Applying for Grad School
If you’re headed to graduate school in the fall, then you’ve already done the applying part (congrats!). But maybe you’re only contemplating graduate school now and still considering your options or you’re interested in getting some work experience first to increase your odds of being accepted. Either way, it’s best to do some of your grad school application legwork before leaving school.
Talk to Your Teachers
As the year is winding down, connect with one or two teachers who know you best and talk to them about which graduate school programs they’d suggest for you. Request information from the schools, and then ask your teachers if they’d be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Best to ask now rather than waiting until after you’ve left school. Chances are, you’ll need two or more letters for an application. You’ll also need school transcripts, so keep that in mind; you might not be able to get them before you graduate, but you should know how to request them and how much they cost—anywhere from free up to $25 each.
Tackle the Exams
Does your grad school of interest require an exam? Find out—and what score you should aim for to be in serious contention for acceptance. Most graduate schools require the GRE, but if you’re considering law school, you’d go for an LSAT, medical school requires the MCAT, and business school, usually a GMAT. It’s also a good idea to enroll in a test prep course to fully prepare—the sooner the better. Tests are generally offered several times a year, so work backward to plan your study schedule. If you don’t pass the first time, you can typically retake an exam within the same year. Gograd.org has some good, basic info on each type of graduate school exam.
Draft Your Personal Statement
For college applications, the essay was your beast to tame; for graduate school, it’s a slightly bigger beast, because you’ll need to not only recap your academic career, but indicate why you will make a good addition to their program. The trick is to tell a story—the story of you—while simultaneously giving admissions readers all the information they need about your qualifications. Get more tips in “How to Write a Graduate School Admission Essay.”
Gather Samples of Your Work
Depending on the type of graduate school you’re applying to, samples mean different things: an art portfolio, research results, published papers, etc. Whatever it is, take care to present it in an appealing, comprehensible, user-friendly way. Whatever you do to make it easier for the admissions committee to receive, understand and, hopefully, enjoy your submission, works in your favor.
Check the Instructions
Each graduate school may have slightly different requirements and requests. Be sure you understand and follow the directions for each one. Failing to do so not only shows a lack of respect for the process, but it makes you look lazy and may kick you out of the running entirely. For example, maybe one school wants 1,000 words for a personal statement, while another one says 500 max, but you send them both 1,000. It will only take a second for the admissions office to put your application in the “doesn’t follow instructions” pile.
Cross Your Ts
No point in rushing to send something if it’s not done well. Give yourself enough time to complete your application and then have time to edit and proofread. An admissions committee might not notice that you’ve polished your application to perfection, but they’ll certainly notice if you don’t.