Geography & Environmental Science

Graduate school

If you are thinking about going to graduate school then check out the resources below:​

The Academic Advising Center and Career Services at UWL offers many great resources to get you started on your path to graduate school. Visit their website to find information on:

U.S. News & World Report ranks the Best Earth Science Programs and the Best Global Universities for Geosciences, among others.

The Princeton Review compiled a comprehensive timeline for applying to Graduate School. 

  • May
    • Begin researching grad schools.
    • Take the GRE practice test. 
  • June
    • Sign up for a GRE test prep course (optional).
  • July
    • Request information from schools that you are interested in. 
  • August
  • September
    • Register for the November GRE subject test (if necessary).
    • Finalize your list of prospective schools.
    • Contact your recommenders.
    • Keep polishing your statement of purpose.
  • October
    • Request official transcripts from your undergraduate institution.
    • Send your recommenders supplemental materials (resume, personal statement, etc.)
    • Arrange a campus visit to prospective schools.
  • November
    • Have someone review and edit your personal statement.
    • Take the GRE subject test.
  • December
    • Complete and submit all graduate applications.
    • Keep copies of every section for your records.
    • Verify that your recommendations have been sent.

A UWL alum put together a presentation about graduate school in a capstone course. Look through "Graduate Degree in Geography - What, Why, When and How?" if it is for you.

Graduate Programs Attended by Geography Alumni


Graduate School FAQs

Below are FAQs based on questions asked in past years. They're meant to make sure that you get answers to important questions, even if no one asks them. Please confer with your academic advisor and ask any questions that you do have, even if they are listed below. They can likely add more to the answers.

Grad School FAQs

NO! Many jobs only need a B.S., and a degree from UWL is very well respected in many STEM industries, primary/secondary teaching, natural resources/government work, etc. Talk to the Career Center, your mentor, or academic advisor about opportunities.

However, a research/teaching career at a University will often require some kind of advanced degree (M.S. or more), and MDs, Veterinarians, and Dentists (among others) require their particular degrees.

Having an advanced degree usually places you at different levels in the corporate "food chain," so you'll want to see what you can and cannot do with a BS/MS/Ph.D. in your dream career.

Graduate/professional school applications cost money (see "Is there an application fee question below), unlike job applications where you can apply to however many you want. 

For graduate/professional school, you will want to apply to more than one, but not more than five schools. Only apply to places where you are willing to live for four to six years (or more!). 

Application deadlines vary from mid-fall to mid-spring and most applications start being accepted from mid-summer to late-fall. Check with the specific institution where you're applying for their timeline. 

Many places have "rolling admission" where they will start filling spots early in the application period and then don't fill the last spots until the deadline.

Be sure to check if you need to apply to the University AND the Graduate Program! Some places are not coordinated about the application process.

For most graduate and professional schools, yes. In some situations, you can request that the fees be waived if you have a good reason (they won't or can't always do that, but you can ask. Check their website or application information). You should probably be suspicious if a job has an application fee!

If possible and you can afford it (some systems cost money above the application fees) this can make your life easier. Some programs will require an online application, and these typically have lower fees.

Many graduate schools have their own online admissions systems, but check and see if there are any paper forms required.

Take these seriously and have friends, colleagues, and/or advisors read them over. A good cover letter or essay won't guarantee anything, but a bad one might cost you.

Do some research on the institution where you're applying and make changes in your essay/cover letter to tune it for each place. State your research interests and relate that to potential faculty at that institution, goals of the R&D facility, and/or goals of the professional school (research or clinical). Be careful to not send the letter tuned for one place to another; that typically works out poorly.

Line these up early and be respectful about asking. You'll need at least two, and tenure-track faculty are probably better (though not always). Pick someone you know and who knows you well and make sure that they are willing to write you a good letter, not just a form letter.

Be prepared to give your reference some background materials, perhaps your personal essay and resume and cover letter. Go talk to them and explain your plans. All these things will help them to write a better letter for you. Giving them time (the "early" part from above) will also help.

Note what kinds of letters the school/job is looking for. For example, med schools need a Committee Letter (talk to the Pre-Med Committee). Professional schools usually require a letter from a professional in that are (i.e., an optometrist for optometry school, dentist for dental school, etc.).

Talk to your academic advisor and to an admissions advisor at the schools you're applying to for more advice (seriously, the admissions advisors are often very helpful). 

A "D" in a non-major class probably doesn't matter. A "D" in an introductory major course maybe isn't a big deal. A "D" in an upper-level, required class is likely to be a problem. (Remember: UWL has a policy that you can only replace a "D/F" by retaking the UWL course; if you repeat the course at a different school, the "D/F" stays on your transcript.

If the program "requires a 2.8" and you have a 2.81, you're probably wasting time and money retaking a class or staying an extra semester (assuming you are in good shape with the other parts of your application).

Hopefully, you and your academic advisor have been on top of this, but check the requirements at your schools before you run out of semesters.

"Recommended" courses are just that, recommended. If you have the requirements, you are typically qualified for the program. Other courses are just a part of the "bigger picture" and can help you if you're not great in other areas, but can hurt you if you get a "C" in them. 

Check with the requirements of the places you are applying to and take whatever exams they ask for. You will typically take these in the summer before your final year of courses (i.e., before you start applying), but the scores are (usually) good for two years, so you can take it when you feel ready. It does cost money to take these exams, so take it seriously. 

These exams tend to assume that you have completed the "core" courses of your major or the "required" courses for your professional program. You may want to look at what content is on the exam and wait until you have completed that material in your coursework.

Prep! Courses and books might help, but cost money (sometimes a lot of money!). Think about how you study for your course exams and how your brain works before signing up. Ask your fellow students if anyone had good or bad experiences with an exam. Plus, maybe they have exam prep books to share - the various student clubs are good for this! 

Take the exam early and when you are prepared for it. This allows you to retake it if necessary (of course, this costs more money). Take it when you can dedicate the time to study or at least think about it. This depends on your particular habits - during the school year when your brain is used to studying could be good, but you might not have time to dedicate to it; you'll have more time in the summer, but might not be in "study mode."

If the program requires a 310 (or the average score is a 310) and you get a 311, you're probably not helping yourself if you go back and get a 312. One potential reason to retake your exam (assuming you think you can do better) is if you have a high GPA but a low exam score. To some people, a high GPA with a low exam score is a sign that you took "easy" classes and might not be well prepared for future study.

Yes! Go do that! Especially for some health/medical, etc. schools, such things are required. Showing that you have already experienced real patient contact or actual professional experiences will show that you know what you're getting into. 

Don't discount working at (insert boring summer job here) to pay for school since that is an experience too and shows commitment and drive. This is the real "wild card" in the whole package of Personal Essay/Grades/Test Scores/Reference Letters/Experiences that the places are evaluating. You don't have to be great in all of them, and deficiencies in one can be made up by excellence in others.

At many Ph.D.-level graduate schools, there are multi-departmental programs where faculty members of various research areas are combined. You are accepted to the program your first year, and then choose a lab based on short research projects in two to four different labs ("rotations"). You choose a lab sometime in the first year and stay with that program.

At others, there is no program, and you have to apply directly to a particular mentor - basically, you are only accepted if that person is willing to take you into their lab. Talk to an advisor or read up on the program you are applying to about their particular way of doing things.

This varies widely, but most Ph.D.-level grad schools will pay you - either a stipend for research or teaching or a fellowship/scholarship/training grant. This can range from $18K-$28K (or more, depending on the size of the school). You can also apply for your own fellowships and grants that can replace or supplement your stipends. 

Most Ph.D. places will also waive resident tuition or charge the resident costs even for non-residents (but they will encourage you to try to become a resident). 

Most MS-level grad schools might not have the resources to offer significant stipends or even tuition waivers, so check them out and decide what you can afford. You can still get some financial aid/loans for graduate school.


There may be some stipends or scholarships available. Just ask! The basic promise of med/professional schools is that you go way into debt, but can pay off that debt quickly since you're paid very well soon after graduating.

As long as you are a "full-time student," you get a deferment on payback of your federal student loans. Being in an accredited graduate or professional school counts as a "full-time student." You may have to send in a "proof of student status" form, so don't forget to do that!

Even with some federal loans, interest will still accrue - though the government will pay your interest on Perkins and Stafford loans (and some others). You might still need to pay interest, but not the principle - check with your financial aid advisor.

With personal or PLUS loans, you are unlikely to get the same "full-time student" deferment, so check with your financial aid advisor.

That means that you've gotten past the first step and now you get to see what the next step looks like. Typically, an interview or an invitation to an "open house" signals that they are interested in you, and want to try and convince you to choose their school over the others you applied to.

This doesn't mean that you're accepted, so don't blow it off or act like a weirdo at the interview. At the interview, talk to the students there about the program and find out what it's like from them. Also, look at the city and campus to decide if you can live there for four to six years.

Remember that many graduate schools are competing with each other for you and some places will make an early offer to try and make you choose them.

It is fair to ask one place to wait some short time for an answer from somewhere else, but you can't expect them to wait forever.

Some places will try to find a place for you assuming that some people will turn down their offer. This is a good reason to not make a place wait too long to accept their offer since you're making other people wait. But, make sure to make the best choice for you.

Don't take it personally! The graduate and professional school application process is like one huge crazy dating scheme - the schools are trying to match up students with the particular skills and interests they are looking for this year. That wasn't you this year, but could be you next year! 

Look at your whole application packet and decide what you could do better. Talk to your academic advisor or, if possible, with the admissions advisor at the school you applied to. Try to find out what was missing. 

Don't take it personally! Really! Every year students with 4.0 GPAs and crazy achievements are accepted somewhere they apply. There is so much more to this than an evaluation of your numbers. Your same application may have been exactly right last year, or it may be perfect next year.

No problem. Schools have little problem with students taking time off, especially if they are doing something "useful" with that time. The only problem with this time off is that your reference letters might get a little old, so stay in touch with your references so they remember you. Also, remember that GRE/MCAT/etc. scores "expire," usually after two years.

In some fields, yes. In other fields (e.g., biomedical, molecular biology, etc.), no. You'll likely need to do a "Post-Doc," which is a two to six-year separate research project from your Ph.D. work (usually at a place different from your graduate school). You will be paid to do this (or get fellowships and grants) usually between $30K-$45K (more than grad school!), and there are no courses you have to do. It's basically like an apprenticeship for your eventual career.

Some people occasionally do multiple post-docs (two is not uncommon these days). That isn't bad if you are picking up new skills or techniques ("teaching post-docs" are popular for getting jobs at undergraduate colleges like UWL). But, a series of two-year "soft-money" appointments is probably not a good long-term plan.