Workshop prepares SSU students for grad school

Deciding whether to prepare and apply for graduate school could be considered one of the toughest decisions in a student’s education. Many students may wonder how to prepare for this process.  

On Thursday, a workshop provided insight into the grad school dilemma. Speakers like McNair Scholars Program Director Daniel Smith, writing specialist Brianna Bjarnson, and Instruction and Reference Librarian Marjorie Lear answered Sonoma State University students’ questions and concerns about life after graduation.

Candy, pens, calendars and newsletters were provided for students to grab as they settled into Schulz 1121 with a warm welcome from the hosts. Smith gave students a handout explaining the differences between Master’s and PhD programs.

In Smith’s portion of the presentation, he discussed the financial differences between PhD and master’s programs.

“PhDs are almost always fully funded,” Smith said.

According to Smith, master’s programs can come with either full funding or none, with some money available specifically for underrepresented students.

Smith suggested that students get at least three professors to write letters of recommendation when applying. 

Establishing early relationships with professors, discussing academic goals and seeking out support are all critical aspects to receiving letters of recommendation, according to Smith.

“It’s a good idea to start thinking about these now,” Smith said.

Smith suggested that students look into taking the General Record Examinations test, which is similar to the SAT exam. 

For many schools, this test is a requirement, along with transcripts and writing samples.

“The GRE is not a test that you can cram for,” Smith said. “It’s not like any other test.”

After Smith finished his presentation, Bjarnson told students to “apply to at least 10 schools, apply to your top three favorites and move down your list if you can.”

Lear closed the event with suggestions for online resources. She recommended visiting the Sonoma State website for help with choosing a grad school. The site provides tools for research, internships and volunteer experience, and other links to support students in their journey. 

“It’s a good idea to talk to SSU grads who’ve applied to grad school to get their perspective,” Lear said.

Both Bjarnson and Lear said they are offering current students contact info for Sonoma State graduates.

“As a freshman looking into a grad school workshop, it takes years of preparation to apply,” Aracely Gonzalez, a Sonoma State student, said.

For additional information on applying for grad school programs, visit