Not sure what to do to get into graduate school? Unsure of the key things to make note of during the application process? Looking for some best practices in reference to deciding which programs to apply to? We can help. Here's a roadmap for the graduate school application process that should answer all of your questions...and if it doesn't, then just let us know and we'll find you the answer.
1. Do your research.
About a year before you submit you graduate school applications, you should be diligently researching potential schools and building a list. Starting your research at the last minute can lead to a rushed decision and disappointment in the program where you landed. Avoid that disappointment by spending more time digging into each school you’re considering.
2. Nail down a list.
As you did your research, you built out a general list of potential schools. Now you should start “grading” each school based on the information you were able to find and their responses to any of your inquiries. At this point, you may start eliminating some programs as you compare them to others, but don’t narrow your list down too much. You still have plenty of time to do that.
3. Plan some campus visits.
You can only get so much information from websites, brochures, and emails or phone calls with the Graduate School or admissions office. Visiting a campus in person can reveal a lot about a program that may not have been inherent from their website or promotional materials. Contact the Graduate School when you’re scheduling your visit to make sure you can meet with both current students and faculty members, including the graduate coordinator from the department you plan to apply to. Also, stop by the career development and alumni offices to see how helpful and engaging the staff is.
4. Prep for standardized tests.
Around 9 months prior to applying, you should start to prepare for the standardized test(s) required for your respective path. Most programs require you to take the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. You will most likely find information pertaining to these standardized tests via the Educational Test Service (ETS), the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). You can also find materials online to help you prepare for these tests from companies such as Barron’s, Kaplan, Peterson’s, and Princeton Review as well as find printed materials at your local bookstore.
5. Keep your ear to the ground.
By now you’ve received a good bit of information from faculty and the Graduate School, but doing some digging and reading press coverage and rankings of the graduate programs you’re considering will give you help you figure out what it will be like to study there. Reaching out to current or past students is also a good way to get an honest opinion on a particular school, as well as following the university’s, grad school’s, and department’s social media channels.
6. Review & Apply.
By now you’ve narrowed down your list to a few schools you’re seriously considering. Start reviewing the application processes and requirements for each program to avoid any surprises. Requirements may differ program to program. Keep in mind that there will probably be requirements for the Graduate School and additional requirements specific to your program. Some may have interviews before you submit your application, others only conduct interviews after you formally apply, and in some cases interviews are only conducted with select candidates. Some programs may require a personal statement or writing sample, while others may ask for a video presentation. Above all, when reviewing the application requirements for each program, be sure to make note of the required materials and deadlines. Take these deadlines and use them to lay out your application schedule. As applications begin to open, set aside dedicated amounts of time to complete your applications without any interruptions or distractions.
7. Make the choice.
You put your heart and soul into your applications, played the waiting game, and received the letters of acceptance and even some denials. Now it’s time to weigh your options and revisit each program. Schedule another campus visit, if you think it will help. Ask yourself: Which faculty seemed most interested in you? Which offered the best assistantship or fellowship terms? Which emphasized research opportunities and funds? Which libraries, labs, and other resources are better for what you want to study? Which has graduates getting jobs or into PhD programs? Now you can make your decision regarding which program you’re going to attend. Take some time to celebrate and thank those who helped you along the way.
Be sure to thoroughly read the admitted student information you were sent. This will include instructions regarding your enrollment deposit, funding, housing, admitted student programs, courses and scheduling, orientation, and more. Some of these things will have deadlines, so make note of those on your calendar. Reach out to your new classmates, compare notes, discuss your initial impressions of the program. Start your financial and relocation planning. It’s never too early to start saving, especially if you are going to have to relocate.
During & After Grad School: Think about your future.
Months, probably even years, of hard work, preparation, and planning has paid off—you’re in grad school. So, now what? Now it’s time to start planning for your future. Take advantage of any career services that your program has to offer, network with alumni, and research potential internship opportunities and future employers. Be sure to put yourself out there. Go to conferences. Publish in journals or maybe even start your own blog. Even though the journey is just beginning, it’s important to start mapping out your career path.