Graduate Student Exit Survey

The Graduate Student Exit Survey asks recent graduate alumni about their overall satisfaction with their academic experience and professional development (level of engagement), quality of mentoring, and career plans.

The survey also identifies nine broad learning outcomes related to graduate education and asks graduates to indicate the level of preparation provided by their graduate program.

Invitations to participate in the survey are sent to graduates immediately following graduate commencement (May, August, and December). As of 2015 the survey consists of 27–32 questions, depending on degree program and experience (for example, graduates who indicate that they were TAs are presented with two additional follow-up questions). The median time spent responding to the survey was less than ten minutes.

Survey results: A five-year summary

The Office of Graduate Studies has collected exit survey data from graduating masters and doctoral students since 2003. Data was analyzed most recently for the five-year period 2010–2014, highlights of which are summarized below.


More master’s degree graduates completed the Graduate Exit Survey each year (2010–2014), but at a lower rate than their doctoral counterparts. For example, in 2014, 42% of master's graduates completed the survey compared to 59% of doctoral graduates.

The majority of respondents, both for master’s and doctoral graduates, identified themselves as White, non-Hispanic/Latino. The gender of survey respondents was more or less evenly split between men and women (within two percentage points), and two-thirds or more of respondents in each degree type were U.S. citizens. All of these metrics generally reflect the demographics of the graduate student population at UNL. Overall, the majority of survey respondents were enrolled full-time and only a few from both degree type reported completing most of their coursework off-campus through distance education.

Response rate in 2014
Respondents by level of study
Doctoral - 32%
Master's - 68%
Respondents by degree and gender
Male - 48%
Female - 52%
Male - 51%
Female - 49%
Respondents by degree and citizenship
US citizen - 85%
US citizen - 70%

Overall Satisfaction

When asked to rate their university experience, the majority said that their experiences were either excellent or very good, with slightly lower ratings for student life experience (compared to academic experience and overall experience).

Respondents selecting "excellent" or "very good":
Academic experience
Student life experience
Overall experience

The majority of graduates also said that if they were to start their graduate program again, they would choose the same graduate advisor, field of specialization, graduate department, and university.

If starting again, graduates would choose:
Same graduate advisor
Same field of specialization
Same graduate department
Same university

Professional Development

Of those graduates who were a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA) during their degree programs, the majority found the TA or RA experience very helpful to their professional development.

Respondents selecting "very helpful":
TA experience
RA experience

More than half had presented on- or off-campus. More than two-thirds (68%) reported receiving funds from travel from their program for presentations made away from campus. The majority of graduates said that they did not have any publications published or under review while in their degree program.

Presentations given
1 or more - 56%
Zero - 44%
1 or more - 52%
Zero - 48%
1 or more
Zero - 69%
Under Review
1 or more
Zero - 74%

Level of Preparation

Overall, graduates reported that their programs had provided them with high levels of preparation for the next step in their careers, but success in graduate education outcomes varied somewhat by degree program type.

Respondents selecting "exceptional" or "good" preparation to:
  • Speak, write, and think like a member of your discipline
    Doctoral - 88%
    Master's - 83%
  • Demonstrate personal integrity in academic and professional life
    Doctoral - 87%
    Master's - 87%
  • Conduct independent, innovative research
    Doctoral - 86%
    Master's - 68%
  • Identify issues important to society from your discipline's perspective
    Doctoral - 84%
    Master's - 81%
  • Communicate effectively about your discipline with non-specialists
    Doctoral - 79%
    Master's - 78%
  • Contribute to the broader needs of society
    Doctoral - 76%
    Master's - 73%
  • Teach effectively about your discipline
    Doctoral - 76%
    Master's - 69%
  • Work collaboratively with diverse groups from other disciplines
    Doctoral - 74%
    Master's - 72%
  • Obtain employment in your field of specialization
    Doctoral - 72%
    Master's - 64%

Doctoral Degree Graduates

The majority of doctoral graduates rated each survey item as having either exceptional preparation or good preparation. Of the graduate education outcomes we asked about, the ability to Speak, Write, and Think Like a Member of the Discipline was the one for which doctoral graduates reported the highest level of preparation (50% exceptional preparation, 38% good preparation). While the ability to Obtain Employment in the Field of Specialization was ranked by doctoral graduates as the outcome they were least prepared in, 70% of doctoral graduates still reported exceptional or good preparation in their degree program.

Master's Degree Graduates

The majority of Master's graduates also reported having either exceptional or good preparation for each graduate education outcome. Master’s graduates reported the highest level of preparation to (1) Demonstrate Personal Integrity in Academic and Professional Life and (2) Speak, Write, and Think Like a Member of the Discipline (87% and 83% selecting exceptional or good preparation, respectively). Master's degree program graduates rated preparation to Conduct Independent, Innovative Research the lowest of all outcomes we asked about, though only approximately one-thirds of Master's graduates complete a thesis for their degree.

Post-Graduation Plans

Doctoral Degree Graduates

Immediate post-graduate plans varied among the doctoral survey respondents. While the most common response was that they plan to seek a faculty position at an institution of higher education (41%), more than a quarter were planning on a postdoc fellowship or research associate (26%). More than one in ten said that they plan to enter business/industrial employment (13%). Relatively few graduates reported not seeking employment or further education following graduation (3%).

Plans after graduation - Doctoral degree graduates
  • Faculty position in higher ed
  • Postdoc or research associate in higher ed
  • Business or Industry employment
  • Faculty or Administration at K-12 school

Master's Degree Graduates

Immediate post-graduate plans varied among the Master's degree graduates. While the most common response was that they plan to enter business/industrial employment (34%), nearly one-quarter said they plan further graduate study (23%). Other employment plans included K-12 education (14%) and work with governmental organizations (10%). Very few graduates reported not seeking employment or further education following graduation (0.9%).

Plans after graduation - Master's degree graduates
  • Business or Industry Employment
  • Further graduate study
  • Faculty or administration at K-12 school
  • Government

Analysis and action

The qualitative comments suggested that respondents were satisfied with their overall graduate experience at UNL, especially with the faculty.

Respondents valued the support provided by faculty, preparation offered by their graduate program, rigorous coursework, and the quality of the resources available.

Areas for improvement

Analysis of responses identified areas for improvement:

  • Simplifying thesis/dissertation submission processes, especially for distance students
  • Identifying opportunities for graduate students to present at regional/national conferences
  • Providing additional support/training in writing and publishing
  • Understanding and communicating policies and expectations related to graduate school

Action plan

Based on the results of the 2010–2014 Graduate Exit Survey, the Office of Graduate Studies has developed the following action plan to improve graduate services and student experiences.

  • Review 100% of current graduate program handbooks for accuracy. Departments without a handbook will be provided a template with the goal of developing a program handbook by August 2016.
  • Revise procedures for depositing thesis and dissertations for distance students.
  • Redesign the Graduate Bulletin website to increase navigation and accessibility of policies.  
  • Develop an online Research Writing program to assist graduate students with publication goals.
  • Implement an electronic graduate paperwork system to monitor and improve academic progress.
  • Develop an online Orientation to Graduate School for all incoming graduate students (both on campus and online).
  • Assist departments with graduate student career placement by creating an online reporting system where students can update career profiles.
  • Identify strategies for collecting employment and post‐graduation data. The Office of Graduate Studies is developing strategies to help graduate programs collect more detailed employment information including outreach efforts and social media tools such as LinkedIn.
  • Identify ways post‐graduation data can be used help inform graduate programs decisions career and professional development opportunities for current students.