Successfully Applying to Graduate School with These First 3 Steps
12/21/2017 by HIGHERGRAD
Applying to graduate school is the second biggest decision you have made thus far. The first being, you have decided to go to actually go to graduate school. There are many steps and tips for applying to graduate school, but the first three of these will craft your entire experience and ultimately your future.
Getting started early is the first and foremost tip for undergraduates planning for graduate school. Although not impossible, and sometimes required, applying late can be successful. But it takes much more determination, research and luck to get into a graduate school program if you do not start the process of applying early.
There are many steps to applying to graduate school. Most of these steps are time sensitive, difficult, and require a personal touch. They are, however, all required in order for you to successfully get accepted into the graduate program of your choice.
Where to Start With Your Graduate School Timeline Checklist
Besides starting early, you need to decide what profession you are going to pursue. This will drive what programs and universities you need to consider. Ask yourself questions like are you ready for additional college? Is graduate school a requirement for your desired career? Should I go to grad school now or wait? These are just a few preliminary questions you need the answers to before starting the process of applying to graduate school. Once you have made your decision begin with listing all the requirements each graduate program you are interested in pursuing has. This will help you stay organized and on track as you proceed with the first steps of applying to graduate school.
Tips for Applying to Graduate School | Research and Rank Your Choices
Your very first step in applying should begin with research. Investigate which schools have programs that you are interested in. Again, this should be based on various factors including but not limited to location, desired profession, and faculty.
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 five to ten programs that meet your 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 one of the best tips for applying to graduate school because it allows you to focus more on the best programs for the best outcomes in your career. Cost is a major factor. Do not take our advice to leave it out of your initial ranking criteria as an endorsement that it is not important because it is. Rather, there are many options available for financing graduate school that can be explored further down the line in the process and you should not be restricted in cost as you initially review potential graduate school programs.
Research and ranking programs should be the first item in your graduate school timeline checklist. Begin your 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 | 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 more 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 interested 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 | 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 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 applying to graduate school.
Applying to Graduate School Final Takeaways
These are just the beginning steps to applying to graduate school. There are many more that will need to be completed successfully prior to your first day of grad school. Getting into graduate school is competitive and many programs only have one opening each year. Only by taking the time to do it right will you be successful and ultimately one of those people who gets accepted to graduate school. These three tips for applying to graduate school are critical. Focus on these early and you will be more prepared in the graduate school application process.