hours per week during the academic year assisting in the teaching program of an academic program.
  • Research Assistantships:  A research assistantship in an academic program is provided to a student from an external grant, academic program, or University funds to enable a student to work toward the advanced degree while performing grant-related or University-funded tasks.
  • Graduate Assistantships:  An assistant within the campus community may work in the career services, as a residential coordinator or among many other offices on campus.
  • Fellowships:  Fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis in recognition of a student's demonstrated scholarship, scholastic and creative promise, and/or financial need. To be eligible for consideration, a student must be admitted to a graduate program with a specific graduate degree objective and must be enrolled in graduate academic coursework. There is no service or work requirement associated with fellowship awards.

Inquire about the publication history and agenda of your potential advisor. You will be working on your own research for your thesis or your dissertation, but to meet your career goals you may want to get your name on a few published papers along the way.


Office of Fellowship Advising
125L Alumni Hall

Laura Cotten Howell, Ph.D.
Director of Program Management and Honors Operations
University Honors Program

Phone: 937-229-5415


Fellowship Advising

Alumni Hall
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 0311