College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

School of Applied Human Sciences

Graduate School Preparation

I have a degree in family services. What are my choices if I want to go to graduate school?

What will grad schools look at when they consider me as a candidate?

How do I get good letters of recommendation?

What about the GRE?

How do I write a good personal statement?

What if I don’t have a great GPA?

What about research experience?

What about volunteer work?

How do I find out more about different graduate programs?

How many schools should I apply to?

How is grad school different from undergrad?

How am I going to pay for grad school?



I have a degree in family services. What are my choices if I want to go to graduate school?

Family services majors have many options when it comes to grad school. We have majors who choose programs in: human development and family studies, psychology, sociology, public health, health promotion, public policy, social work, counseling, marital and family therapy, gerontology, gender and women’s studies, and law. BACK TO TOP

What will grad schools look at when they consider me as a candidate?

In general, they will look at your undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Some programs will require an interview; others won’t. Grad schools also want people who have good interpersonal or “people” skills, and some field experiences (volunteer, internship, etc.) are certainly valuable. BACK TO TOP

How do I get good letters of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation are really important. In some case, they can compensate for a lackluster GPA or low GRE scores. The best way to ensure you will get good letters of recommendation is to get to know AT LEAST three faculty members. These should be people who know you well enough to address your strengths. If you get an A in someone’s course, this is great, but it is not enough to ask for a strong letter of recommendation. Start thinking early about what professors you might want to cultivate a relationship with—keep in touch with them throughout your undergraduate career and look for opportunities to participate in projects/activities with them. If you work in the field right after you graduate, but think you may want to pursue graduate study later, drop into that professor’s office or shoot them an email occasionally. When you ask someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, provide them with as much information as possible. Give them a file with your resume/vita, a copy of your transcripts, and information about the programs you are applying to along with the deadlines. The more information you provide, the stronger their letters will be. BACK TO TOP

What about the GRE?

Most grad programs require the GREs (http://www.ets.org/gre/). It is in your best interest to do some preparation before taking the test and to understand how the test works. At UNI, Academic Services (http://www.uni.edu/academicservices/) can help with this. There are also books and CD-ROMs available to help you study. Think about taking the GRE early (possibly in the summer before your senior year) so that you have time to retake it in case you don’t get the score that you want. Check into the minimum GRE scores at the grad schools you are interested in. Having less than great GRE scores isn’t the end of the world, but given two students who are similar in other ways, the department will most likely choose the one with the higher GRE scores. It certainly can’t hurt to put in a little work before you take the exam! BACK TO TOP

How do I write a good personal statement?

Some schools will ask for a broad personal statement, while others will ask you to address specific questions. Make sure you read the instructions on each application! You will have to tailor your personal statement to each program you apply to. This doesn’t mean that you should not be genuine or that you should represent yourself differently to each school. However, different grad programs may have different emphases. You will want your personal statement to touch on the emphasis of each program you apply to. Also—PROOFREAD! Even minor mistakes show that getting into grad school is not all THAT important to you, and this is not what you want an admissions committee to think. It is a great idea to have others read your personal statement. You may want to ask a professor to give you feedback—but don’t wait until 3 days before you have to send the application! Start early! The following websites may help:

What if I don’t have a great GPA?

Don’t panic! While this may limit your possibilities of getting into the very top graduate programs, it is not the only thing that grad schools look at! You may be able to address why your grades aren’t as good as you’d like when you write your personal statement. Perhaps you’ve had health or personal problems, or maybe you’ve chosen to challenge yourself by taking the most difficult courses. If your early grades were poor, but you’ve worked hard to improve your grades in your junior and senior years, you may want to address this. In addition, if your grades aren’t your best asset, but you have a lot of research and volunteer experience, your personal statement and letters of recommendation can highlight this. BACK TO TOP

What about research experience?

Even if you don’t want to be a researcher, getting some research experience as an undergrad is a great idea. It shows you have initiative and are self-motivated. More and more students are participating in research at the undergrad level. Usually, research experience means working with a professor on a research project either individually or as part of a research team. Some students help a professor with existing research, and some students begin their own project. The best way to get involved in research is to start talking to professors about their research interests and find a professor whose interest area matches yours. The semester before you would like to start doing research, ask them if working with them is a possibility. Get your research to a conference and do a poster presentation. The CSBS Student Research Conference is held at UNI every April and is a great opportunity for students to gain experience in presenting research. BACK TO TOP

What about volunteer work?

It can’t hurt to have some volunteer-type experiences on your resume/vita, even if you are going to a research-oriented grad program. Schools like to see that you have had some real-world experience. If you are interested in domestic violence, volunteer at a shelter. If you are interested in gerontology, volunteer at a nursing home.BACK TO TOP

How do I find out more about different graduate programs?

Talk to your professors! Most faculty members know about grad programs in their area and many have connections with other faculty and students at these schools. If a professor knows you well, they will also have some idea which programs are likely to be accepted into and which programs might be a better fit. If you are interested in going to grad school in family studies, talk to a family studies professor. If you are interested in going to grad school in social work, talk to a social work professor. BACK TO TOP

How many schools should I apply to?

It depends. I know someone who, as an undergrad, had tons of research experience, a great GPA, and pretty decent GRE scores. She applied to 6 schools—which is a reasonable number—but they were the TOP 6 counseling psychology graduate programs in the United States! She got rejected from all of them. So, many professors recommend that you apply to one or two programs that are long-shots, one or two that you will probably get into, and one or two that you will get into (almost) for sure. You may have to save up some money to do this, as most schools charge a fee to apply. BACK TO TOP

How is grad school different from undergrad?

In general, grad school courses rely less on bubble/multiple choice tests and are more writing intensive. Your classes are usually much smaller. You will not have to do a broad liberal arts core of courses—your program is more specialized. Also, your classes may be more work, but you will take fewer credit hours. In most grad school programs, 9 hours (instead of 12) is full-time. BACK TO TOP

How am I going to pay for grad school?

Most graduate schools offer something called an assistantship. An assistantship entails doing some type of work within the department for a stipend and (possibly) a break on tuition. Usually the three major types of assistantships are research, teaching, and administrative. Often these assistantships are competitive, so you will want to apply early to get one. These positions are important because of the financial compensation they offer, but they are also important in your learning process. Many people say they learn just as much, or even more, from their assistantships as their classes. Of course, there are scholarships and loans as well, just like when you are an undergraduate. BACK TO TOP

What are some graduate schools in my field?

This is list is not all-inclusive, but here are some links to get you started exploring graduate programs in the field:

Penn State

University of Wisconsin-Madision

University of Missouri

Colorado State

Iowa State University

Michigan State

Texas Tech

You can also search for programs at the NCFR website.