There are many reasons why you may be planning on applying for grad school in the future. Maybe your career requires it, or maybe you just hope to receive advanced training and experience in your field. Whichever the reason may be, it’s a smart idea to begin preparing early, specifically during your undergrad. It can help you become a more competitive applicant while also making sure you’re prepared for all that comes with pursuing an advanced degree.
Here are some things you can do while still in college that will help you get into grad school.
1. Get Involved
It is extremely important to get involved during your undergraduate. Graduate schools will want to see your extracurricular involvement, such as in clubs or organizations. They like to know that you not only have passions but that you also are committed to them and dedicate time to them. To go the extra mile, being a part of professional organizations or clubs that are connected to your career will look great on your application.
2. Leadership Opportunities
Taking on leadership roles, such as in student government or a club, will help exemplify that you’re a motivated member of your school and a person of action. It will also give you great experiences that you can share in your interviews for graduate school as well as on your resume. Leadership roles will show that you can work with others, have a desire to be involved in your community, and that you can execute a plan while working through a variety of problems.
Most graduate schools will expect that you’ve completed an internship, possibly even a few. Being able to add internships to your resume will show that you’ve acquired valuable work experience in your field of study. There is a deep level of understanding that comes when you are able to combine academic learning with real-world experience. This understanding and level of commitment is something that grad schools look for and like to see.
Completing one or two internships before applying for graduate school will also help you get a feel for if the career you’ve chosen is a good fit for you. Some people learn after completing an internship that they don’t love that field of work, while others may discover that they have an even deeper passion for it than they ever knew. Either way, giving yourself an opportunity to learn if you are a good fit is valuable and can change the course of your future. In addition, good employer recommendations look great when applying for grad school.
4. Community Service
Another important part of your graduate school application is your community-service involvement. Outside of wanting to know how well of a student you are, most graduate schools like to see what type of things you do outside of school. Involving yourself in good community service opportunities will look impressive on your application and show that you continue to apply yourself to your community, even after classes are done. Perhaps consider volunteering at a local food bank, helping at schools, or even tutoring students. Think about a cause that you feel close to or something you’ve always wanted to get involved with.
5. Build a Strong Resume
As expected, most graduate schools will make submitting a resume a requirement. At the start of your freshman year, make sure to keep note of any academic achievements, professional opportunities, personal milestones, or any unique experiences that could strengthen your resume. Keeping track of these accomplishments will make it easier for you to create a strong resume that you can submit for your graduate school application. Be sure to write down as many details as you can about each experience, including the date.
A strong resume will assist in shaping your application to become something that will help whoever is viewing it feel as though they know you and the level of commitment you’re willing to apply to graduate school. Make sure that you have completed several revisions of your resume before submitting it. You may consider having a mentor, a school advisor, or a previous employer look over it and give you feedback on what you could change to make it better.
6. Relationships with Faculty
A part of your graduate school application will be submitting recommendations from your previous professors. In fact, some grad schools will require several recommendations. Rather than waiting until the end of your undergraduate to decide which professors you will ask, deciding early on and forming a strong relationship with those professors will set you up for strong and compelling recommendations. Although it will be helpful if the professors teach courses connected to your career field, it is not necessary that they do.
Before asking a faculty member to write a recommendation for you, consider thinking about the grade you received in the class and your level of participation. It will not be helpful if your professor writes a recommendation that does not show an impressive level of commitment and academic skill. Make sure to perform at the best of your ability in your classes, attend office hours with your professor, and be open with them about your academic goals. It may be helpful to even ask them for advice. Building these relationships will be critical as the time comes to start the graduate school application process.
7. Research the Graduate Schools
About a year or two before you need to start applying, create a list of the graduate schools you’re interested in and complete thorough research about each of them. It is important to find out their requirements for applying, any prerequisites they may have, and any deadlines. Doing so will ensure that surprises along the way won’t come up and that there’s nothing that will disqualify you from applying when the time comes. The earlier you can create your list of schools and research each of them, the better. You want to give yourself enough time to effectively give each school the time needed to make sure you are a top applicant. Knowing all the requirements ahead of time will help you keep organized during your senior year and as you begin compiling everything for your application.
8. Make a Financial Plan
It is easy to get caught up in the preparation for applying to grad school. While there are many academic requirements, it is also important to make a financial plan that will ensure grad school is a possibility. Grad school is not cheap and will require you to think about what your options are. If possible and if time permits, you may consider working a part-time job to begin saving money. Because this may not be possible for everyone, it is also important to look at your other options. These options include financial aid, graduate school loans, scholarships, or any other available option for funding grad school. If you are on a tight budget, you will want to find which schools are in your budget or which schools can give you the best return on your investment.
9. Study for the Tests
Before applying for grad school, you will need to take the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. In addition to having a high GPA, your score on this test will be a critical element of your grad school application. Take the time to find out which test you will need to take and begin your studying early to make sure you have enough time to prepare. You may want to think about enrolling in a preparation course for your specific test. Find people who have already taken the test and scored well and ask them for advice. Take as many practice tests as you can before the actual test so that you know exactly what to expect.
While the test is expensive, you may need to take it twice if you do not score high enough the first time. This is why it’s so important to give yourself enough time and to begin preparing early.
To make sure that you are not only prepared to apply for graduate school but that you will stand out amongst the other applicants, follow the steps on this list.
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