Graduate School Frequently Asked Questions
These options are not official in any regard. They are provided for qualitative guidance only. They are my opinions only.
Fred L. Terry, Jr.
October 3, 2011
- Is grad school more fun than undergrad?
Almost by definition, yes. Unless you have made a terrible mistake in your choice of studies, then you are doing more advanced work in your major area of interest. You are not forced to take much outside this area. If you don’t find this to be fun, then you have definitely made a bad personal choice. Personally, I found graduate school, both classes and research, to be orders of magnitude more fun than the hard grind of undergraduate life.
- Why should I get an M.S.?
- You will become a much more solid engineer. Much your B.S. program is spent learning basic material. If you really enjoyed those 400 level classes and you MDE where you actually did some pretty advanced stuff, you will get more of this in 400 and 500 level courses a masters student.
- You will probably move head faster in your professional career. Employers will hire you 1st vs. an otherwise comparable B.S.. They will probably put you into positions of major responsibility sooner. The M.S. opens the doors to more business-world opportunities.
- You will probably make a good deal more money in your first job. You will quickly make up the lost revenue and extra tuition/living expenses costs from the extra year or so in school.
- You will probably be better able to deal with the uncertainties of the globalized economy.
- Why should I get a Ph.D.?
- You really love doing research. If you don’t, stop here, get the M.S. and go out into the “real” world.
- You might want to be a professor. You may not be sure, but a Ph.D. is a necessary step in this path.
- You want to do corporate or government research. This world is not what it used to be in the grand days of Bell Labs, IBM Watson, Sarnoff, and the Cold-War government labs, but serious research does still go on in all these places and more. The great majority of research jobs still go to Ph.D.’s.
- You just want it! Part (a) better be true, or you probably won’t get to the prize, but there is an intangible, pride-related factor that motivates most people at this stage. Proving you can do it is not bad motivation
- Someone else will pay for it. Virtually all Ph.D. students have tuition and a living stipend paid by sponsored research programs, fellowships, or teaching assistantships. Being a Ph.D. won’t make you rich, but you won’t be running up debt for student loans, etc. This is not really a “why” you should get the Ph.D., but it does make it possible.
- I want to something besides EE, do I have a chance to get into other graduate/professional programs
Absolutely, many B.S.E.E.’s go on to law school, med school, biomedical engineering, and other disciplines. Some advanced planning is often needed (depending on the field). Getting advice on optional classes from a professor in the 2nd discipline is a smart thing to do.
- What do I need to do to increase my grad school acceptances chances for Ph.D. track programs?
- Keep your grades up in general, but particularly in your major and related classes. To be noticed by the top schools for Ph.D. programs, your GPA should be >3.7. This may seem high, but competition is tough.
- Do well on the GRE’s (for most schools). All aspects are important. For engineering you will want your quantitative score >700, verbal >600, and the analytic writing >4.5. Allow yourself two chances two take the GRE’s. www.gre.org
- GPA and GRE scores get your application noticed. What puts you over the top and in line for good financial aid offers are good lectures of recommendation. The best letters come from undergraduate research work with a professor. If a professor writes a letter saying that you worked in his/her group, made significant independent contributions, and that he/she is confident that you can do independent research then your chances of both admission and good financial aid offers are much higher. Recommendations from professor from a class, non-academic work experiences, and other sources are fine, but they don’t replace the research-related letter.
- I just want a masters. What changes?
- The grade standards are not as tough, but are still not light. Keep the GPA as high as you can. Michigan EECS has a 3.4 program for its majors, but this is not a guarantee. A 3.5 or higher is a safer standard to get into the M.S. program of better schools. There is no guarantee of the minimum number anywhere. If a school fills all its available slots with 3.6 or higher students, you may lose-out with a 3.5.
- GRE may or may not be required for “terminal” M.S. programs. Check with the schools you are interested in. However, taking the GRE anyway is not a bad idea. You may change your mind about going for the Ph.D.
- Research-related recommendations are not as important, but are still a plus.
- Most research universities will not provide fellowships, research assistantships, or teaching assistantships to terminal M.S. students.
- I don’t meet your suggested GPA’s. What can I do to get into grad school anyway?
This depends on just how low the GPA is.
- Not too bad (still >3.0): Make sure the trend is upward. Clear improvement and a number of A’s will help a lot. Good recommendations become more important. However, there are still no guarantees your application will get noticed. If you have a professor who is really convinced you are grad material, then a personal phone call to your school of interest may help. Don’t be offended too much if a professor will not make this call for you – remember, we are putting our reputations on the line with our peers. Only a faculty member that has really worked closely with you can really make this assessment.
- Not so good (<3.0 or constant ~3.0 performance): Honestly, your chances for admission into top schools is not good. You may get into good but so-called “second tier” schools. If it is a good school and has a program that meets your needs and interests, this is your best bet and a good thing to do. Your other choice is to get a job near a good school that allows you time to take classes. Take a graduate class per semester as a “not for degree candidate” student (terminology for this varies between institutions). Do well (A’s) in 2-3 of these and then apply directly to that school for M.S. admission. This proves you have overcome any undergrad issues and that you can do well as a grad student.
- Should I stay at Michigan or go to another school
- Faculty opinions on this issue vary. Some say that going somewhere else is good so that you gain new experience and perspective. My opinion is that you want a M.S. only, you should definitely stay here. Why? Odds are, even if you are not in a double counting program like SGUS, you will probably finish sooner here than elsewhere simply because you know the system and the town. If you a combined program such as SGUS here, then you can save a full semester of time.
- What about Ph.D.? This one is more complicated. My opinion is that the two most important factors in a Ph.D. program are having the right research advisor and the right research project. These are coupled issues and also depend on what your interests are. The wrong match at an excellent institution is not good for anyone. A great match on these will give the best chances for your future. I do not think there is any “downside” to staying here for a Ph.D. if the advisor and project are right for you.