Successfully Applying to Graduate School with These First 3 Steps
Applying to graduate school is the second biggest decision you have made thus far. The first being, you have decided to go to graduate school. There are many steps and tips for applying to graduate school, but the first three of these craft your entire experience and ultimately your future.
Getting started early is the first and foremost key for undergraduates planning for grad school. Although not impossible, and sometimes required, applying late can be successful. But it takes much more determination and research to get in if you do not start early.
There are many steps to applying to graduate school. Most steps are time sensitive and some are thought intensive but all are important in successfully getting into the graduate program of your choice.
The First Three Steps to Your Graduate School Timeline Checklist
Knowing what are the requirements for graduate school is where you should begin. Graduate school is an intensive few years concentrating on single topic. Are you ready for additional college? Is graduate school necessary for your desired career? When does graduate school start? These are just a few preliminary questions you need the answers to before starting the process of applying to graduate school.
Tips for Applying to Graduate School #1 | Research and Rank Your Choices
If you have not already decided on your desired future goals (i.e. career specialization), start with that. Then, start by investigation graduate schools and departments that offer training in your desired field.
Search colleges that meet your professional goals first, then add other criteria such as geographical region, campus culture, living accommodations and department prestige. Using these factors will allow you to compile a ranked list of programs. Ideally, you will want 5 to 10 programs that meet you goals when applying to graduate school.
Notice that cost was not mentioned as one of your initial criteria to rank your graduate programs. Removing cost from the equation early on is a tip to help you focus more on the best programs for the best outcomes in your career. Cost is a major factor and do not take our advice to leave it out of your initial ranking criteria as an endorsement in it is not important. Rather, there are many options available for financing graduate school that can be explored further in the process.
Research and ranking programs should be the first item in your graduate school timeline checklist. Begin you work here towards the end of your junior year as an undergraduate. Doing so will give you plenty of time to complete all the necessary research and rank your programs. Graduate school search websites like gradschools.com are helpful in finding programs initially. These websites also are helpful in comparing similar graduate schools to narrow your search. Investigating important factors to you and ranking your choices are key before moving on to the next step.
Tips for Applying to Graduate School #2 | Communicate with Professors
The second step in the early stages in applying to graduate school is to reach out to professors from your ranked schools list. Start this step over the summer before your senior year. Most graduate programs involve working with one or several professors who research in the areas you are interested in. Finding and communicating with these professors early on has several advantages.
The first advantage is these professors can add insights to your school research. They can discuss potential projects future graduate students may be working on or talk in more detail about the university's general graduate school requirements. This is one way to eliminate schools on your list. For example, a valuable insight from communicating with a professor is if they have a need for a graduate student. Since a majority of graduate programs take students only if they have funding and a research need, there is no use completing a strong graduate school application or one at all for that matter for schools that have no openings. Finally, they can talk about potential graduate assistantships that may make paying for graduate school much easier.
The second advantage to communicating with professors is relationship building. It never hurts to start building a relationship with one of the people who will ultimately review your graduate school application. This is a two-fold advantage. First, your application will be familiar with the review committee and the professor will already have a good understanding of who you are. Second, it gives you the ability to get to know who your "boss" will be for the next few years. Your graduate adviser will be the primary person reviewing your research and coursework. You will want to be sure it is someone you can comfortably work with for several years.
How do you find the right person to communicate with? Within each department of each college you are interesting in, search faculty listings for professors with research interests in your field. Most professors have personal or research related websites that can help you to find the right one to start a conversation with. Be professional and reach out initially using their school email. Provide a brief statement about what interests you in their work and your desire in applying to graduate school. Wrap it up with a few well thought out questions to keep the conversation moving forward.
Tips for Applying to Graduate School #3 | Sign Up for GRE Testing
Wrapping up the first steps in your graduate school timeline checklist is the GRE. Yes, testing does not end with your undergraduate degree. The most important, and almost always required, test is the GRE. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test is much like the SAT you had to take to get into college four years ago. It involves verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing sections to test your general knowledge at a more advanced level.
GRE tests are administered in various locations throughout the country. The GRE needs to be scheduled well in advance of actually applying to graduate school. Ideally, schedule the GRE for the beginning of your senior year. This gives you plenty of time to study and re-take it if needed.
Similar to the SATs, there are practice exams and test prep services available. Many of these can be found through your current university for little to no cost. Practice as much as you can before the test. Even though the GRE is not held as highly as the SAT in terms of a criteria for graduate school admission, it is still an important factor. Doing well on the GRE will only help you among other applicants interested in the applying to graduate school.
A good way to wrap up the first three steps to applying to graduate school is to only start thinking about the many more steps you will need to complete. Getting into graduate school is selective. Only by taking the time to do it right will you be successful. These three tips for applying to graduate school are critical. Focus on these early and you will be more prepared and rewarded in graduate school process.