Perhaps you’ve just completed your undergraduate degree and are ready to continue your college education or maybe you’ve been out of school for a while and are looking to get back into it. Either way, you might be thinking about applying to graduate school.
For a lot of students, applying to grad school can be a complicated and stressful process. Between determining which programs are best suited to your interests and career goals, overall cost, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and personal statements, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
- Why do you want to go to grad school?
The first step to applying to grad school is determining whether or not you want to go. In his article “Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate School,” former UCLA professor Phil Agre suggests grad school – which you’ll need to dedicate 1-8 years to – is not for everyone.
“Graduate school is training in research,” he says in the PDF of his article available on the UCLA website. “It is for people who love research, scholarship, and teaching for their own sake and for the difference they can sometimes make in the world. It is not for people who simply want more undergraduate courses.”
Why do you want to go to graduate school? Will it help you excel in your career path? Does it fulfil a lifelong goal or is it personally satisfying to learn more in your chosen field? What would happen if you couldn’t go? Would it make a difference?
Once you’ve decided you definitely want to take the leap and go to graduate school, you can begin to apply.
- Pick schools (several of them)
As you’ll undoubtedly learn during your master’s or doctoral program, extensive research is critical. Find schools and programs that best fit your career goals, but are also accessible in terms of location and cost. Apply to your favorites, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Consider applying to numerous schools (somewhere between 5-10). If for some reason you don’t get into your dream school, you’ll still have options. You might even realize there are better opportunities out there that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
- Make a list of requirements
After you’ve decided which programs you want to apply to, take your research one step further and compile a list of requirements for each school. Some programs require a certain score on your GREs (Graduate Record Examinations), while others don’t require it at all.
It is important to understand all of the requirements, so that you don’t ruin your chances of acceptance by submitting an incomplete application.
- Spend enough time on your application
Start your applications early and make sure that you have enough time to complete all the requirements necessary before the deadline. Submitting an incomplete application is bad, but what’s worse is submitting a “complete” application that doesn’t highlight your best work.
Professors at UNL developed a handout that identified five major reasons graduate school applications were denied. The reasons included: damaging personal statements, harmful letters of recommendation, lack of program information, poor writing skills, and misfired attempts to impress. Dedicate enough time to produce the best quality application possible.
Have a friend or colleague read over your personal statement to find any mistakes or places that could use more exposition. It also might be worth considering getting your applications professionally edited if you aren’t 100% confident in your skills.
Grad school is an important step in many people’s lives and careers. Do your research and be willing to reach out to people who have experience grad school firsthand. Leave all the stress of grad school to your actual studies, not the application process.