Do These 9 Things While You’re in College to Up Your Chances of Getting Into Grad School
If your career plans will require you to attend graduate school, or if you already know that grad school is something you’d like to pursue, it’s a great idea to start preparing during undergrad.
Just like preparing for college during high school, preparing for graduate school during college can make you a more competitive applicant. It’ll also ensure you’re ready for the challenges that come with earning an advanced degree.
Here are several steps you can take to prepare for grad school while still in college.
1. Get Involved
Like undergrad schools, graduate schools will look at your extracurricular involvement. In fact, they’ll evaluate your involvement in much the same way.
Grad schools like to see that you’ve pursued your passions and committed to organizations and activities for an extended length of time. If you can join professional organizations and other clubs related to your academic and career goals, that’s even better.
It’s also helpful to take on leadership roles, whether that includes student government, a prominent role in an organization or two, or simply stepping up when needed. Demonstrate that you’re an active and motivated member of your school community.
2. Complete an Internship
Top graduate schools expect that you’ve completed internships, especially if you’re applying to business school. An internship on your resume signals that you’ve gained valuable work experience in the field. It also shows a level of commitment and dedication that grad schools like to see.
In addition, an internship helps you determine whether the career you’ve chosen is truly a good fit for you. And that’s something you definitely want to confirm before committing to graduate school.
The internship can also lead to your eventual employment, give you meaningful experience in your chosen field, and lead to excellent letters of recommendation from your supervisor for grad school.
3. Do Community Service
Community service is another important aspect of your graduate school application. It’s especially impactful if you plan to work in a helping profession, including becoming a doctor, teacher, social worker, or counselor.
Consider volunteering through service organizations at your college, helping out at local schools, tutoring students, or working with a local food bank, nursing home, or animal shelter. If there’s a cause you’re passionate about, do your research and see if there’s a way you can give back in your area.
4. Create a Resume
Many graduate schools will require you to submit a resume. Even if a resume isn’t required, it’s a helpful way for you to keep track of your experiences and accomplishments.
Beginning during freshman year (or right now if it’s too late for that), record academic, professional, and personal awards, achievements, and experiences. Include dates and helpful details you’d like to remember.
As the time to apply for grad school approaches, the resume will help you shape your application and tell your story convincingly. If the grad schools you’re applying to require a formal resume, take your draft to the Career Center at your school for help with formatting.
5. Build Your Schedule Wisely
As you select your courses throughout college, be sure they will prepare you for grad school and for any standardized test you’ll need to take to get in. Some types of grad schools, like medical school, have prerequisites, so investigate requirements and be sure you’re fulfilling them.
Other grad schools have courses that they “recommend,” and it’s always a good idea to take these if possible. These recommended courses will provide a background that helps you succeed in your grad program, and taking them will show you’re serious about the academic and career path you’ve selected.
In addition, if you can find an opportunity to participate in undergraduate research, take it. Research is a major part of most grad school experiences. Getting a head start now will look great on your resume and be extremely helpful preparation for your grad school career.
6. Form Relationships with Faculty
When you begin applying for grad schools, you’ll need recommendations from professors, usually 2-3. These recommendations will be far more compelling if you’ve established relationships with the faculty members who write them. These professors don’t have to teach relevant courses, but it’s helpful if they do.
It’s also important to note that many professors will only write letters of recommendation for students who earn at least a “B” or even an “A” in their course. Perform well in your courses, visit office hours, and discuss your goals and shared interests with professors.
Learning from and building relationships with experts in their field (and potentially your field) is valuable, and these relationships will be important as you begin applying to grad school.
7. Make a List of Schools
By fall of your junior year of college, start making a list of the graduate schools you’re interested in. As you do so, research their application requirements, prerequisites, and deadlines.
It’s even better to create this list earlier, especially when it comes to ensuring you meet all prerequisites. Information about application requirements and deadlines will help you during your senior year as you start securing letters of recommendation, writing personal statements and finalizing your resume, taking standardized tests, and sending out applications.
The sooner you start planning, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel.
8. Plan Financially
Grad school is expensive, so it’s always wise to get a head start on planning your finances. If you can manage it, getting a part-time job is one way to start saving for graduate school.
Otherwise, start learning about grad school loans, financial aid, scholarships, and other ways of funding grad school, such as teaching assistantships. As you look at potential grad schools, consider how much they’ll cost you and which will give you the best return on your investment.
9. Study for Exams
To get into grad school, you’ll need to take the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. These tests are basically the SAT of graduate schools in general, business school, law school, and medical school respectively.
Along with your GPA, your standardized test score is one of the most vital elements of your grad school application. Figure out what test you’ll need to take and start studying several months in advance. Talk to people you know who have already taken the test, buy a prep book or sign up for a class, and take plenty of practice tests.
You may want to plan to take the test twice. However, these tests are expensive, so it’s best to prepare thoroughly and get a solid score the first time.
Final Thoughts: Do These 9 Things While You’re in College to Up Your Chances of Getting Into Grad School
Applying to graduate school is competitive, but you can help your application rise to the top by preparing while you’re still in college.
This preparation includes:
- Getting involved with student organizations and activities
- Completing a relevant internship
- Volunteering in your community
- Creating a resume
- Taking relevant courses (and performing well in your courses)
- Building relationships with faculty
- Listing and learning about your top grad schools
- Planning how you’ll pay
- Studying for grad school entrance exams
Note that most PhD programs have application deadlines in December or January, while master’s programs typically require applications by January, February, or March. You don’t want to be left scrambling as deadlines approach, so plan accordingly.
Follow all the steps on this list, and you’ll successfully check the boxes grad school admissions officers are looking for. Plus, you’ll be adequately prepared for the graduate school grind.
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