Cal Parents - How to help your student decide whether to go to graduate school
Myth vs. Reality
Myth: Graduate and professional schools are looking for specific majors from their applicants. For example, it is commonly believed that certain majors are better than others for applying to law school, and that a science major is best if one is applying to medical school.
Reality: Graduate programs vary in their requirements for application, but those with academic prerequisites usually require specific coursework, not entire majors. Sometimes the coursework will have been completed at a student’s undergraduate institution, but it may also be possible to complete prerequisites at another four-year institution, at a community college, or through a special post-baccalaureate program.
There is no officially recommended pre-law major here at Cal and law schools do not require or prefer any particular major; they look for a well-rounded undergraduate educational background that sharpens analytical reasoning and writing skills. Since GPA is a major factor in law school admission, students should choose a major that reflects their own interests, skills, and abilities. The more they enjoy the major, the better they will perform academically.
Medical schools do not favor any particular major, science or non-science. They do require that students take a series of prerequisite courses before admittance, but those who pursue a non-science major can take the basic pre-med courses as electives or through a post-baccalaureate program.
Most people pursuing an MBA have a bachelor’s degree in any of a number of non-business areas. Most graduate management programs want their MBA classes to be as diverse as possible, so applicants with a wide range of undergraduate majors are admitted. In some programs, fewer than 25 percent of the MBA students have undergraduate degrees in business.
What are the success rates for Cal grads going on to graduate and professional school?
There is no centralized body that collects statistics regarding success rates for Cal students applying to graduate school. However, the What Can I Do with a Major in...? section of our website, which profiles 78 Cal majors, includes information about graduate school choices past students have made. Also, the Career Destinations Surveys and more specifically, the section summarizing graduate and professional degrees sought provide additional information.
How important are graduate school rankings?
We recommend looking at rankings in publications and websites like US News with some skepticism. The national research council, which ranks departments every ten years, is usually considered a good rating system.
Faculty is the best source of reliable, up-to-date information about the relative strengths of different graduate programs, especially when it comes to their specific fields (some departments excel in one area, but not others). Since different parties’ opinions may not match, prospective applicants should review department websites and email those that interest them – even specific faculty – to acquire information that will help them determine a good fit. Visiting can also be very helpful. Many variables factor into the decision about which program suits a person best.
Is it better to go straight from college to graduate or professional school or to take "time off" in between?
Some students (and their parents) worry that they will lose time and momentum if they do not go directly to graduate school. In general, given the time and energy commitment required for graduate or professional school – and the stress it can produce – it is best for students to continue with their education when they are ready, both emotionally and intellectually. Also, many graduate and professional schools prefer that students work or get other meaningful experience before enrolling in their programs.
How do students pay for graduate and professional school training?
Most graduate students finance their education through funding sources such as fellowships, assistantships, grants, and/or loans. Please see Career Center Resources below for a link to more detailed information.
Career Center Resources
- Online information about considering, preparing for and applying to Graduate and Professional Schools
- General financial aid information and links to help locate funding sources
- Graduate and Professional School Fairs attended by program representatives from across the nation, where students can gather information about programs and admissions requirements
- Graduate and Professional School Workshops where students can learn about application essentials and writing application essays, and hear admissions committee members’ perspectives on what makes for a successful applicant
- Career Counselors with special knowledge to address the needs of Pre-Graduate, Pre-Law & Pre-Med students
- For letters of recommendation, students and alumni are encouraged to review established outside vendors, such as Interfolio or the Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae service (for faculty position applicants).
Ways You Can Help
- Be supportive of your son's or daughter's undergraduate intellectual explorations.
- Show interest in hearing about their potential graduate or professional school plans.
- Encourage them to:
- make use of the Career Center’s online graduate and professional school resources.
- consider taking time between undergraduate and graduate or professional school to gain work experience or clarify career goals, and not to pursue further education to postpone entering the “real world.”
- research the benefits of having an advanced degree for a particular career by reading about career fields online and speaking with Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs), professors and professionals in the field
- cultivate relationships with faculty starting early in college and not wait until application deadlines loom to ask for letters of recommendation.
- make an appointment to speak with a Career Counselor about applying for or undertaking graduate or professional training, including any concerns they may have.