The scholarly reputation of your graduate school can be important in landing a job. The rankings of graduate departments may be useful in that regard. However, there is much more to consider than just a school's reputation. Each university will have one or more specialty areas for which it is known: demography, criminology, family, social psychology, theory, and so forth. The department hascopies of the Guide to Graduate Departments published by the American Sociological Association and by the American Anthropological Association. These publication provides the specialty areas for every graduate program in our fields in the United States. You will want to consult these resources, too if you are interested in graduate work in anthropology or sociology.
You may want to see the following:
Below we offer specific recommendations regarding graduate school application. Elsewhere on this webpage we provide listings of the reputations of graduate professional programs in sociology, social work, and law.
First and Sophomore Years
- Begin thinking about graduate school in your first two years of college. It may not be in your plans at this time, but it is in your interest to keep many doors open in your future, because plans do change during the course of your undergraduate years.
- Be aware of the application process and what you can do in your early years as an undergraduate to increase your chances of being accepted into graduate school. The application process for graduate school is similar to the process you successfully completed to get into college. Although the process differs among graduate programs, the usual steps in the process are listed at the end of this section, and it is beneficial to read it now to better prepare you for the application process.
- Start a file or "portfolio" with copies of all papers and projects completed in your courses that are at all significant, and especially those completed in sociology courses. When you apply for graduate school it may be useful to submit a really outstanding paper to demonstrate your writing, research, and/or analytical skills.
- Start a file that has a running list of significant activities, awards, leadership positions, and so forth. When you need to compile such a list as a senior for applications and for your reference letter referees, the process will be made very easy by having kept this list.
- The Career Center is a great resource for information about graduate schools and the GRE exam. They have information on most graduate study programs, including information about the percentage of people accepted, the tuition, the application fee, and the specialty areas of each.
- You may want to take the GRE late in your junior year to get that part of the application process out of the way. This will allow you to take the exam a second time before the application is due. You can obtain more information about the GRE from the Career Center. There are practice exams that you can buy at bookstores, and there is one in the Registration Bulletin. You might begin a year in advance to take the practice exam, analyze your weaknesses, and work on improving in these areas. The fee for the exam can be waived in the case of financial need, and international students may qualify for financial help through the Multicultural Center. You should take some time to review algebra and geometry before taking the exam.
- Begin writing to graduate schools during your junior year to help you decide on programs that are suited to your interests. Keep in mind the rankings of schools, because this will affect your ability to get employment when you complete your graduate education. A good place to begin is with the Guide to Graduate Departments mentioned above. You want to find schools that are strong in your particular areas of interest within the discipline, and you want to find where the professors are who are outstanding in your field. Find out about the faculty members of any program in which you are particularly interested. Read their research, and express an interest in those areas. You might want to choose an Independent Studies topic in related areas. Any faculty member doing research would certainly be interested in applicants who have done work in the same area. You can make yourself a valuable asset to that professor.
- You'll be sending off your applications during the early part of your senior year. Make sure you send everything that is requested, and be sure everything is sent to the proper place (Graduate Office, Sociology Department, etc.). Your file will not be considered until it is complete, and it is your responsibility to make sure that all parts, including the letters of recommendation, arrive before the formal closing date. There are no exceptions and no excuses accepted for late applications. Call the department a couple of weeks before the closing date to make sure all parts have arrived and your application is complete. Because many schools use a rolling admission, it is important to complete your application for graduate school and for financial aid as early as possible. Preference may be given to early applicants for both admission into the program and for financial aid. It will be to your advantage to apply to a Ph.D. program, even if you think you will stop after completing work on your Master's. Recently, acceptance into graduate school has become very competitive, and some schools only accept or give priority to students who already have their Master's degree. So, along with applying to Ph.D. graduate programs, you may want to also apply to universities that only offer a Master's degree, and if that's the only school to which you are accepted, you can later apply to a Ph.D. program.
- When filling out applications, type everything!
- Obtaining letters of recommendation from professors is extremely important, so we have devoted a separate section of this handbook specifically to that process.
- Stress your capabilities! What do you have to offer to the department? Try to put yourself in their place, and think about what you would want to hear from someone applying to your department. You want your application to reflect the fact that you strive for excellence in everything that you do. Make your application specific to the school, and mention the name of the school in your Statement of Purpose or Letter of Intent
- The professors at Hanover College will help you with the application process. You may also want to contact professors at the university where you are applying to learn more about the institution. Your best strategy is to begin the process early to allow time to improve your application.
Summary of the Application Process for Graduate School
- Application Form. You need to get application forms from the various graduate schools you're interested in attending. You can get these by calling the sociology department at the university, or by filling out a postcard available in the Career Center. There is an application fee to pay when you submit your application, but this fee can be waived in the case of financial need.
- Financial Aid. There are many sources of financial aid for graduate students. The financial aid office of Hanover College has information on scholarships and fellowships, and the institution you are planning to attend has many more sources, including research and teaching assistantships. When you request a graduate school application from an institution, be sure to ask for information about financial aid, even if you feel you don't need it.
- Graduate Record Exam. For graduate school, you will likely need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) which is currently very much like the SAT. It has three parts: a verbal section, a quantitative section, and an analytical section. The importance of this exam varies among universities. Some don't require it, some require only the verbal scores, but most require both the verbal and quantitative scores. The requirements of specific graduate departments can be found in the Career Center here at Hanover. The verbal section is most important for graduate school in sociology, and you can improve your score on this exam by working to expand your vocabulary during your four years at Hanover. Whenever you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up, and write it down with its meaning on a card for future reference. It is important that you find out early which sections of the GRE are required by the schools to which you will be applying, and it is to your advantage to do this early-preferably in your junior year.
- Letters of Recommendation. For specifics about letters of recommendation, please see the section of this Handbook on "Recommendations for Letters of Reference for Employment or for Graduate School.
- Samples of Your Work. The application usually requires that you submit a sample of your work, and it is probably a good idea to send more than one. You might want to send an outstanding term paper or a project proposal and completed paper done for an Independent Study.
- Letter of Intent, Statement of Purpose, or Essays. Along with the application, you will generally need to write a Letter of Intent, a Statement of Purpose, or an essay detailing what you plan to do in graduate school, and what you plan to do when you finish. Since graduate school prepares you to do research, this is what you should emphasize in this letter. It is important that you don't say that you liked your undergraduate education so much that you want to continue taking classes. In graduate school, you may only take one seminar per term, and the rest of your time will be spent in teaching and doing your own research. So, emphasize your interest in doing research.
- Official Transcripts of Undergraduate Work. Your undergraduate grades do matter, especially grades in courses required by your major. However, you will be sending official transcripts of all of your undergraduate work. Although they say you need a 3.0 to apply to most graduate departments, it is expected that you have a much higher grade point average in courses in your discipline. The highly competitive, highly ranked schools require a 3.7 or higher in these courses. Some less competitive schools may allow students with a 3.0 and a great deal of potential into their graduate programs.
- The whole application process is not as difficult as it seems, but it is time-consuming. We recommend that you apply to at least three schools ranging in competitiveness from high to low. So, the more work you do on the application in your early undergraduate years, the less you'll have to do in your senior year, when you're busy with the Senior Seminar and with studying for your senior comprehensives. For some universities, the applications are due in mid-December, and for others in mid-January, so there isn't much time to complete the process if you put it off until your senior year.