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Considering Grad School? Important Things You Should Know Before, During, and After Applying

It’s That Time

 

Being in your senior year is exciting as you near the end, but can also be overwhelming at the same time. You can’t wait to move on and consider the thought of graduate school, but you still have to evaluate all your options before you can proceed. Additionally, you could be a working professional and considering the thought of going back to school to further your career and/or increase your job prospects.

One must keep in mind, however, that applying to a promising graduate school means dealing with a lot of applications (which are only one small part of getting into and preparing for graduate school). A student also has to consider testing, funding, and how to be emotionally prepared (i.e. be aware of what to expect) for the demands of graduate school.

In addition, a student may also have to make tough choices when choosing between two (or more) programs, weighing the pros and cons of each. This article will serve as your guide and will discuss why you should consider graduate school in the first place. Furthermore, if you are leaning towards graduate school, what are the steps that you should take in order to get into a top graduate program? However, it should be pointed out that before you do anything, you must make sure that applying/going to graduate school is even the right decision in the first place.

According to GradSchools.com, Some of the Main Reasons to Go To Graduate School Are:

  1. Necessity: Some professions, such as Anthropologists, Physician Assistants, Epidemiologists, Psychologists and Speech-Language Pathologists, require a graduate degree or higher to even begin working the industry. To see the minimum education required in your field, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupation Finder.
  2. Stand Out From Your Peers: The “academic inflation” phenomenon has resulted in an excess of college-educated individuals competing for too few jobs. A graduate degree may help you stand out from your peers in this extremely competitive job market and may help you find a position upon graduation.
  3. Ability to Earn a Higher Salary: Just because your chosen industry doesn’t require a graduate degree, doesn’t mean they don’t prefer it. Obtaining a master’s degree may allow you to earn a higher salary than if you just had the minimum education needed to enter the profession.
  4. Ability to Climb the Corporate Ladder:  In many cases, having an advanced degree might allow you to climb the corporate ladder more quickly than those with only a bachelor’s/associates degree. Even if obtaining a graduate degree doesn’t automatically earn you a higher position, it could easily open doors to future promotions and job opportunities.
  5. Service Oriented Programs: Many graduate-level courses are taught as discussion-heavy seminars rather than the lectures you are used to attending as an undergrad. You also have the ability to choose a service-orientated program which requires hands-on experience in the field via an internship or practicum. This can allow you to receive an overall enhanced understanding of the field.
  6. Option of Writing a Thesis or Dissertation: Graduate school is much more than just classes; you are able to complete a variety of projects to improve your knowledge of the industry. Many schools require graduate students to write a thesis or dissertation before graduating. This can allow you to study, in detail, a specific aspect of your chosen industry. If your findings get published, you can receive national or even international recognition for your work.
  7. You may also get the option to conduct research while in graduate school. Many schools provide top-of-the-line equipment for students and faculty to perform research. Publishing your research could once again allow you to obtain national or international recognition. Finally, if sharing your knowledge is important to you, many graduate students are given the opportunity to teach a class. Whether it is through a Graduate Assistant or Teaching Assistant position, or just because a professor recognizes your outstanding knowledge of a subject, you may be given the opportunity to teach a class or even an entire course. Who knows, maybe you’ll find that teaching is your passion!
  8.  You Want To:  While everything listed above are great consequences of attending graduate school, you shouldn’t do it unless you want to. Graduate school is an enormous commitment, and you need to want to put in the time, money and effort it requires.

So, Still Considering Graduate School?

Graduate school can be an extremely rewarding experience, and is a gateway to establishing yourself as a promising candidate for job opportunities-as it may qualify you for higher paying jobs or careers. It also offers the chance to dedicate yourself to research and explore your ability to think critically, and engage with experts in the field of your choice. However, graduate school is not right for everyone.

Graduate school is a huge commitment with high expectations, and it will be an extremely demanding, although possibly very rewarding, experience. If you are passionate about research and writing; if you can see yourself dedicating 2-7 years of your life to a certain field or topic; if you enjoy intellectual challenges and aspire to publish, teach, or research as a career path; then graduate school would be a wonderful opportunity to develop the skills to do what you love.

These skills include but are not limited to the following: critical thinking and analytic skills, research skills (field dependent), writing skills (developed when you publish your work or write your thesis), communication skills developed via peer/professor interactions, teaching and presentation skills, time-management skills, etc.. While graduate school does not guarantee that you will end up with the job of your dreams, it is certainly a stepping stone in an increasingly competitive job market.

If you have decided to go to graduate school, but are not ready to commit to a PhD program due to the amount of years it would take you to complete, applying for a few masters programs might be a good alternative. You can refer to ‘Thinking About Graduate School‘? for a breakdown of what kind of graduate programs are out there. One should also consider whether they are emotionally prepared for the demands of graduate school, as well as whether they can thrive in a highly competitive environment with high expectations on the intellectual merits of the individual student.

Graduate school requires self-direction, ambition, and a clear sense of what you want to study and why. And when it comes to a PhD:

A PhD is not for everyone. It requires a peculiar mix of intelligence, persistence, discipline, creativity, rationalism, stubbornness and sheer nerdiness.

If you can answer the following questions, you are ready to apply to graduate school:

  • Do you have a clear understanding of what kind of research you would like to conduct, and what kind of job you hope to maintain afterward? Having a clear career path in mind should be your first step before considering graduate school. Don’t know? Start doing informational interviews!
  • Do you know who you would like to work with and why (do your research!)?
  • Does the research project look interesting? Follow your passion! Also, do you wish to pursue research interests that are potentially more ‘high impact’?
  • Are you prepared for the rigors of graduate study financially and emotionally?

These questions can also be used to help with writing your Statement of Purpose, one of the most important documents in an application.

10 Things You Should Know When Applying to Graduate School

  1. Find someone who is willing to mentor you through your applications process. This would include proofreading your work and giving advice on programs. It should be a professor who would also consider writing you a letter of recommendation and someone who you have taken classes with. It could also be a supervisor during a summer internship.
  2. Research graduate school programs that may interest you and consider how the programs are ranked. Gather all needed information to see if you are qualified or not, as well as the requirements. And don’t forget to take note of the deadlines. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of the different programs, professor contact information, deadlines, requirements, and      addresses of each university. As much as you can, apply to more than one graduate school program. In this way, the probability of getting into one is higher.
  3. Make sure you have met all the requirements when it comes to the program application. Make sure to fill out the application form completely. Do not leave any blank space. If the information required is not applicable to you, then indicate it in the space provided. And make your application form as readable as possible. Be sure to proofread and be sure to contact the program coordinator to make sure you have met all the requirements.
  4. Ask your professors (who you worked closely with during undergrad) if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Ask early in the applications process so they have as much time as needed to prepare the letter. Provide them with the information of where to send the letter. Also send them an essay you wrote for them while in their class that you scored well on and your resume with your email.
  5. Have a good quality and well-written personal statement/admissions essay. Other graduate schools require specific information to be included in the essay, so be sure to cover all the points. An admissions essay is their way of getting to know you personally. Make sure to tailor your essay to each graduate program. What aspects of each program do you see yourself benefiting from and why? How would you make a strong contribution to their program? Refer to specific professors who are working at each university and show the relationship between your research interests and their work.
  6. Contact by phone or email the professors you would like to work with ahead of time. Give them information about your academic background and make sure to have read at least 2 pieces of their work so that you can reference their writing when you make contact. Try to set up opportunities to meet with them in person to discuss your aspirations and goals.
  7. Prepare your resume/CV. Some programs do require you to submit a resume or curriculum vitae. If you already have one, then update it if necessary. Make sure to include references and      any academic awards or scholarships you’ve earned.
  8. Request your official transcripts from your University, as early as possible, before the application deadline.
  9. Gather all the requirements and mail them prior to the deadline. Confirm with the graduate school you are applying to if they have received your application and all necessary information.
  10. Prepare yourself for an interview in case the program you are applying will call for one. You can do this by creating a set of questions and having friends and family with you. Be sure to dress professionally and have answered numerous practice questions so that you will feel confident.

Testing and Funding

  1. The GRE and oftentimes subject area tests are required, so be sure to take plenty of practice exams beforehand. It is worth investing in a practice book that includes a CD because the exam will most likely be administered electronically. Make flashcards for vocabulary to study. Take the GRE at least 6 months before the deadline of your graduate programs to give yourself a maximum time allowance in case you have to re-take it. Make sure to take every exam that is required by your potential programs and look up what scores they expect. Once you are happy with your score, send it to your chosen graduate program and make sure that it has been received.
  2. Explore the  funding options at each school. Without loans, fellowships, or grants, graduate school can be extremely expensive. Make sure the programs you apply to offer funding, scholarships, and/or teaching assistantships, and fill out a FAFSA if you qualify to see if you can receive government funding for your education.

Once You’ve Been Accepted…

  1. If you’re lucky you might have the chance to choose between multiple programs that have accepted you. Pick the program that has the professors whose work most closely aligns with your own research interests. Also consider funding and the ranking of the university. If you still have questions, EMAIL ME DIRECTLY.
  2. Consider what resources and connections the university has for job placement post-PhD/Masters. This could help with finding a job after you complete your program. Where do the alumni end up? You could also do informational interviews with those who have transitioned out of academia and into the workforce. From this, you’ll have a broader understanding of the types of jobs out there vs. figuring it at the last minute just before graduation.
  3. Contact graduate students at the universities and ask for advice on how to best prepare for your program of interest. Ask them what they wish they had known before their first or second year of graduate school. See if they have any regrets about the program they chose (or the research lab they chose) and who they recommend as a thesis advisor (if not their own). Get advice on course selection, professors, and resources for graduate students via email or through online forums.

I hope this article has given you a good overview and structure of what it takes to apply to a graduate school and open the door to a promising job opportunity. After weighing the pros and cons of graduate work, and deciding whether it is worth the investment of your time, energy, money, and labor, you can then determine if it is the right decision. If you do not see graduate school as a means of opening doors in the job market and making you a better prospect, it might not be the right choice.

If you have a clear goal in mind, a good grasp of the expectations and demands of graduate work, and are an organized and careful planner, your applications process should be a success. Do not hesitate to explore every resource available when preparing your application, studying for exams, and deciding between programs. While being a graduate student is a very individualistic, academia is a community and a network worthy of engaging with in order to put forth the best application possible, and to make the biggest intellectual impact as a graduate student.


More Reasons to Consider Graduate School (Image Courtesy of CareerAlley.com):

Comments

  1. Mademoiselle says:

    Thank you for the tips. I am applying to PhD Programs next year and these tips will come in handy. I like the tip about considering resources and connectons post PhD.

  2. gaia shamis says:

    This is some great advice! Here’re another great post on things you should do BEFORE applying to grad school to find the perfect grad school match. http://www.myscizzle.com/blog/5-things-you-should-do-before-grad-school/

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