Graduate school is an important educational achievement for people. More and more students are deciding to get a graduate or a Master’s Degree for various reasons.
The benefits that grad school brings are many, including:
- Better career prospects
- Higher potential income
- Wider network
There are, of course, many reasons on why you should go to grad school and you can check out our article on this topic.
If you understand these benefits and you have decided to get a graduate degree, then this article will give you a guide and tips on how to get into grad school.
We will go over what you should do:
- During your undergraduate studies
- Before applying for grad school
- During application time
- After applying for grad school
Getting into grad school is a challenging and long process. Following these steps will not guarantee that you will be admitted into the program of your choice since that depends on the graduate admissions officers of the universities you are applying to.
However, going through the checklists in this guide will ensure that you won’t get disqualified because of missing documents or because you forgot to include something.
During Your Undergraduate Studies
Many students start out their undergraduate degrees with little idea on what they are going to do afterwards. Bachelor degree curricula are a mix of liberal arts and some specific courses in different majors which students can select. At the end, the ones who planned their majors well will be the ones who know what to with their degrees.
Some undergraduate students know that one of the goals that they want to accomplish is to go to graduate school. Whether that will be immediately after they graduate or after they acquire some work experience is irrelevant.
The point is that if you are an undergraduate student and grad school is in your plan then you have the unique opportunity to start preparing early.
Make a good study plan
If you have decided what your field in grad school will be, then you can start planning your undergrad courses so as to better help you get into grad school.
If you want to get a graduate degree in Psychology, make sure that during your undergrad you have taken the Psychology classes that are offered.
Tell your plans to your academic advisors
The best way to do this is to make a study plan. You can go to your academic advisor and let them know what your plans are. Universities offer so many undergraduate courses that it can be confusing to navigate all of them, so academic advisors will help immensely. They are familiar with all the programs, core courses, and electives so they can help you pick the right classes which will get you into grad school.
Complete required courses on time
One good tip is to try and complete your core or required courses early during your undergraduate years. This will make sure you have gotten the basic knowledge and will free up space for you to take relevant electives that will impress graduate school recruiters and admissions officers.
Choose your electives wisely
Your electives should also be focused on one or a few topics. What many undergrad students do wrong is that they just take bunch of electives which sound interesting and forget that if they want to go to grad school, the recruiters will not be impressed.
Having some consistency in your electives not only helps you gain your undergraduate majors, but if the classes are in the field of study which you want to get your graduate degree in they will increase your chances of admission.
Try a graduate course that interests you
In addition, if you have the time and the chance, you can decide to take one or a few graduate courses in your field of interest. This will help you in making the final decision on whether you want to go to grad school or not and in what field.
You will see the amount of coursework and the organization of grad courses, the assessment, projects, and effort you need to put in to succeed.
Get good grades
A lot of articles you will read will tell you that grades are not important and knowledge is all that matters. That is partially true when it comes to getting into grad school. Good grades will not make or break your chances to get into grad school, but they will serve as a differentiation point.
The fact is that graduate schools get a ton of applications from students. To filter them out they have developed different criteria. One of them is good grades or a cutoff point for the GPA.
Grad schools might require applicants to have a minimum 3.0 or 3.5 GPA depending on their ranking.
If you have good grades, then you get to pass to the next phase where admissions officers will evaluate you on a different criterion. So in order to qualify and increase your chances of admission, make sure you work hard and get those good grades.
Get good grades in your field of interest
It is especially important to have good grades in the courses which relate to your field of interest. Your field of interest might be Physics, so be ready for admissions officers to evaluate you based on your grades in courses related to physics.
The grades you get in other courses might have less importance.
What if I don’t have good grades?
It does not mean you won’t get accepted into grad school. It just means you will have to put in more effort to show recruiters that you have the potential it takes to succeed in getting a graduate degree.
Get internships, research positions and do extracurricular activities
Internships, research positions and extracurricular activities show graduate schools that you were not only trying to get good grades in your courses. You were also trying to put your knowledge in practice and you did not spend all of your free time in parties.
Try to get relevant internship or research positions
By relevant, we mean related to your field. If your graduate degree will be focused on research, try to get involved in one of your professor’s research. If the degree is more practical, such as in business, try to get an internship position at a local company or start up.
Get involved in one or two extracurricular activities
This activity should be related to your field of study. If you plan on getting your graduate degree in economics, find the Economics Club in your university and join in. It will show recruiters that you are committed to your field and that you spend time learning about it.
Have good relationships with your professors
Undergrad students might think that showing up in class, doing the work, and getting an A is enough. When you plan in getting into grad school, it isn’t. The reason for this is that you will need letters of recommendation.
Letters of recommendation will be an important chunk of your application and it’s something that grad schools look at. To ensure that your recommendation letter present the best version of you try and have good relationships with your professors.
The way you can do this is by:
- Attending office hours
- Talking to your professors after class
- Sending emails with class related questions
- Discussing your plans about grad school
These will mean that at the end when you ask your professors about a letter of recommendation, they will happily write great ones for you.
Before Applying For Grad School
Whether you have done the aforementioned points during your undergrad or not you will have to do the following before applying for getting into grad school.
Make a list of universities
Based on your field of study research potential universities that you would like to get your graduate degree in. Talk to your professors in your undergrad because they will probably know which university fits you best based on your needs and requirements.
There are so many universities out there that you cannot make a complete list of all of them.
So it is best to make a list of 9 universities in 3 groups:
- Pick three universities that you dream of getting into. These will be your top schools with the most requirements and you think it will be difficult for you to get accepted.
- Pick three universities where you think you have a chance. Look at their requirements and your background and pick the ones which you think you have the highest chance of being admitted in. These will be your target universities.
- Lastly, pick three universities which you think you will definitely be accepted in. These will be universities for which you meet and surpass the requirements, so they will be your safety schools.
Make a list of requirements
Based on the schools which you have selected to apply to, make a list of all their requirements and criteria.
You should take a look at:
- what GPA or experience they are looking for
- the number of recommendation letters they ask for,
- what essays or personal statements you have to write, and
- graduate tests requirements
This list will serve as your checklist to help you keep track of what you have to do. It will be helpful because you might forget to do something and then get rejected.
Most grad schools will require your official undergraduate transcripts. These can be ordered through your undergraduate school system and you need to it in advance. If you don’t know how to get your official transcripts, contact your school to guide you.
Official transcripts take a few weeks to be ready and universities want the transcripts to be sent directly from your undergraduate school, not from you.
Most institutions have a limit on how many free official transcripts you can get so you might also need to pay a small fee to have them delivered to the grad schools of your choice.
Take the standardized tests
Your list of requirements will show you which standardized tests you will need. Most likely you will only need to prepare and complete one, such as:
Whichever one it is, make sure you spend enough time preparing for it and you get enough points to meet the criteria of the universities you have selected.
What if you don’t meet the criteria? Retake the test.
Retaking it will not penalize you, but you need to start preparing beforehand so as to have enough time to get your scores and send them to universities.
Get your recommendation letters
Your field of study and your relationships with professors will dictate who you will ask for recommendation letters. Most universities require three of them, so it is best to ask:
- professors who know you well
- professors who have taught classes that you have good grades in, and
- professors who are related to your field of study.
Ask them well in advance and provide them with the instructions on how to submit their letters. Some universities require letters to be submitted online or sent directly from the professors so they don’t pass through your hands.
Nevertheless, give your recommenders enough time to compile, review, and send your letters of recommendation.
Write your personal statement and essays
Most grad schools will require you to submit a personal statement or letter of intent. They want you to show them in writing why you think you would be a good candidate for their program and why they should accept you.
Take your time to prepare this statement as it makes up a very important part of your application. Prepare a first draft and then go to professors, advisors and mentors, as well as the writing center to get more tips on how to improve it. Take those tips into consideration and incorporate them into the statement to have it stand out from your competition in grad school.
Grad schools are not looking for a memoir in your personal statement. They want it to be concise and relevant to what you have accomplished thus far that is relevant to your grad school program and what you plan on doing with the degree.
Write about your:
- work or research experience
- relevant courses you have taken, and
- a list of the qualities you have
Have your final statement checked by another professor or mentor, re-read it and finalize it. Once you are done with it, do not go back again to try and rewrite something. You will always find something to change so you should know when to stop and be content with your writing.
Improve your CV or resume
Gather all of your accomplishments, extracurricular activities, programs and internships you have been a part of and include them in your CV or resume.
Try to make them as relevant to your field as possible and make sure to take it to your career services center so that they can give you tips on how to improve.
Look into grants and scholarships
Universities or the country you are from might offer funding opportunities for getting into grad school. If you are interested in those, then research them and find their requirements. Go through the same steps as with selecting and preparing for grad school so that you have higher chances of getting the funds.
Grad school is expensive so it is advisable for all applicants to try and see whether they can get a research grant or a scholarship which lowers the debt burden.
During Application Time
After you have selected universities and completed all necessary documents, prepare the nine sets of applications and start submitting them. Make sure you are submitting everything in the specified format and try to have them ready at least a week before the deadlines.
Keep in mind that many universities charge application fees, so be ready to spend some money in this regard. The fees are non-refundable so that is why narrowing down the university choices is also a wise financial decision.
After Applying For Grad School
After you send in your applications for getting into grad school you will get the responses in a few months. You might be asked to do interviews and meetings with recruiters in the meantime so be prepared for those too.
Visit universities that you have been accepted in
Following the decisions of grad schools whether to accept you or not, you will have a final list of schools before the summer.
If you have the time and the financial means, it would be a good idea to visit the universities that have accepted you. It will help you to see whether you like the environment, the classrooms, and the atmosphere.
Talk to professors, students, and alumni
During your visits or even afterwards, reach out to professors, current students, and alumni of the schools that have accepted you. They will give you more information about the opportunities and challenges of the schools, which will make it easier to compare them.
Finally, you will have to make a decision! Take into account the rankings, the curriculum, comments from the people who are involved with those schools, and your personal preferences so that you can decide which grad school is the best for you.
Your decision will impact your career, so be wise and choose well.