Graduate students typically receive a tuition waiver and an annual stipend of $12,000 to $15,000 to support themselves. In return for the stipend, most graduate students work roughly twenty hours a week as a research or teaching assistant in addition to taking courses full-time. Additionally, some independent organizations like the National Science Foundation will award approximately 1,000 new Graduate Research Fellowships to support graduate study. Check their web site at http://www.nsf.gov for more information.
You may decide to go to graduate school immediately upon completion of your undergraduate degree, or you may decide to defer application to graduate school for a year or more. Either way, you should begin the process of applying to graduate school at least a year before you hope to attend. Although some graduate schools will have early spring deadlines (February or March), many admissions committees begin meeting and making decisions earlier. Students who apply later are clearly disadvantaged. Taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is an important part of the process of applying to graduate school. For more information about this test, check the web site at: www.gre.org
All graduate schools are interested in students who have a background in and a career orientation toward research, and all schools require students to master a certain level of research skills as part of their graduate curriculum. Some schools expect all students to be strongly oriented toward research. Other schools have a broader focus and are also interested in students whose primary career orientation is to obtain professional employment after graduation or teaching undergraduates.
Graduate admissions committees will review your total application information including undergraduate grades, GRE scores, an application essay, a sample of your written work, your research and teaching experience, and several letters of recommendation from faculty to determine whether to accept you and give you financial aid.
Seek opportunities to gain research and/or teaching experience. Talk with faculty members and tell them you are interested in acquiring undergraduate teaching or research assistant positions. Try to get to know three or more faculty members well and seek their advice about other steps you can take to become a strong applicant. Consider working as a volunteer in order to gain experience. Some students take a year off before entering graduate school in order to gain more experience.