Graduate school often comes up indirectly in our one-on-one career counseling appointments with students. Yet we often find that when we offer further support on graduate school planning, students are often surprised that we advise on this topic.

So we thought that it would be helpful to share a bit about how we can support graduate school planning, within the broader context of graduate school advising at Columbia.

Though the information below is presented in four phases, as with many aspects of career development and planning, they are often iterative, with cycles of reflection and reassessment throughout.

CCE Advising Throughout Your Grad School Process

Phase #1: Exploring and Planning

Your graduate school planning starts long before you apply, as you explore your academic and career interests, try out research, internship, and volunteer experiences, and build relationships with faculty.

In the exploration and planning phase, CCE career counselors can support you in: 

  • Reflecting on your possible academic and career interests, or identifying new ones
  • Determining whether a graduate degree is required or recommended for the jobs or careers that interest you
  • Learning how to explore your academic and career interests by connecting and building relationships with faculty, fellow students, and alumni
  • Identifying what type of experiences you’d like to try out to help you refine your career interests, evaluate whether you want to pursue graduate study, and build a strong candidacy
  • Familiarizing yourself with graduate school timelines
  • Identifying people and resources who can provide you discipline-specific advice and guidance on applying to graduate school in your field of interest

Phase #2: Program Research

In this phase, you have a pretty good sense that you’re interested in graduate school, and want to develop a list of programs that you might apply to.

In the program research phase, career counselors can support you with:

  • Reflecting on what you’ve learned from your preliminary research and exploration that inform your thinking about graduate school
  • Learning strategies for researching programs, and possible factors to consider
  • Identifying your top priorities and criteria for refining your list of programs: for instance, areas of faculty expertise, courses offered, location, funding options, or co-curricular offerings like internships or fieldwork
  • Planning how to track your research on programs of interest and program requirements to inform future applications
  • Refining your application timeline and next steps as you gather new information

Phase #3: Applying

In this stage, you’re actively working on applications. That said, the application process may happen over an extended period of time, as you may take admissions tests many months before you actually apply. 

When it comes to applications, CCE career counselors can support you in:

  • Identifying the application requirements for your programs of interest, and creating a plan for tackle each of them
  • Understanding key application components, like the personal statement or statement of purpose, resume or CV, and letters of recommendation
    • Brainstorming or outlining your application essays, by acting as a sounding board
    • Revising your essays or resume/CV, by providing generalist feedback on structure, story, and tone
    • Thinking through who you’d like to ask for letters of recommendation, and how to do so
  • Engaging in reflection to identify the core story of your application—the answer to the questions, Why graduate school? Why now? Why this program?

Phase #4: Interviewing

Not all graduate programs require interviews, but for those that do, we’re happy to support with general resources and practice.

Support from CCE on interviews might include:

Phase #5: Decision-Making

Now you’ve heard back from programs, and have a decision to make! We know that career decision-making can be challenging, and we’re here to support you.

With decision-making, we can help you in:

  • Identifying and discussing the main criteria you’re using to make your decision
  • Evaluating whether there’s additional information you want to gather to inform your decision, and identifying how to gather it
  • Reflecting on your decision-making process and suggesting additional strategies, if helpful
  • Understanding etiquette around how to accept or decline offers

Connect with Us to Get Started

Ready to start your grad school journey? Make a 30-minute appointment with a career counselor for support—wherever you are in the process.