GRADUATE SCHOOL? WHAT? FOR ME?
There are simple steps that can help you determine which
path to pursue after college graduation. While these steps
will help you in finding a job, they should also be an
essential part of your deciding whether or not to go to
1. Think in terms of a career, not a job.
Even if you can get a job with your college degree,
what are your prospects for career advancement without
further study? Think long-term, look at your interests
v. the career scene. Try to imagine yourself twenty years
from now. Where will you want to be? What will you want
to be doing? In some professions, an advanced degree is
a must. If you stop at the M.A. level, you may eventually
limit your options for promotion and career diversification.
2. "Am I going to graduate school for the
You need to be clear on your goals before committing
the time and expense of graduate school. Sometimes it
is the wrong reason that pushes you to apply for graduate
school. Some students may feel burnout after college or
may not be ready to choose a career they want to pursue.
It is alright to take a year or a couple of years to sort
things out. In some graduate programs, work experience
and maturity enhance your admission chances. Also, you
do not want to continue your education because school
is a safe place away from the demands of "real life."
It is important to understand what motivates you. A career
in history, political science, or international studies
should fit your individual interests, abilities, values,
Whatever you decide, you must know that in order to succeed
in graduate school, you need intelligence, initiative,
and self-discipline. Most graduate programs assume that
students will maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Time management
skills, being focused and persistence are also important
3. Self-Assessment: Your skills v. career demands.
Answering the questions below will help you decide if
you will like the demands of a profession in history,
political science, or international studies:
1. Do you have strong oral and written communication
2. Do you like to read? To analyze and think critically?
3. What personal values are most important to you?
4. How important is creativity to you?
5. What past experiences and achievements have been rewarding?
6. How good are your people skills?
7. Can you manage and prioritize your time well?
8. What are your strongest skills? What skills need improvement?
9. Are your parents, friends, or other people pressuring
you to go to graduate school?
10. What drives you to go to graduate school and form
4. "I do not have a 4.0 GPA and my GRE score
Although your GPA and GRE score are the two most important
factors in the selection process, there is room for other
factors as well, such as a background in statistics, fluency
in a foreign language, job experience in applied settings,
and strong letters of recommendation.
Also, associations such as the American Political Science
Association are committed to finding a greater role for
racial minorities and women who are under represented
in the academic professions. APSA members actively support
programs dealing with Graduate Fellowships for minorities.
Regional diversity counts as well: graduate schools in
the Northeast may want to diversify their programs with
a West Tennessee scholar. Being open to relocate will
increase your chances of success.
THE RIGHT GRADUATE PROGRAM
1. Choose the right degree: M.A. v. Ph.D.
You can earn an M.A. within two years, whereas the average
Ph.D. student remains in graduate school for 6-8 years,
counting the years towards the M.A. (some programs push
their grads through more quickly than others, something
you need to remember and check out). In some programs,
you can bypass the M.A. altogether on your way to earning
a Ph.D. If you want to teach full-time at the university
level, a Ph.D. is indispensable.
There are economic advantages to the Ph.D. Some figures
estimate that Ph.D. holders earn on average almost 50%
more than M.A. degree holders. The 1996 U.S. Census Bureau
estimates the average family income of M.A. holders is
21% higher than that of B.A. holders; that of Ph.D. holders
53% higher than that of B. A. holders; and that of Ph.D.
holders 27% higher than that of M.A. holders.
2. Choose the right program: begin thinking about
a specialty in your discipline.
This is often overlooked in the application process.
Different schools and departments are strong in different
areas, so it is important that you begin to narrow your
focus before graduating from college. You don't want to
apply to the wrong school or be caught off-guard in an
interview. Graduate study in Political Science, History,
or International Relations, boasts of several encompassing
areas and numerous subfields. The American Political Science
Association recognizes six general areas of political
science: American Politics, International Relations,
Comparative Politics, Political Theory, Public Administration,
and Political Methodology. Under these broad areas
are 90 specialized subfields. We have the APSA Newsletter,
the AHA Newsletter that are good indicators of job opportunities.
Your specialty decision is also important when considering
job prospects. Talk to people in your field to get
information about their job. Complete an internship program
to get "hands-on" experience. Job prospects
are better in some subfields than in others. Currently,
for example, jobs in Political Theory are scarce, while
jobs in Political Methodology and Statistics are much
more readily available. But the key question should be:
do I love this field/career enough to sacrifice years
of my life in order to pursue it? Being enthused in a
career area is very important. Remember also that some
subfields are more conducive to employment outside the
university as well. A Ph.D. in a specialized public policy
area such as Health Care will be more likely to find work
in the private sector than a Ph.D. in political theory.
Students of history, in particular, have access to a wide
range of jobs in the nonprofit, private, and public sectors
Also, some schools offer interdisciplinary programs.
They offer the opportunity to combine fields of study
that you might have majored and minored in as an undergraduate
student. For example, Law and Divinity programs, Philosophy
and Communications, Philosophy and English, Political
Economy, and all International Studies fields. In the
Appendix section below you will find a few of the most
popular subfields in Political Science, History, International
Studies that you might be interested in.
3. Gather information about the graduate program
you are most interested in.
Obviously you want to attend a university that has a
strong reputation in your particular specialty. For example,
University "X" may have several leading professors
in American politics, but fewer professors who study International
Relations. Other programs may be on the cutting edge of
methodological research and pay less attention to American
politics. Consider this point in making a decision. It
is extremely important that you gather the information
necessary to make the perfect match between your interests
and skills and a graduate program's offerings. Some students
decide to choose a department based on the reputation
of a certain professor. If that is what you choose to
do, be sure that the professor will be around during your
tenure as a graduate student. To help you get started,
we have on file in the Department, the "Directory
of History Departments and Organizations in the U.S. and
Canada" and the "Directory of Graduate Faculty
and Departments in Political Science."
4. Consider the placement success of prospective
Unless you are independently wealthy, you are no doubt
hoping that your graduate experience will lead to a fulfilling
job. It is of vital importance that you examine the placement
success of the programs where you are applying. How have
other students fared coming out of these programs? Are
they gainfully employed, or dog-catching?
You need to look at the general figures on graduate student
placement rate, but also remember to examine the success
rate of students in your specific program of choice. This
may not be indicated in departmental statistics. Also,
no graduate program will probably tell you the full story
about their job-placement success rate. You should talk
directly with current graduate students to get the whole
YOUR FINANCIAL OPTIONS: THE FINANCIAL AID CARD
1. Find and Choose Financial Aid
Financial support for graduate study is more readily
available than it is for "professional" schools
like law or medicine. Most of the financial aid for graduate
study, however, goes to students who apply to the Ph.D.
program. This aid usually takes two forms: research assistantships
and teaching assistantships. With a research assistantship,
students work closely with a chosen professor on an academic
project. With a teaching assistantship, students are assigned
their own teaching load and earn valuable experience in
the classroom. Also, there are several opportunities for
minority scholarships. However, be prepared to pay full
fare for pursuing a M.A. program. Moreover, when you apply
to a doctoral program, you are simultaneously applying
for financial aid. If you do not like debt, you may decide
against graduate school unless you get a lucrative offer
from a university. If you are granted a fellowship or
some other financial offer from a university, perhaps
it would be wise not to "swing at the first pitch."
In other words, you may benefit from the fact that universities
are competing with each other for good students.
When you look up information about a graduate school,
you also find information about financial aid. Look in
the Appendix section of this brochure to learn how to
find information about graduate schools.
2. Estimate your costs v. your earning potential
As with any career move, compare your graduate school
investment with the earning potential of your chosen field
(e.g.: Is it worth going into debt $150,000 if you start
out, after eight years of graduate school, making $25,000
a year?). Perhaps you need to take a couple of years
off to work to save money for graduate school. Before
doing that, investigate grants, fellowships, assistantships,
and loans. Another option is to go to school part-time.
Some programs require that you go full-time, and it may
be difficult to impossible to get financial aid without
being a full-time student. On the other hand, attending
school part-time allows you to work in the field and earn
money. Some organizations or companies are willing to
send you to graduate school as a part of your training.
There are several publications that will help you finance
graduate education. You will find them in the Appendix
to this brochure.
THE "MUST DO" THINGS DURING YOUR
1. Carefully choose your minor/second major.
The choice of a second focus of study in undergraduate
school can be a significant help in choosing a future
career. A major in political science with a communications
minor, for example, can be a great asset for graduate
study in Public Administration or Public Policy. A history
major with a second major in business can lead you to
a career in Business History. Virtually any two fields
combine nicely. It is up to you to choose which two best
suit your skills and interests.
2. Get involved with the profession as an undergraduate.
While an undergraduate, you have several opportunities
to engage in extra-curricular activities that will give
you "hands-on" experience with the profession,
contacts with professionals in careers you may want to
pursue, and leadership and research experience. These
activities not only look good on your resume, but are
extremely helpful in deciding what to do after graduation
from college. Here are a few examples of what you can
do to enhance your undergraduate experience:
- participate in an state, national, or international
internship program or a summer pre-professional program;
Peterson's publishes a yearly Internship Guide
that is well worth looking at; this department has a
broad array of local, state, and national internships
that are available to you.
- attend professional conferences; many offer undergraduate
the opportunity to read papers; this is an excellent
opportunity for you to observe what graduate students
and professors are doing. Although some of the conferences
are national in scope, there are also many important
regional and state seminars. Attendance at these
conferences will give you a better feel for what life
in academia is like. In political science, the
journal P.S Political Science and Politics frequently
lists the times and dates for these professional meetings--Ask
a memberof UTM's department for information on state
conferences that may be close enough for you to attend.
Very advanced undergraduates may even want to consider
delivering a paper at a professional conference.
Indeed, if you are truly serious about graduate school,
you should work to make you undergraduate research as
academicallly sound as possible, in the hopes of using
it in a future professional arena.
- become a member of one of the professional honors
societies your university sponsors; many of these honor
societies give you an opportunity to publish, and advice
on the pursuit of a career, and on financing grad
school; you may also present papers at their annual
- get involved in a research project with a faculty
member; the International Student-Scholar Program provides
you with a great opportunity.
- read and write as much as you can.
- subscribe to an Internet discussion list;
check that list's book review section; participate in
a discussion; check out their "jobs" list.
3. Utilize your junior year to your advantage:
Research Graduate Schools.
Your junior year can be a vital time to begin researching
graduate schools. Contact the different departments for
information on specific programs or better yet, surf the
Internet for information. There is an astonishing array
of options out there. Our department also has information
on file about several graduate schools. So does the office
of the Associate Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs
and Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. K. Paul Jones. You will
find all this information in the Appendix section of this
brochure. By beginning the process in your junior year,
you should be well-equipped to make a decision on where
you want to apply by the Fall semester of your senior
year. Ask each school for a complete application packet.
Almost all departments will be glad to send out materials
on their program, but expect some lag time through the
mail. Again, the Internet provides today's
students many options not available to undergraduates
just a few short years ago. If you need help in beginning
your search, consider the following excellent websites:
(1) WORLD WIDE
GRADUATE SCHOOL DIRECTORY
(2) GRADUATE SCHOOL
PETERSONS GUIDE TO GRADUATE SCHOOLS
BURRELL'S GUIDE TO GRADUATE SCHOOL ADMISSIONS
MOVIN' ON: TIPS ABOUT GRADUATE SCHOOL
US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT'S GUIDE TO GRAD SCHOOLS
Our department keeps on file a current list of the best
graduate programs in history and political science, as
rated by US News and World Report and by
The Chronicle of Higher Education . We also have
the APSA's Guide to Graduate Faculty and Programs
in Political Science , which lists information about
350 departments in the United States and Canada. In addition,
we keep a graduate school file that has program descriptions,
application forms, entrance requirements, financial aid
and other information. Just ask the departmental secretary
or check with a faculty member to consult our file.
4. Make the Most of your Senior Year: Visit campus(es).
Just as important as it was when you applied to college,
a campus visit may make the difference between admission
to and rejection from a graduate program. A campus visit
gives you the chance to meet with faculty, grad students,
perhaps even alumni/ae, and to check out the library and
Ask each school for a complete application packet. Almost
all departments will be glad to send out materials on
their program. You should be well-equipped to make a decision
on where you want to apply at the beginning the Fall semester
of your senior year.
5. Apply to more than one graduate school.
Although there is no set number, most graduate publications
suggest that you should apply to at least 3-7 programs
in order to increase your likelihood of being accepted.
The rule of thumb is to apply to 2-3 "fall back"
schools (where you are pretty sure of getting accepted
but would be your second choice), to 2-3 "comfortable"
schools (where you are reasonably sure of getting accepted),
and 2-3 "high profile" schools (where your being
accepted is unlikely). Of course, you want to apply to
high-quality schools. At the same time, you want to be
realistic . The only drawback to applying to several schools
is the application fee. Most schools charge between $25-$75
just to apply. If only "the best" will do for
your graduate education, you may want to consider a university's
national rank. If so, look for either The Gourman
Report, or the annual March issue of U.S. News and World
6. Prepare your resume carefully.
There are several formats for writing your resume. Regardless
of which one you choose, remember that grad schools' admissions
committees look carefully at your resume. Start documenting
all your activities and achievements. Keep a copy of your
best papers. Prepare a portfolio of your undergraduate
career. Every piece of information counts. This
step can become the basis for your application statement.
Having done your self-assessment and written your resume
will help you set clear goals for graduate study and communicate
them in a coherent and impressive fashion to the admissions
TAKING THE GRADUATE RECORD EXAMINATION (GRE)
1. The General Test--A Description
The General Test is composed of 7 sections, lasting
30 minutes each, bearing on verbal, quantitative, and
analytical questions. Each section has a possible score
of 800. According to the GRE 1997-98 Guide to the
Use of Scores, the average verbal score is 480, the
average quantitative score is 560, and the average analytical
score is 560. A student applying at a competitive graduate
school usually has a score of 1200 to 1300 for two out
of the three sections. A 1400 score for two out of the
three sections is an excellent score. The paper test costs
$96. Fee waivers are available, check the GRE Web site.
The paper test is offered twice during the academic year.
Many students still take it. The computer-adaptive test
is the version that more and more students are opting
to take. It is offered on demand, although you may not
take it during the last week of the month. The advantage
of this test is that it tailors the questions to your
ability level. Consequently, there are fewer questions
that are either too easy or too difficult for you. But
you cannot go back and change your answers once you have
entered them. Also, you know your scores immediately after
taking the test. In the future, this is probably going
to become the most commonly used method of taking the
GRE Subject Tests: You need not worry about these tests.
Fewer and fewer graduate school admissions committees
require that you take the GRE History subject test, although
it is still administered twice a year. The Political Science
subject test has been discontinued.
2. General Strategy
Records indicate that our students do extremely well
on the analytical part, and that they obtain above average
on the verbal part of the exam. All the reading that you've
done in your life will now pay off. A careful preparation
can boost your score by several points on the verbal.
Vocabulary words, analogies, reading comprehension, are
particularly important. Regarding the quantitative score,
(which among our students tends to be lower), we recommend
that you take or audit a refresher math course during
the fall of your senior year to enhance your score. You
should not take the test with the expectation that you'll
retake it. For one thing, you have to wait 60 days before
retaking the computer-adaptive test. Also, taking the
test is expensive. And now, with CD-ROM technology and
review courses available, you can take practice tests
and come to the real test fully prepared.
Graduate School admissions committees do not look at
all parts of the GRE equally. Until recently, political
science admissions committees combined verbal and quantitative
scores in making decisions. Some schools, such as Middle
Tennessee State University, now add up two scores: either
verbal and quantitative, or verbal and analytical. Other
schools look at all three scores. Ohio State University,
for example, looks at all three scores but does not add
them up. Therefore, you should prepare for all three sections
unless you know specifically which ones the graduate schools
of your choice use for admissions. It is a good idea to
call the graduate school before taking the test and find
out if a minimum score is required on particular parts
of the GRE.
3. Preparing for the GRE
There are many GRE preparation materials available to
you in paper form, and they constitute an excellent introduction
to the test. However, a computer-based preparation is
a must. The paper versions usually include a CD-ROM practice
You may take a professional course to prepare for the
GRE. Kaplan Educational Services offers GRE prep courses
in Memphis. The cost to you is $899. Included in this
cost is a 9-week course and the supporting papers and
CD-ROM materials. You may call 1-800-KAPTEST to enroll.
Other options include:
- GRE services' review materials: check the GRE
registration packet or call 1-800-537-3160.
- Cliffs notes. GRE Review (IBM or MAC) App. $20.00
- McMillan. ARCOGRE Supercourse. App.
- Princeton Review. Cracking the GRE. App.
- Barron's GRE
MOST COMMON SUBFIELDS IN THE DISCIPLINES
|International Organizations and Law
||Politics and History
|Comparative Area Specialties
||International Security and Arms Control
||Public Law/Judicial Politics
||Women in Politics
||African American Politics
POLITICAL SCIENCE RESOURCES ON GRADUATE SCHOOL
We have documentation on file about the following schools:
||Austin Peay State University
||Indiana State University
||Murray State University
||St John's Col. of Anapoli
||The University of Chicago
||The University of Kansas
|The Univ. of Memphis
||The Univ. of Missouri-Columbia
|The Univ. of Pittsburgh
Published Resources on Graduate School
- Peterson's Grants for Graduate and Post Doctoral Study
- Financing Graduate School
- Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student's
Guide to Earning a Master's or Ph.D.( Noonday
- The Graduate Scholarship Book
- The Foundation Center's Foundation Grants to Individuals
- The Southern Regional Board in Atlanta, GA (Tel. 404-872-1477)
- The National Science Foundation in New York, NY (Tel.
- Kaplan's How to Get into Graduate School--Business,
Medicine, Law, a yearly publication, through Newsweek
- Harold R. Doughty's Guide to American Graduate Schools.
The Most Comprehensive Guide to Graduate and Professional
Study in the United States (Penguin Books, annual publication)
- Robert E. Clark and John Patella, The Real Guide to
Grad School: What You Better Know Before You Choose
Humanities and Social Sciences (Lingua Franca Books,
- Melanie Gustafson, Becoming a Historian: A Survival
Manual for Women and Men (Washington, D.C. : American
Historical Association, 1991)
- Lesli Mitchell, The Ultimate Grad School Survival
Guide (Peterson's, 1996)
- Barbra Rittner and Patricia Trudeau, The Woman's Guide
to Surviving Graduate School (New York: Sage Production,
Web Sites on Graduate School
You may simplify the process of typing long website addresses
by typing GETTING INTO GRADUATE SCHOOL and using the Alta
Vista Search Engine (or by clicking on the above links)
. you will get all the information that you need about the
graduate school process. The internet today provides
many options not available to undergraduates just a few
short years ago.
TIMETABLE FOR APPLYING
TO GRADUATE SCHOOL
Applying to graduate school does not have to be a scary
ordeal. The following schedule may help you organize your
efforts. Remember that this is not an overnight process.
It will take work, initiative, and determination on your
part. Also keep in mind that specific institutions have
Examine guides to various
graduate programs, preferably over the Internet.
Determine test requirements and application deadlines
for each school.
Talk to your faculty advisor about your findings,
ask for guidance.
Request application materials from programs.
Talk to professionals about career choices, requirements.
Study for the GRE.
Research financial aid
assistance. Request application packets.
Sign up for the required standardized test (normally
Write a draft of your statement of purpose.
Take the GRE.
Begin to finalize your choice of schools.
Request recommendations from faculty members.
If you haven't done
so already, take the GRE.
Order official transcripts from Registrar's office
(preferably including your Fall grades).
Give recommenders addresses of prospective schools,
Work on your statement
Apply finishing touches to application packets
and mail them (although most deadlines are late
January-early February, it is always useful to get
the packets in early).
Contact recommenders to be sure that they have
mailed their recommendation .
If you have not done
so, mail application packets.
Contact schools to ensure that all application
material arrived by the deadline.
Contact graduate schools about possible visits.
Prepare and file a copy of your federal income
tax return if you are applying for need-based financial
Discuss acceptances, rejections with your faculty
advisor, faculty in your department.
Pay graduate school
Have final transcript sent with indication of your
Let your faculty advisor know where you have been
SOME COMMON SUBFIELDS IN THE DISCIPLINES
Political Science: International Organizations and Law
Politics and History
Comparative Area Specialties
International Security and Arms Control
Public Law/Judicial Politics
Women in Politics