Graduate and Professional School

Getting into graduate school is a competitive process, so plan accordingly. Allow about a year before your anticipated start date to begin the process of applying.

We've included a variety of resources to help guide you through the process of choosing a graduate or professional school.

For an extensive look at the Graduate School Admissions and Process and what you need to do, check out our Graduate School Handbook.

Selecting a Program and Planning for Graduate School

When you make the decision to pursue an advanced degree, how do you choose a program that best fits your needs? With so many schools to consider, how do you narrow down the list of those to which you will ultimately apply?

Getting your list of schools together requires some research; you want to give yourself about a year of time before you actually would like to start your program. Below are some tips for you while searching for the best graduate programs to fit your needs.

Faculty members

Your professors are a wealth of knowledge in this area. Most likely, they pursued a graduate degree themselves, and will have some definite opinions about programs in your field of interest. They will also have a good instinct for which programs have the best reputations, are on the rise, or are in a decline. Don’t be afraid to ask their opinions of programs in which you are interested. If you are interested in a specific school, you can use the Saint Michael’s College catalog online to find faculty members who may have attended your school of choice. This is an invaluable resource to get firsthand information about a particular school or program.

Career Library Resources

The Office of Career Development Career Library has a section of hardcopy resources to assist in finding graduate programs. Meet with a career counselor to establish your needs and for additional resources. Utilizing the following websites will also assist you in developing a list of programs:

Search for schools:

General Graduate School Information

Rankings of programs

People working in your field of interest

People who are currently employed in your field of study are excellent resources for finding out about career opportunities, salaries and "hot jobs" for the future. Start exploring with people you know, or make an appointment with a career counselor to obtain a list of Saint Michael’s alumni/ae who are pursuing graduate work or careers in that area.

Professional Associations

These groups of working professionals act as resources for all types of information related to particular careers and industries. A list of these associations can be found in the Encyclopedia of Associations books, which can be found in the Career Library.

Targeted Graduate Schools

Directly contact the graduate schools in which you are interested. The schools are usually more than happy to send you a catalog and application materials or refer you to their websites. Graduate school fairs are also an excellent source of information about a variety of programs – there is one in September on campus each year. Be aware that when you contact the schools, either by phone or in person, they are creating a file for you as a potential student. The person you initially contact about a program may be in a decision-making position about the graduate students accepted – keep all your contact professional.

Choosing the schools that are best for you: Criteria for Evaluation

Once you have made a decision about pursuing graduate studies, how do you narrow your choices to programs that are the best for you? To how many schools should you apply? The following is a comprehensive list of variables to consider as you plan your graduate career:

Application process

  • Required entrance exams - DAT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.
  • Cost of application
  • Essays required
  • Interview process
  • Undergraduate record
  • Experience in the field of study

Type and quality of institution and program

  • Department size - full and part-time faculty
  • Student/faculty ratio
  • Instructional style (classroom, self study, labs)
  • Class size
  • Entrance requirements
  • Degree completion requirements
  • How many years to complete program (Program catalog may say "average of 2 years to completion". You will want to check with students actually in the program to find out how long it REALLY takes.)
  • Foreign language requirement
  • Dissertation/thesis required
  • Number of credits/classes to be completed
  • Qualifying exams to pass before continuing in program
  • Required GPA for passing (usually a 3.0)
  • Master’s degree required "on the way" to Ph.D. or as a prerequisite for entering a doctoral program

Location and resources available

  • Suburban vs. urban vs. rural campus
  • Library size, number of volumes and resources, services available
  • IT facilities, networks, support systems
  • Student services - health, counseling

Degrees offered

  • Full-time and/or part-time programs
  • Master’s, Ph.D., J.D., M.D., Certificate programs, and others
  • Specialization in chosen field


  • Regional or National

Placement services and statistics

  • Career services available
  • Campus recruitment – number of employers who recruit on campus, percentage of graduates hired, number of interviews
  • Company literature available
  • Career library resources
  • Percentage of graduates employed - where, positions, salary

Personal criteria

  • Student population characteristics - age, gender mix, diversity of population, number of graduate students
  • Campus life - social and cultural opportunities
  • Extracurricular activities and facilities

Standardized Testing for Graduate School Applications

You may be required to sit for a standardized test as part of your application for graduate school. Information on the following exams and others can be found in the Office of Career Development. It is best to plan ahead with these exams to determine which may be required for your applications and to check when the exams are given so that your test scores may be included in your applications by the due dates. We highly encourage you to check out the comprehensive websites for each of these exams as they contain much more helpful information to assist you in performing at your best level.

DAT: Dental Admissions Test

The DAT consists of four computerized exams covering:

  • survey of the natural sciences: biology, chemistry (general and organic), and diversity of life
  • perceptual ability
  • reading comprehension
  • quantitative reasoning

The computerized test is administered most weekdays and occasionally on weekends (depending on the availability of each specific test center), and takes approximately 5 hours, including breaks. The fee for this exam is $320 for 2011/2012 testing, which includes sending your scores to all schools you indicate on your testing form. Each additional score report (to schools not indicated at the time of testing) is $25. If your application to take the DAT is approved, you will receive an email informing you to contact the Prometrics Test Centers (there is one in South Burlington, VT) to schedule a testing appointment. Dr. Donna Bozzone, SMC Biology Department, is familiar with this exam, and can assist with the application and questions.

Please note that the DAT is making major changes to the software system, and between the dates of January 19th and January 30th, 2012, no official score reports, application processing, updates, information retrieval, or requests will be processed. Normal operations will begin on January 31, 2012.

GMAT: Graduate Management Admissions Test

The GMAT consists of three main parts - the Analytical Writing Assessment (2 essays), the Quantitative section, and the Verbal section. You have three and a half hours in which to take the exam, but plan for a total time of approximately four hours.

The GMAT adjusts to your individual ability level, which both shortens the time it takes to complete the exam and establishes a higher level of accuracy than a fixed test. At the start of each multiple-choice section of the exam, you are presented with a question of medium difficulty. As you answer each question, the computer scores your answer and uses it - as well as your responses to any preceding questions - to determine which question to present next. Correct responses typically prompt questions of increased difficulty. Incorrect responses generally result in questions of lesser difficulty.

This process will continue until you complete the section, at which point the computer will have an accurate assessment of your ability level in that subject area. In a computer-adaptive test, only one question at a time is presented. Because the computer scores each question before selecting the next one, you may not skip, return to, or change your responses to previous questions.

The fee to take the GMAT is $250. A US$10 service fee may be charged for phone transactions in addition to the regular fee above. Since this service charge is assessed per call, we recommend that you attempt to make all requests within a single call rather than contacting us more than once. For example, you may schedule an appointment, order GMATPrep, and order the GMAT Information Bulletin during one call for a single US$10 service fee. If you place these orders in separate phone calls, you may be asked for the service fee each time you contact customer service. The fee is not charged if you call us with just a general question about the GMAT test.

With the computer testing, your unofficial scores are available to you immediately. Official score reports will be available online to you and your choices of graduate programs in approximately 20 days. Score reports are kept for 10 years, but most schools will not accept scores older than 5 years. A website is available at

GMAT Tutorial and PowerPrep software is available as a free CD when you register or can be downloaded directly from the website.

GRE: Graduate Record Examination

Two parts: Revised General Test and Subject Test

In August 2011, the GRE Revised General Test replaced the GRE General Test. Featuring the new test-taker friendly design and new questions, the revised test more closely reflects the kind of thinking you'll do in graduate or business school and demonstrates that you are ready for graduate-level work.

  • Verbal Reasoning - Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.
  • Quantitative Reasoning - Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.
  • Analytical Writing - Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.

The GRE Subject Tests are designed to measure knowledge and understanding of subject matter basic to graduate study in 8 specific fields, and run for approximately 3 ½ hours, including breaks (2 ½ hours actual testing time). The tests are only offered as paper-based tests, and are given 3 times a year on Saturday mornings, (October 15, 2011 November 12, 2011 and April 21, 2012). Mailed applications must be received 6 to 7 weeks prior to the test dates, or you can register online. Your graduate schools will tell you which, if any, of the Subject Tests is necessary for admission to that school. The fields of study for the subject tests are: biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology; biology; chemistry; computer science; literature in English; mathematics; physics; and psychology.

The current cost of the GRE is $160 for the General Test, $140 for each Subject Test. (Fee waivers are available in some cases. Check with the Saint Michael’s College Financial Aid Office to see if you qualify.)

Scores for the General Test are reported on a scale of 130-170 in one point increments. Scores for the analytical writing section are based on a 6-point holistic scale. The General Test computer exam allows for you to see your unofficial scores for the verbal and quantitative portions immediately, with official reports (including the writing scores) sent to you and your chosen schools within the next 10-15 days.

Scores range from 200 to 990 for the Subject Tests. The Subject Test results are mailed approximately 6 weeks after the exam.

The GRE website is Free GRE Test Preparation materials will be sent to you when you register for the exam or can be downloaded from the website. You may register online or call a testing center.

LSAT: Law School Admissions Test

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day, standardized test administered four times per year (current dates are June 6, 2011; October 1, 2011; December 2, 2011; and February 11, 2012) at designated testing centers. The test is an integral part of the law school admission process in the United States, Canada, and a growing number of other countries. It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing an applicant’s readiness for law school. Many law schools require that the LSAT be taken by December for admission the following fall. However, taking the test earlier—in June or September—is often advised.

The test consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. Four of the five sections contribute to the test taker's score. The unscored section, commonly referred to as the variable section, typically is used to pretest new test questions or to pre-equate new test forms. The placement of this section will vary. A 35-minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test. LSAC does not score the writing sample, but copies of the writing sample are sent to all law schools to which you apply.

The LSAT is designed to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.

The three multiple-choice question types in the LSAT are:

  • Reading Comprehension Questions: These questions measure the ability to read, with understanding and insight, examples of lengthy and complex materials similar to those commonly encountered in law school. The Reading Comprehension section contains four sets of reading questions, each consisting of a selection of reading material, followed by five to eight questions that test reading and reasoning abilities.
  • Analytical Reasoning Questions: These questions measure the ability to understand a structure of relationships and to draw logical conclusions about that structure. You are asked to reason deductively from a set of statements and rules or principles that describe relationships among persons, things, or events. Analytical Reasoning questions reflect the kinds of complex analyses that a law student performs in the course of legal problem solving.
  • Logical Reasoning Questions: These questions assess the ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments as they occur in ordinary language. Each Logical Reasoning question requires the test taker to read and comprehend a short passage, then answer a question about it. The questions are designed to assess a wide range of skills involved in thinking critically, with an emphasis on skills that are central to legal reasoning. These skills include drawing well-supported conclusions, reasoning by analogy, determining how additional evidence affects an argument, and applying principles.

The cost for the LSAT Exam is $139. There is an additional fee of $124 for the credentialing service. Scores range from 120 – 180, and are sent approximately 3 weeks after taking the exam via email. You will also receive a percentage score which reflects the percent of those candidates scoring below your score. You may not take the LSAT more than three times in any 2 year period. The website is located at

MAT: Miller Analogies Test

This exam is a high-level test of analytical ability requiring the solution of problems stated as analogies. It consists of 120 partial analogies to be completed in 60 minutes. It measures your ability to recognize relationships between ideas, your fluency of the English language, and your general knowledge of the humanities, natural sciences, mathematics, and social sciences. The questions are framed in the terms of "A is to B as C is to D". It is administered at Controlled Testing Centers (VT locations are at Castleton State (802) 468-6085 and Lyndon State (802) 626-6206), and you can obtain current fee information from them (fees vary by testing site). Three scores are reported to you. You receive a scaled score ranging from 200 - 600, followed by two percentile scores. A comprehensive website is located at: and includes practice tests.

MCAT: Medical College Admissions Test

The MCAT is administered to prospective medical students to evaluate the student's knowledge and ability to solve problems in the areas of biological sciences (biology and organic chemistry), physical sciences (general chemistry and physics); verbal reasoning; and ability to write (two 30-minute essays). Total testing time, including time allotted for breaks and lunch, is a little more than 7 hours. The test is administered throughout the year between January and September (see the website for current schedule of dates), and registration opens approximately 6 months before the test date. The current fee is $235, which includes processing, registration, scoring the test, and reporting your scores to all AAMC and AMCAS medical schools, as well as up to 6 schools that are not registered. Dr. Donna Bozzone, SMC Biology Department, is very familiar with this exam, and is willing to assist in answering questions you may have about it. Applications and registration for this exam can be found online at Scores are reported on a scale of 1 - 15 for each section, except for the written work, which is scored on a scale of 1 to 6, then converted to an alphabetic score. A score of 11 or greater for each section is usually considered competitive.

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language

The TOEFL is administered to evaluate the English proficiency of people whose native language is not English. This exam consists of four sections - listening comprehension; structure and written expression; reading comprehension; and speaking. TOEFL is offered as a computerized exam. The fee is $170 here in Vermont (local testing center is in Williston, VT. Most states have multiple locations) for the Internet-based test. Fees will vary by location and country. Scores are reported for each of the four sections, and range from 0 to 30. You will also receive a total score. Booklets are available in the Office of Career Development.

Essays and Personal Statements

Graduate schools generally request a written statement of purpose (sometimes called a graduate school essay or a personal statement) as part of the application process. This gives the school a “non-numerical” look at you as an applicant – something not necessarily based upon your GPA or standardized testing scores. It allows you to introduce yourself, explain your goals and objectives, why you want to continue your studies, and what you hope to do once you obtain your graduate degree. Essay questions may be as general as “Tell us your reasons for pursuing graduate study”, or as specific as “Discuss an ethical dilemma you have faced, and how you handled the situation”. Make sure that you answer the question posed, and not use a generalized essay to cover all your applications if the questions asked by each school are different. If you choose to write one essay to cover all of your applications, make sure you change the name of the school in each essay. Essays, personal statements, or statements of purpose can range in length from 1-2 paragraphs, to a specific number of words, to 5-6 separate essays for each application. Producing an original document can seem like a daunting task. Sometimes it helps to think of this as an opportunity to show the committee why you are the best choice as a student for their graduate program.

What should be included in a general essay?

Why do you want to continue your education at the graduate school level, and why do you want to study this specific field?

Why have you chosen each particular school? Remember to adjust each essay to speak to the individual program, and if you use a general essay, remember to change the name of the school in each application.

Define your goals and aspirations – what do I expect to do once I complete my degree?

Include information about you as the writer. Mention motivation for further study, greatest achievements to date, and how you became interested in a certain field. Give the admissions committee a glimpse of your personality – maturity, compassion, teamwork, leadership potential – whatever skills you possess that will be needed to become successful in your chosen field after completing your degree. You can include some personal history if you feel comfortable.

In some cases it is appropriate to use your essays to discuss any areas for improvement or any deficiencies in your record (grades, standardized test scores). Include examples indicating your ability to succeed at the graduate level.

What will you contribute to your class/the school? What makes you different from other applicants?

Remember that this will be a reflection of your writing ability – grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and style are critical. Extra length is not necessarily a good thing.

What will be evaluated from your essay?

How well your goals, objectives, interests and direction “match” with the graduate program. This is critical. You must evaluate the audience for your essay. What do they want to hear? You can get some ideas by researching the program through the graduate school catalog, contacting the department directly, contacting faculty at SMC to see if they know anyone at the graduate program you can contact, reading ranking reports, and looking up papers published by faculty at your selected schools. They will want to know why they should choose you above all other applicants.

What is your personal philosophy of the field in general? Be wary of stating controversial or very strong and inflexible opinions. How does your philosophy impact your motivation and commitment to this field of study?

What are your expectations of the program and how does this program help you achieve your career ambitions? A clear definition of your career goals – how your interest has evolved in this area; academic/non-academic influences; extracurricular activities; experiences; short, long-term, and ultimate goals – is essential. It is very important to research the field, and to detail how your expectations match what is happening in the real world – not just what you perceive to be happening. Demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of the field as well as the rewards of pursuing a chosen area. Show how you will use graduate education in your planned career and make sure you give the “big picture” view.

Your ability to write well will be assessed. Do not underestimate grammatical and creative writing skills. You need to distinguish yourself from others. Your personal statement should be interesting to read and one that doesn’t sound like all the others received. Try telling a story instead of giving rote answers to questions posed, sharing a life experience, opening or ending with a quote (properly attributed) that has meaning to you AND is relevant to the program. Share something distinctive about yourself. What were the major influences for you to continue your study? Readings in the field, a favorite professor, life experiences, the best paper you wrote, a meaningful book/play/film, the single most important concept you learned in college – how has it influenced you?

Are there details/examples to back up what you said? It is better to describe one incident than to cram your essay full of activities and accomplishments and not back them up with details. Give examples - illustrate the points you mention or don’t mention them at all.

How have you prepared for your advanced study? Connect your educational background and related experience to your field of study. What body of relevant knowledge will you bring with you including significant skills (lab, study, writing, research, etc.), any research completed to date, and employment or experience in the field?

Tips for writing your essays

  • Review your goals and aspirations, define them, and talk to others about them. Your statement should be original, clear and succinct, and detail what you want to do and why you want to continue your studies.
  • Consider the audience at each school, and adapt essays to fit the specifics of each program. Demonstrate that you have researched the programs.
  • Outline your essay before you write to help you organize your thoughts.
  • Have your essay critiqued by faculty, those writing your recommendations, and/or the Office of Career Development. Get multiple people to read your essays and offer suggestions – take only the suggestions you like and remember that this is YOUR essay, not anyone else’s.
  • Make it neat – it’s easier to read if it’s typed rather than hand written.  Use white paper or the application forms.  Choose a font size and type that are easy to read. Get help with grammar, punctuation, and spelling.  It should be perfect in these areas.
  • Start preparing your essays well in advance of any deadlines – it could take much more time than you think.
  • Use your essay to refer to any weaknesses or deficiencies in a positive light.
  • Be prepared to discuss the essay in an interview and do a practice interview.

Resources in our Career Library to assist you

Our career library has many resources to help you find graduate programs in your discipline as well as to prepare you for standardized testing and drafting personal statements.  Visit the Office of Career Development and/or make an appointment with a career counselor to help you develop a strategy for your applications.

Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Loans for Graduate and Professional Schools

Financial Aid

Most graduate programs will offer some sort of financial aid ranging from assistantships, fellowships and research positions to grants, loans and scholarships. A careful exploration of all types of aid available to you could result in a decrease in your out-of-pocket costs.

In general, grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid. You may be required to work in some capacity (teaching, research, administrative assistance) in return for assistantships and fellowships. You will need to pay back any loans you receive.

Funds are available from federal and state governments, the university to which you apply, and from private foundations. Searching for aid can be time consuming. Here are some tips and resources to assist you in your search:

  • Learn what you can about the process. Contact the financial aid office at your undergraduate school for general information, and at the schools to which you apply for program-specific resources.
  • Apply for aid as early in the process as you can.
  • Submit a FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) even if you don’t think you would be eligible for federal aid. You may need to file the form to apply for any aid.
  • Look for grants and fellowships from private institutions. Financial assistance from these sources can be awarded on a wide variety of criteria, including (but not limited to) financial need, academic performance, gender, disabilities, race, religious affiliation, the state in which you are a resident, or membership in a club or association.
  • If you are employed, investigate financial aid from your employer.
  • Consider attending school part-time to spread out the cost.
  • Take prerequisite courses at a less expensive institution.
  • Join the military - they will finance some to all of your education in return for years of service.
  • Don't absorb more debt than you feel you can handle.
  • Keep in touch with your financial aid office for any changes that may occur in your needs or the programs from which you are receiving aid.

Please also visit our career library for resources on financial aid.

Other resources to assist you in your search for financial assistance for graduate study:

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Loans

Saint Michael's College faculty serve as advisors to prestigious scholarships. Investigate these opportunities early in your college career to insure you have the qualifications to be competitive for each.

Click on the name of each scholarship below for a link to detailed information and contact the faculty member who serves as the advisor for each program:

Professor John Kenney (Religious Studies) works with all of the fellowship coordinators to oversee the College’s efforts; he is also available to consult with students about particular programs (call 802.654.2525).

Video recording of faculty advisors talking about these Scholarships and Fellowships, including:

David L. Boren Graduate Fellowships

The David L. Boren Graduate Fellowships enable U.S. graduate students to pursue specialization in area and language study or to add an international dimension to their education. Boren Fellowships support students pursuing the study of languages, cultures and world regions that are critical to U.S. national security but are less frequently studied by U.S. graduate students. Note: this scholarship has a service requirement.

American Association of University Women

The largest source of funding exclusively for graduate women in the world, AAUW supports aspiring scholars around the globe, teachers and activists in local communities, women at critical stages of their careers, and those pursuing professions where women are underrepresented.

Social Science Research Foundation

Provides pre-dissertation and dissertation fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships and advanced research grants in both the social sciences and humanities.

International Education Financial Aid (IEFA)

IEFA is the premier resource for financial aid, college scholarship and grant information for US and international students wishing to study abroad.

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