Parents FAQ: Introduction »

My child is thinking about going to law school. What is the best pre-law major?

Law schools look for well-rounded students and are interested in strong, diversified academic records that demonstrate challenge through upper-level courses, independent studies, or honors theses. Students are motr likely to engage in these pursuits if they pursue a major that is genuinely interesting to them rather than a major that they committed to because it is “practical.”

What are the special considerations for students planning to go to graduate or professional school?

Many students apply to graduate or professional schools during the summer before or the fall of their senior year. Students should check with an advisor before going abroad during this time to be sure that they are on track with the application process. Students will often need to obtain letters of reference and appropriate graduate or professional school admissions tests may need to be taken.

What does “graduate school” mean? That is, what is the range of graduate and professional school options available to Penn graduates?

The term “graduate school” encompasses courses in fields of study as different as a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, a Master of Public Health, a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a J.D., or an M.D., and many more. The thing to keep in mind about graduate study is that it is more technical and specific than undergraduate education, and it sometimes combines both academic and practical training. Professional masters degrees, like the MBA or the Master of Public Health, Public Administration, Public Affairs, or Social Work, are practical degrees that prepare their students for specific career paths. Their curricula are frequently multi-disciplinary and can include practicums. Many of these professional masters programs prefer applicants who have work experience.

Aren’t graduate school training and credentials always good to have, even if you are not sure that you want to be in a particular field?

Graduate school training is a very useful credential if one has a reasonable idea why one wants a particular degree. Some POOR reasons to go to graduate school include not wanting to work in an entry level job or to deal with a challenging job market; belief that one must keep up the academic momentum of the undergraduate years or one will never get back to study; belief that a graduate degree automatically translates into higher pay or allows one to circumvent the apprenticeship period of most career pathways; or the belief that one must set out on a vocational course because of time pressure even if one is uncertain about its suitability. Some GOOD reasons to go to graduate school include using the training and credential as a stepping stone to achieve well thought out career goals or taking advantage of the opportunity for education in a field that is of strong interest and obvious vocational fit.

Is graduate or professional school necessary for being competitive in the job market?

It depends upon the field. If one is working in software development, for instance, an undergraduate degree may be sufficient. Other fields such as medicine, law, library science, or academic careers require graduate training.  Sometimes a graduate degree may mean a higher salary.  Background research will enable your student to determine the most appropriate educational pathway. Conversations with faculty, career counselors, and professionals in the intended field, along with internships, can clarify the value of a graduate degree.

Is it best to go directly to graduate or professional school or to do something else first?

Some degrees strongly prefer applicants with two to three years of relevant work experience while others are frequently pursued right after completing the undergraduate degree.  Conversations with a Career Service advisor, faculty, or professionals in the field can clarify whether it makes sense to pursue a graduate or professional degree right away or whether pursuing other experiences first is advisable.

How can Career Services support your student with preparation for graduate school?

Career Services has four full-time advisors who serve undergraduates and alumni considering or applying to graduate or professional school. Our advisors help students talk through their interest in graduate school in relation to long-term goals, consider resources for learning more about various degrees, and understand the steps of the application process.  Additionally, advisors provide feedback on resumes and essays for graduate school applications.