After College

10 Things To Do Before Applying To Graduate School

First of all, congratulations on achieving that bachelor’s degree (and keep going if you’re almost there)! You survived and did not fail. Now the next step, if you choose to do so, is applying to graduate school.  First things first….

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1. Research! Research! Research!

Have I said it enough? Ok.

Researching is the most important part of applying to graduate school. You’re not just researching which school has the better football team. You are researching which school has the best program for your area of expertise. When should you start researching? According to an article written by Dr. Don Martin, who is a higher education admissions expert and former admissions dean at Columbia University, he suggests you should “research a year before you submit your grad school applications.” Research the best graduate programs out there, and when I say best programs, I don’t mean Harvard or Yale. By best programs, I’m suggesting that you look at schools that are in your best interest. It doesn’t even have to be in the United States.

2. Check out your financial aid options.

The government will finance graduate school, but you won’t get subsidized loans.  You can, however, get unsubsidized loans from the government. Federal Perkins Loans, another government aid, is given to students with “exceptional” needs. Work-study programs are still offered for graduate students, so don’t just rely on the government. Check out the school’s financial aid website and see their list of grants, scholarships, and other loans.  As my professor always told me, “the early bird gets the worm,” meaning make sure when you’re filing for your loans and scholarships that you do it a couple of months before the deadline. Don’t wait till the last minute.

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3. Take the required graduate test.

To get into a graduate program, you do need to take an entrance exam.  Yes, we have to take the ACT all over again! No, I’m not kidding. If you aren’t studying law or medicine, you have to take the GRE in order to get into any US school. For Law school you have to take the LSAT and for medical school the MCAT is required.  The school of your choice will have a standard score to get in. Luckily for us, each of these entrance exams have practice tests we can take. When you buy books to help you study for the GRE or the MCAT, they usually have a website link that can help you practice for the exams.  I’d suggest you take the practice test first, that way you can focus on studying what you are weak at. Side note; some schools will offer free LSAT and MCAT practice test – talk to your university.

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4. Write your essay.

Remember what I said about searching for schools that are in your best interest?  Not only are you searching for the school that is in your best interest, you also have to tell the school why they should be interested in you.  According to Peterson’s “securing acceptance into a graduate is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified.” The essays are the centerpiece of your graduate application. These essays may seem annoying to write, but they could actually help you when applying to graduate school. They are the attention grabbers for the admissions office. You are not just telling them your life story; you are telling them why you should be accepted in to their program, so explain why their program will help you with your chosen career.

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5. Know the requirements for each school your interested in.

Make sure you have all the requirements needed for the any school you are interested in, before you start applying to graduate school. Most requirements will be listed on the school’s website. Take a note of the deadline on the requirements for the schools. Have copies of your transcripts, send exam scores to schools, etc. Keep those documents in a folder just in case something happens.

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6. Start requesting letters of recommendation.

Most graduate programs require you to submit letters of recommendation. In these letters are a second opinion of your skills and accomplishments. As an undergraduate you should be networking with colleagues, professors, and employers. As you network with these individuals, you will potentially build relationships that will enable them to confirm how wonderful you are. They can describe your personality, skills, and accomplishments. How should you ask for letters of recommendations? Just ask nicely. When they have finished writing and sent your letter, write them a thank you letter in return.

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7. Visit the school first.

Sometimes the best way to gather information about a program is to visit the schools. While you’re visiting the schools, you should meet with prospective advisors (who are your professors). Talk with the counselors, financial aid officers, admissions office etc. Find out information that you could not find on the website…it’s kind of like undergrad all over again.

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8. Talk to students/alumni.

You should try and gather “inside” information from students or alumni before you begin applying to graduate school. These students and former alumni have been through the program that you might choose so they can give you a better insight on how the program runs and what to expect. Don’t just talk to one student though, get multiple opinions.

9. Check job placement rates.

Before applying to graduate school, take a look at your potential schools and check their job placement rates. It is actually required of the universities to show students the job placement rates which show the percentage of students you receive a job upon graduation. This can give you a good representation of the respected universities in your field of study.

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10. AND the graduation rate.

Graduation rates don’t just show you how well students are doing but they show you how well the university is doing overall with it’s students. Low graduation rates show you that the students are not getting the support they need academically from the school. High rates represent a more successful institution; something to definitely consider before applying to graduate school.

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Sereen Hamawi

Sereen Hamawi is a senior at Wayne State University. She is a major in Anthropology and a minor in Criminal Justice. She enjoys running in the morning, exercising at night, and training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She also enjoys gardening. She has an obsession with fruit infused water. Her favorite books are the Harry Potter series and The All Souls Trilogy. In her spare time she likes to relax in front of the fireplace (winter) or in front of a bonfire (summer/spring) with a good book and a cup of tea.

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