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Going on to Graduate School

DavisConnects provides support in a number of ways to students exploring and applying to masters and doctoral degree programs in a wide array of fields. Our expertise in graduate school advising is focused on:

  • Having conversations with students about when/whether graduate study is an appropriate next step in the context of their career plans
  • Helping students understand that graduate school selection and application differs from undergraduate admissions AND may vary from discipline to discipline
  • Explaining the difference between “professional preparation” degree programs and degree programs in academic fields
  • Pointing students to information about graduate school testing
  • Assisting students with considering what kinds of graduate school test preparation resources might be most appropriate and/or affordable
  • Directing students to faculty or alumni who can provide advice based on experience in the field/discipline the student is considering following
  • Advising for law school and health professions (medicine, veterinary medicine, physician assistant, nursing, physical therapy, optometry, public health, health administration, etc.) is based in DavisConnects (with the exception that first-year health professions advising is handled by Prof. Ed Yeterian in the Psychology Department).

What DavisConnects is not able to do for students applying to graduate programs (outside of law and health):

  • Advise students on selecting programs to which they should apply or that may be the “best fit” for their goals. Instead, we refer them to people with expertise in their field of interest – faculty or alumni – who would be more knowledgeable about graduate programs of interest to the student.
  • Prepare students for graduate school interviews. Faculty and/or alumni will know much more about the probable format or content of graduate school interviews in their own field and can be most helpful to students preparing for those interviews. DavisConnects staff can assist with practice of behavioral interview questions.
  • Review “research essays.” Faculty or supervisors in research settings can best offer assistance to students regarding appropriate description of research experience and goals.
  • Teach test-prep skills.

Programs and events offered by DavisConnects related to graduate school advising:

  • Graduate and Professional School Fair, every October – 80+ representatives attend, representing 300+ graduate programs in a wide variety of disciplines
  • Graduate School Planning workshops, offered each semester
  • Other panels of admissions representatives and/or alumni such as International Relations Graduate Programs and Masters in Public Health Programs (varies from year to year)
  • Staff are available to attend meetings offered by departments for their majors

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
The GRE is for all fields of study not covered by examinations listed below (including veterinary school). Information about the Graduate Record Examination is available at or by picking up a GRE Information and Registration Bulletin in Career Services. The general test of the GRE is offered only via computer-based testing in the U.S. General tests may be scheduled year-round. Call the Candidate Services Center at (800)473-2255 to schedule a test time that fits your needs.

The Graduate Management Admission Test is being offered only in computer-based format at centers around the world. You may take the test on a date convenient for you. Call (800)717-4628 for more information and to register. The GMAT web site at contains information about the computer adaptive technology being used as well as tips on studying for the GMAT.

Information about the LSAT and links to on-line registration forms are available at Sarah Whitfield of the Career Center, is the college Pre-Law Advisor. You may schedule an appointment with her by calling X4140 (or at (207) 859-4140 from your cell phone).

MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
If you are planning on applying to medical school, you should speak with a Health Professions Advisor.  First year students can consult with Prof. Ed Yeterian, the First Year Health Professions Advisor. Sophomore through senior students and alumni should contact Cate Talbot Ashton in the Career Center for further information about applying to medical school. For more information, go to

Praxis Series Tests
The Praxis Series of tests is for beginning teachers and is required for certification in approximately 34 states. Consult the web for information about the Praxis series tests at Tests may be taken on paper or at computer-based testing sites. For dates of various tests, consult the website.

Foreign Service Examination
Consult on-line registration and test date information available at to register on-line.

MAT (Miller Analogy Test)
The MAT is often taken in lieu of the GRE, particularly for graduate programs in Education. Information is available at The MAT may be taken at the University of Maine at Farmington—call (207) 778-7039 for information.

SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I? – Questions typically asked by students about graduate school testing.

What test should I take?
The test(s) you take depend upon the type of graduate program you select. First, identify programs and schools which interest you, then consult the catalog and/or application information to determine the test(s) which will be required.

A look at the Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Programs (available in paper in the Career Center Library or on the web via may give you the information you need. If not, consult program or university web pages for information.

Should I take the GRE/GMAT/LSAT if I don’t plan to go on to graduate or professional school immediately after graduating from Colby?
It is likely that you will perform better on the general GRE and the GMAT (if you already have strong quantitative skills) while you are still a student, or soon after having been in the “student-mode.” Those are tests you should consider taking this year even if you are unsure about your graduate school plans. The drawback in taking such tests now is that the scores are only available for 5 years from the date of the test—so if you end up waiting 5+ years to apply to graduate school you may have to retake the test.

The GRE subject tests and the LSAT are exams for which you should invest considerable preparation time and effort. If you are not planning to apply to graduate programs which require these exams any time soon, you should wait until you are sufficiently motivated to give it the time and preparation you will need.

I’ve heard that the prep courses are a must—do I have to take one?
Some students have found that the preparation courses are a helpful (or even necessary) part of their test-taking readiness. Most people who have taken the courses find they give them test-taking skills, study skills, and practice at taking timed tests. They will not, however, correct gaps in your education, cure writing problems, or guarantee a high score. The main drawback is that they are time-intensive and expensive. With determination and organization you can excel on graduate exams without a prep course. We do, however, recommend that you look carefully at the information included in the test bulletin and on their website and beg, borrow, or buy a test-prep book so that you can practice before the exam.

When is the optimum time to take the test I need?
The optimum test time is determined entirely by the application dates/requirements of the programs to which you intend to apply. Some general rules apply, however, to taking the LSAT or the MCAT. For law school applications you should take the LSAT, at the latest, in early fall in the academic year in which you apply (for Seniors applying to go immediately to law school, that means taking the LSAT by October of the senior year). For medical school candidates, you must take the MCAT between January and September at least a year before you hope to begin school. Taking it early allows you to assess your eligibility for various schools more accurately. Seniors hoping to attend medical school the year after graduating must complete the MCAT before their senior year.

How important are my scores in getting into the graduate program of my choice?
How critical your test scores are will depend upon a variety of factors. For medical school and law school applications, test scores are absolutely critical in the admission decision. Consult the Pre-Law and Health Professions advisors in the Career Center for help in assessing how your scores compare to successful Colby candidates.

For arts, science, humanities, business, education, and other professional school applications, your test scores will vary in importance. If you have extensive volunteer, work, and/or research experience in your field, that can help mitigate lower scores. High grades, particularly in courses related to your desired field of study, may be considered with more weight than test scores. Talking with professors in your field or with alumni who have attended programs similar to those in which you are interested may shed light on what is most important in your particular application.

Making the Decision to Apply


  • To please someone else.
  • You don’t know what else you want to do.
  • To avoid a tight job market.


  • You have a compelling interest that can only be satisfied with graduate study.
  • For increased satisfaction in your life.
  • To (eventually, possibly) make more money.


  • Where you want to be in 3-5 years.
  • The faculty and the content of the program.
  • The makeup of the student body and student life.
  • How successful the program is in terms of placement: how many graduates have actually gotten positions after completing the program?
  • Is the experience going to be worth the cost in tuition payments or student loans?

You Decide Grad School Is for You. So, Now What?

STEP ONE: Find your “universe” of possible schools.

  • Peterson’s guides in the Career Services Resource Library or online sites such as and
  • Professors.
  • Family, family friends, friends’ families, alumni.
  • Practicing professionals in your field of interest.
  • Citations in scholarly journals.

STEP TWO: Rank them according to your interests and difficulty of admission.

  • Peterson’s guides.
  • Talk with professionals in the field to get their informal rankings.
  • Popular published rankings.
  • The number of applicants they accept each year.
  • Their stated minimum test score necessary.
  • Call and ask: how hard is it to get in?
  • Look at the program’s web site for course descriptions and faculty information.

STEP THREE: Divide into 3 categories: reach, maybe, safety.

STEP FOUR: Pick target schools (at least 2 in each of the above 3 categories).

Once you have 6-12 targets:

STEP FIVE: Call or e-mail for application and catalog.

  • Check their web site for downloadable application materials.

STEP SIX: Check application for what you need: make a timeline.

It’s a good idea to get your application in as early as you can.

STEP SEVEN: Check catalog for names of specific professors who interest you.

  • Call school and ask for information on these professors.
  • Write to the professors – ask questions about the program, show that you’re interested.

You’ve Figured Out Where You Want to Go. Now You Have to Get Them to Want You.

WHAT GRAD SCHOOLS ARE LOOKING FOR: Thoughtful, well-prepared, ambitious, and mature candidates who stand out in the application pool; students with a mission and vision. Candidates who give evidence that they will succeed in the program to which they apply.


  1. Grades
    • Never estimate your G.P.A. – make it precise.
    • How to make moderate grades look better? Recompute your G.P.A. after omitting a bad year/semester: show, for example, that your g.p.a. has increased every year, or share information about why particular grades were low. But be truthful here and avoid any appearance of sounding defensive or whiny.
  2. Test Scores
    • Take a look at a test-prep book to determine whether you need to take additional steps to prepare for the tests applicable to your graduate school goal.
    • For GRE subject tests, be sure to review introductory texts and class notes. Consult with professors in the subject area for advice.
  3. Application and Essay
    • Tips for a Good Application:
      • Leave nothing blank (make nothing up, but leave nothing blank.)
      • Send something extra (a paper, lab report, résumé.) Make it good and directly related to the program to which you’re applying.
      • Show that you’ve published or have made an attempt to get published (but only if it is true).
    • Tips for a good essay:
      • Strong opening line.
      • Substantiate your interest in the program.
      • Tell why you’re prepared for grad school.
      • Tell of some adversity you’ve overcome.
      • Present a vision of your future.
      • Show it to people whose opinion you respect.
      • Check spelling and proofread.
  4. Recommendations
    • In asking for recommendations:
      • Level with your professors and ask them to level with you. Be direct in asking if he/she can prepare a strong recommendation for you and can meet your application deadlines.
      • Provide your professor with information about yourself: transcript, résumé – anything that reflects upon you favorably.
      • Make sure he/she knows your deadline.
      • Remind him/her (nicely) every week.
        • NOTE! The application/essay and the recommendations are what get you out of the maybe pile and into the admit pile. So get your recommendations in early. It also can be a good idea to send one more
          recommendation than required to the school.
      • What if You Don’t Get in Anywhere?
        • Apply to more schools, including more safety schools.
        • Ask the programs where you didn’t get in what would strengthen your application.
        • Take an intermediate degree.
        • Take additional classes.
        • Enroll in summer school at your targeted school.
        • Gain experience.