DavisConnects - DavisConnects - Preparing Colby Students For Lifelong Success

Graduate School

Students elect to pursue a graduate degree for myriad reasons...

…be it a passion for research, a desire to contribute knowledge to a specific field, or an ambition for a specific stage of career advancement. A few forms of graduate education Colby alumni have traditionally pursued include:

  • Graduate certificates (1-2 years): short periods of specialized graduate study in a narrow topic

  • Master’s degrees (2-3 years): advanced academic degrees demonstrating mastery in a particular scholarly subject


  • Professional master’s degrees (1-3 years): career- or practice-focused degrees in select professional fields, such as business, healthcare, fine arts, public policy, public administration, social work, public health, or library science

  • Doctors of philosophy (5-7 years): advanced research degrees providing the theory-based research foundation to teach and conduct research at the university level or lead specific research endeavors


  • Professional and clinical doctorates (3-5 years): practice-focused advanced doctoral degrees qualifying students to enter specific administrative and clinical professions, such as law, medicine, psychology, and educational administration

Although some Colby students will begin graduate studies immediately after graduating from Colby, many will take a few gap years between undergraduate and graduate school to gain professional and life experience or source funds for living and educational expenses. In a vacuum, it can be hard to determine which application and enrollment timelines make the most sense for your situation and goals. Take the perspectives of those you trust and respect before jumping into the application process.

  • Discuss graduate school with several professors and advisors. Colby faculty have themselves pursued and completed a graduate education. They have diverse personal and professional experiences that can help them support you as you examine whether or not graduate school would underpin your career goals.

  • Research programs and departments. Learn more about required coursework, standardized admissions tests, and life experiences that make a candidate competitive for admission. Evaluate which programs have faculty whose research interests align with your own and what other factors will set you up to thrive in your graduate studies. Make a spreadsheet of the schools you are interested in applying to, the application due dates, and the application materials required.


  • Reach out to alumni in your chosen field. Contact alumni who have pursued degrees you are considering, especially at programs you are considering. Learn why they chose these programs, where their careers have led them, and what advice they have to offer. 

Researching Graduate Programs

While they do not form an exhaustive list, the following factors can help you rigorously assess various graduate schools:

  • Types of Programs: What kinds of degrees are offered? How well do they align with your interests? What kind of commitment is required (minimum vs. maximum vs. average time to completion)? Are there options for part-time, hybrid, or online study? What limitations or caps do these programs have on students’ funding or years of study? What requirements lead to completion of a degree? Which faculty research or specialize in what you want to study? Are they available to mentor you? How is research or departmental advising structured?

  • Quality and Preparation: Is research or practice prioritized? Where do faculty publish and present their work? Where do students complete practicums? Where do alumni practice or research now? What competencies make applicants successful in their admissions process? What accreditations and affiliations does the program have? How do graduates of the program rate the support and preparation they received for their studies and careers?

  • Institutional Culture: What qualities and priorities help you find a sense of belonging in the lab and classroom? How large are classes and labs? Who is included in that cohort? How do dissertation chairs manage advising loads? What kind of community will you live in? What housing, transportation, and lifestyle options are available? What is the weather like? Who will you be able to learn from and alongside?

  • Living Costs and Aid: Is there need- or merit-based aid? Is funding independent or tied to specific research projects? Where and when can you access loans, if necessary, and what living costs can they support? What loan forgiveness or payback plans exist? How does citizenship status impact admissions and tuition? What options exist for graduate housing on campus? Do you need private transportation, or can you use public transit?

  • Career Goals: What kinds of work do recent graduates succeed in finding? What long-term job prospects and marketability do they enjoy? How do you want to spend your time each summer (e.g., academic research, commercial internships) and with whom? What professional advising support does the program offer? How does the program support your eventual job search, and will they continue to do so when you are a graduate?

Application Process


Each graduate program and degree can have a unique application timeline because admissions decisions can be more complex at the graduate level, involving faculty, admissions counselors, and department administrators. For example, application and enrollment timelines for professional degree programs (e.g., law school, medical school, MBA programs) follow very different conventions than those of scholarly and research graduate programs (e.g., Ph.D.). To learn more about professional school application processes, please speak with your DavisConnects advisors. 

Scholarly/Research Application Timeline

  • 6 Months Prior:

    Research programs, verify requirements, and create a program list. Register and begin studying for required standardized exams.

  • 5 Months Prior:
    Research funding and fellowship options. Study for standardized exams. Identify potential graduate school advisors and research labs.

  • 4 Months Prior:
    Take required standardized exams.

  • 3 Months Prior:
    Discuss program list with mentors. Contact potential advisors to learn whether they are taking new graduate students.

  • 2 Months Prior:
    Draft application essays. Seek feedback from the writing center, mentors, and faculty. Ask recommenders to write a letter
    of recommendation.

  • 6 Weeks Prior:
    Finalize two-page CV or resume. Finalize school list. Set up Interfolio or another letter collection dossier service for letter writers.

  • 2-4 Weeks Prior:
    Finalize essays and writing samples. Request transcripts. Check in on your recommenders.

  • First Deadline: Submit forms, fees, and scholarship/aid applications.

Letters of Recommendation

Graduate program applicants typically need two to four recommendation letters from professors and mentors who can speak to their competencies, personal maturity, and preparation with enthusiasm and specificity. Each program may have a particular process and preference for how these letters are to be composed and submitted, so research each program’s requirements carefully. Support your recommenders by providing them adequate time to write (i.e., at least six weeks notice) and copies of relevant materials (e.g., CV, essays).  

Application Essays 

Many graduate programs require applicants to submit a personal statement, research statement, statement of purpose, and/or a writing sample. (Sometimes these terms are interchangeable; sometimes they have distinct definitions.) Generally, graduate programs request an essay that fits one of two molds:

  • Personal statements tell us who you are, what motivates you, and what has impacted your growth, choices, and values.
  • Statements of purpose tell us what you have accomplished and how you have grown, what interests you (as a scholar or future professional) and why, what you want to try next, and why that has compelled you to choose this program.

Admissions Exams

The most common admissions exams are the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT. Prior to the pandemic, most graduate programs required applicants to complete a graduate admissions test; however, many programs have since revised this requirement to be optional, so please research each program’s requirements before registering for any standardized admissions exams and speak with a DavisConnects advisor or faculty member.

  • GRE: Focuses on verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Offers additional subject tests in fields such as biology, chemistry, literature, psychology, and more. Accepted by most graduate schools and some other professional programs (including select MBA programs, clinical medicine degree programs, and law schools).
  • LSAT: Focuses on reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Accepted by most accredited U.S. law schools. 
  • MCAT: Focuses on biology, biochemistry, physics, organic chemistry, general chemistry, psychology, sociology, and critical analysis and reasoning skills. Accepted by most accredited U.S. medical schools and some other clinical medicine programs.
  • GMAT: Focuses on analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Accepted by most MBA programs.

Graduate School Fairs

A graduate school fair provides a wonderful opportunity to speak virtually or in-person with admissions representatives from a number of graduate and professional programs about your credentials, their admissions requirements, and what distinguishes their program from other programs offered in the same field. Each year, Colby College partners with Bates and Bowdoin Colleges to offer an annual graduate school fair, featuring more than 100 diverse graduate programs from around the Northeast. In addition, we advise that you work with your DavisConnects advisor to learn whether you are pursuing a professional field, such as medicine or law, that hosts an annual or biannual graduate school fair for applicants or students exploring the profession.

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