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Pre-Graduate School Advising

Exploring Graduate Schools

Explore our NEW Pre-Graduate School Applicant Guidebook!

About 30% of seniors graduating from Vanderbilt continue on to graduate school to further their education in a specialized field. Is this something you’re considering? Would gaining more education assist in your future career?

Our Career Coaches can help you brainstorm what it is you are looking for in a program. We can also help in deciding the location, if you’ll want to apply for a graduate assistantship, and discuss common application requirements.

The U.S. News and World Report publishes listings every year based on industry rankings. You can search the top graduate programs in education, engineering, psychology, law, medicine, fine arts, and many more.

Here are 3 resources we use:

Suggested Timeline for Applying to Graduate School

Junior Year:

Fall and Spring

  • Research multiple programs
  • Ask for alumni and faculty insight
  • Review the application process
  • Become aware of financial aid submission requirements (FASFA)
  • Track deadlines of your top colleges and universities
  • Prep for appropriate tests and know the scores needed to obtain admission at your top colleges and universities


  • Complete the required graduate admissions test. While we don’t offer test prep for the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, or GMAT, we can help you find appropriate testing centers in the Nashville area. Scores from these admissions tests are generally good for five years.
  • Start online applications. Many portals let you save drafts for up-to a year
  • Start speaking with admissions staff and faculty at your target schools
  • Begin brainstorming what story you want to tell in your personal statement
  • Look into financial aid, scholarships, fellowships, and teaching or research assistantships
  • Make a list of those you might ask to write recommendation letters for your application

Senior Year:


  • Obtain your recommendation letters; schools often require 3-5
  • Complete online submission of a full application
  • Schedule campus visits if you are having a hard time deciding on locations


  • Follow up to check on the status of your application with each school
  • Choose and share your decision with the college or university
  • Send thank-you notes! Include those who wrote recommendation letters, and inform them of your plans.

Guidelines for Requesting Letters of Reference From Faculty

The first thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of professors understand that writing letters of reference is part of their job and take pride in being able to help students succeed professionally. Many students, however, may not be aware of how to best approach faculty to request a letter of reference. Here are a few helpful tips on how to get the references you need.

Who to ask:

Choose faculty members who know you well, preferably in a variety of contexts.

Admissions representatives read many reference letters, most of which are filled with generic praise. Specific reference letters are more likely to get noticed. The more a professor knows about you, the more specific the letter will be.

How to ask appropriately:

Make a formal request of your professor, by email or appointment, asking if he or she would be willing to write a reference letter.

Explain the purpose of the recommendation, including the listing for the job/program you are applying to, and why you have chosen the professor.

Give the professor time to consider your request.

Arrange an appointment to discuss the recommendation a few weeks in advance of the deadline, especially if you need multiple letters. Professors have very busy schedules and need ample time to write a thoughtful and distinctive letter, so ask early.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

Professors take the writing of recommendation letters very seriously, and they expect students to do the same. Recommendations reflect not just the quality of the student, but also the integrity of the professor and ultimately the university.

  • Never assume that the professor will be willing to write a letter. Always ask first, even if the professor has written a letter for you in the past.
  • You should also ask for permission to list a professor’s name as a reference on an application, even if a letter is not required.
  • Do not simply drop off forms and information with the office assistant or send them as an email attachment. Request to meet with the professor in person.
  • If a professor denies your request, he or she simply may have inadequate experience with you to write an effective letter, or they may have insufficient knowledge about the position.
  • Don’t harass professors about whether they have sent the letter yet unless they ask you to send a reminder. You may request that the professor send you an email to confirm that the letter is sent.