Explore Graduate & Professional School
The decision to attend a graduate or professional school and when to attend are questions with answers that are unique for each individual. There is no timeline of when or if one is supposed to attend a post-Smith education. For many, the reason to attend a graduate program is to satisfy a personal journey:
- it is a subject that one purely wants to study in depth as a scholar, or
- it is needed for employment or advancement in a particular career field
When your reason to attend a graduate program has motivated you, begin to evaluate your credentials and explore the various graduate programs. Consult with others who can assist you in your endeavor:
- Speak with faculty who can advise you on programs in your field of interest.
- Meet with a Lazarus Center adviser to help coordinate the logistics of your application.
- Network with Smith alumnae and other professionals in the field who can share their personal experiences.
- Contact admission representatives of your selected graduate programs about their programs.
Your decision to attend graduate school should be carefully planned and strategically crafted. Schedule an appointment with a Lazarus Center Adviser at 413-585-2582 or schedule via Handshake.
- Smith College Fellowships Information—Fellowships provide funds for study, research, interning, self-designed projects or participation in programs.
- American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Funding & Awards - One of the world’s largest sources of funding for graduate women, AAUW provides funding for fellowships and grants to outstanding women and nonprofit organizations.
- Fellowship Finder Database—Features over 1,100 curated listings of grants and fellowships for graduate students.
- FastWeb.com—Internet's leading scholarship search service
- FinAid.org—Under certain circumstances, the federal government will cancel all or part of an educational loan. Visit this link to find out if you qualify for loan forgiveness.
- Grant Forward is a searchable grant and funding database for undergraduates and graduate students. Access via the Smith College Libraries Databases.
- Bridging the Dream Scholarship for Graduate Students —This $10,000 scholarship helps outstanding minority students and others from historically underserved communities attend graduate school.
- Funding Sources for International Students - Resources compiled by Harvard University, arranged by home region.
Most graduate programs will ask you for a personal statement, which is an informal letter to the admissions committee. Your personal statement is also a sample of your writing, attention to detail, and logic.
Questions are usually variations on:
- Why our school/program?
- What has prepared you for it?
- Why now in your life?
Graduate schools have several reasons for giving you a chance to “speak” to them through a personal statement. They already have plenty of concrete information about you. What they don't know is why you're applying for this particular program, where it fits in your ideas about your future, what you bring to the department as a person and scholar, and what you hope to take away when you graduate.
Crafting Your Personal Statement
- Outline: Start by listing the pieces of information you want to convey, then move the items around until they flow in a logical, often chronological, way. Talk it through with friends or a Lazarus Center adviser, and have them write down the main themes they hear.
- Write: Elaborate on each item briefly, using the first person active voice (I) as much as possible, as well as a simple, direct style.
- This is not an academic essay. Avoid long or formal words and phrases. Admission committees read hundreds of essays each year; they're delighted when an applicant addresses them as human beings and gives them a clear picture of her readiness for—and awareness of—their field, program and expectations.
- You may choose to mention courses you're looking forward to taking, and professors with whom you'd like to study, if that will help your readers understand your interests.
Most graduate and professional schools require three letters of recommendation as part of your application. These letters are typically written by faculty who have taught, advised or supervised you. For some programs, you may also wish to ask professional references who have supervised you at a job or internship. Your recommenders should be able to write convincingly and supportively of you in their letters. They should know you and your work well and be able to write specifically about your strengths.
Who to Ask
Deciding who to ask can be difficult. Here are some factors to consider as you’re making your decision:
How well the person knows you and your work
In what capacity the person knows you (professor, adviser, supervisor, etc.)
How your letter writers will complement each other
Your recommender’s field and appointment
Have backups in mind in case your first choices are unavailable
It’s not always obvious who to ask. Feel free to make an appointment with our Assistant Director of Graduate and Professional School Advising to discuss your options.
How to Ask
Schedule an appointment with potential recommenders to make your request. Meet in person if possible. If not, try via Zoom or an email.
Professors are busy people. Contact recommenders early in the semester and give them as much notice as possible. Make sure to ask at least six to eight weeks prior to any deadlines.
Let your recommender know why you are asking them specifically. You may wish to remind them of research you did for their class, what you learned, and specific feedback they had for you. You may also want to discuss your coursework, interests, experiences and motivation for applying to graduate school.
Ask your recommender what materials they need from you. Most would like a copy of your resume or CV, personal statement, and a list of schools you are applying to and their deadlines.
Give faculty an out when you make your request. If someone is unable to write you a strong letter, you are likely better off asking another potential recommender.
What to Do After You Ask
Follow up with all requested information: resume, personal statement, list of schools and deadlines, transcript, etc.
Follow up politely with your recommenders to ensure timely completion of letters prior to the deadlines. Sometimes requests get forgotten and it is your responsibility to follow up.
Thank faculty after they’ve submitted your letter and remember to let them know the outcome of your application!
Should You Waive Your Right to View Your Letters of Recommendation?
Due to FERPA, you are entitled to access your academic record, including letters of recommendation. This means you must actively waive your right to read your letters in order for them to be considered confidential. We advise you to waive this right, as most schools do not give equal weight and consideration to a letter of recommendation if the applicant has retained their right to read it.
“How to Ask for a Recommendation,” published by Leonard Cassuto in The Chronicle of Higher Education has excellent advice on how to give faculty guidance and support in making your letter as strong as possible.