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What is the best way to get into graduate school?

I would like to get into graduate school eventually and need to know the steps I need to take. #gradschool #higher-education #graduate-school

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Seth Daniel’s Answer

Hello Isabel,
Congratulations on your goal of attaining a graduate degree in your chosen field! Mr. Gardner's advice is right on point with respect to taking standardized graduate admissions tests before your senior year in college. I have also found that Kaplan offers good standardized test prep for high school and college students, and there are other test preparation services that you can also explore to find the right fit for you. As you narrow your choices, you will find that graduate programs will have information about their admissions requirements on their admissions websites. I graduated from a program in the California state university system that did not require standardized testing, but many programs do require standardized testing for admissions along with completion of their application.

In addition to test taking, consider starting to research graduate programs as early in your college career as possible. Peterson's Guide to Granduate Schools is a great place to start (https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools.aspx). Peterson's Guide comes in both online and hard copy formats.

If you are able to start researching graduate program requirements early in your college career, you can do your best to tailor your course selections and major to align as closely as possible to your preferred graduate programs. Some graduate programs may require that you have taken certain classes as an undergraduate before you begin graduate study, so taking any of those classes while you are still enrolled as an undergraduate can save you the time and hassle of taking those classes after you graduate.

With advance planning on both the academic and testing fronts, you can make your transition to graduate school as smooth as possible. It is so great that you are planning on graduate school and willing to plan for it well in advance. I wish you all the success in the world!
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Daniel’s Answer

Hi Isabel,

I'd definitely recommend sitting for the GRE or GMAT in the summer leading up to your senior year. Your scores typically last a few years, and offer some flexibility on your end if you decide to postpone your graduate studies. Schools have different application timelines, with some accepting applications on a rolling basis, while others will set first rounds in the late fall/early winter. I'd definitely try reaching out to school's that interest you, as many have admissions counselors that can provide step-by-step guidance.

It certainly takes a significant amount of planning and preparation, but the first step would definitely be sitting for one of the major standardized tests. The GRE and GMAT are in some programs interchangeable, while others, such as business school, prefer the GMAT. For study materials, I'd recommend Kaplan, which has been incredibly useful for me (SAT, ACT, GMAT). It's a tough balancing act to study for these exams--while balancing your regular coursework, not to mention jobs, internships, etc.--but if you study an hour or two each week, months in advance, you should be in good shape.

Best,

Danny
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Kellee’s Answer

Hi Isabel,


So glad you're on this journey! As an admissions officer in higher ed, I concur with the fantastic advice already given. Taking the GRE or GMAT around senior year is must!


Now what do you do while in undergraduate studies to make yourself a competitive candidate? Here are some things grad school admissions officers will look for in your application and some tips to be competitive:


#1 Academic performance. Not just the GMAT/GRE, but your grades and final GPA.

  • Look to see if your college allows pass/fail grades. Required classes that may be a challenge for you could possibly be taken for a pass/fail grade. If you pass, it doesn't affect your GPA. I wish I would have known about this. I would have taken the "P" in that science class I was required to take versus accepting the grade that pulled down my GPA. (my sister is the science genius, not me. I'm a math geek!)
  • Don't be afraid to take a few classes based on hobby/interest, not just for your major. Have a little fun, and for the most part, you tend to get good grades in classes that speak to your passions.
  • If you're struggling in a class, reach out for help right away! Schools will have study groups, professor office hours, tutoring services...etc. College showed me that what was deemed excellent in my high school system was mediocre at best in others. I had classmates who came from well-funded school districts with advantages I didn't know existed. I literally had to learn to study properly and understand that I was operating in a much more competitive playing field. Cultivate those study habits now, before you get to college.

#2 Communication.

  • Oh those grad school essays! Required essays can range from brief summaries to multi-page topic discussions. If you don't feel confident in this area, take a college writing course. Writing a research paper is different from an essay for a grad school application. When you get to the point of applying, a great way to assess your writing is to have someone read your essay(s) without the knowing the question and see if they can figure out what the question is. If they can't figure out the question, you'll need to consider a rewrite.
  • What if there is an interview? Speaking skills and the ability to convey ideas with clarity is key. This is where taking leadership roles in clubs/activities can help you hone this skill. Consider outside sources such as joining Toastmasters, a debate team, or some other activity where you have to speak in front of others. In my work, I've seen a mediocre paper application turn into an "admit" because the candidate "wow'd" us with their interview/speaking skills.

#3 Program specific competitive advantages

  • Make sure you find out what the program looks for in competitive candidates. For instance, in Business (MBA), we look for work experience post undergrad. Candidates applying straight from undergrad are at a major disadvantage and rarely (if ever) get admitted. A solid portfolio of work is needed for grad school in writing, architecture, theater...etc. In a nutshell, know what your intended grad program needs outside of just a written application. Getting there could entail missing out on some activities/programs while in school to focus on what you need for grad school (like study abroad, semester at sea...), but you'll know when you reach that point. Take advantage of your school's counselor(s) when you hit those decision points. They can help.

I hope this helps. Good luck on your journey!


Kellee


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Betsy’s Answer

What a wonderful question! There is a lot that goes in to making that decision. Remember to explore your needs and wants and narrow your focus on what type of degree you may want. Below I’ve outline some steps that you might find helpful.

Betsy recommends the following next steps:

It’s wonderful that you want to head to graduate school! Understanding the field you want to master is key to finding the best school that fits your needs. Such as, I wanted a Masters in Counseling but desired a specialty in Student Development (because I wanted to work with higher education student population). So, narrowing your focus helps find the school that will best fit the program that you desire.
It helps getting in touch with folks that have walked this path before. Chat with professors or professionals who have been in similar programs to what you’re thinking about. This will help you narrow your focus on your program.
Once you find what you’d like to do, consider what is needed for you to be eligible to apply. Do you need to take the GRE or another exam? If so, perhaps take the prep course to help you get the best possible score.
Lastly, look carefully at budgeting and try to get an assistantship that will help pay for or completely take care of your schooling. Not only will this help you financially, but the assistantship will give you experience in your desired career field.
Good luck on your next big step!
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Blake’s Answer

Any experience in the field of study as well as good undergraduate grades. Also, having references for prior professors.
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Vickey’s Answer

Graduate? Just kidding.

There are no real secrets to getting into grad school. The easiest way is to contact the grad schools and programs you are interested in and find out what they require. Simple as that.

Oh, you probably want to become friends with a couple of your professors, now, so they will write you recommendations.

Good Luck

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