Tips for Getting Into Graduate School

Are there ways to improve your chances of getting into graduate school? Yes! Here are some ideas for you to consider if you’re thinking of applying for graduate school.

Start early. If you’re still in college, then do whatever it takes to get top grades for the remainder of your time there. If you have to cut back on your social life or recreational activities, so be it. Your sacrifice will pay off down the road. Take as many advanced courses as possible in your field. And get to know some professors if you haven’t already. Engage them, and let them know of your interest in getting into graduate school. See if there’s any way you can be of assistance to them in their teaching or research. Not only would such experience be a real plus on your grad school application, but the professor would be able to give you an outstanding recommendation, in contrast to the run of the mill one they might write if you were just another of their students. Start the application process early, also. Not only will this give you a leg up on much of your competition for acceptance, but it also allows you to do things thoroughly and in order.

Find out what test or tests you’ll be required to take in order to apply. Then invest in some study guides or other materials and spend some serious time tackling the practice tests. You shouldn’t even think about taking the LSAT, MCAT, GRE or other test without a good test guide, and without spending hours and hours studying it. Many people applying to grad school don’t think it’s worth the time or money to buy a study guide and use it. They’re very wrong. And you’ll have a real advantage over them. You can't overprepare when it comes to doing a grad school search.

Don't limit your graduate school search; apply to several schools. It’s recommended that you apply to at least six. Some people apply to twenty or more. However many you choose is up to you, but certainly it should be more than two or three. Competition for grad school slots is fierce, especially at the better known universities and programs. You may think you’ve got an excellent chance at being admitted to your first choice, and you may, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have one or two safety schools as a backup.

Keep in mind that the admissions process for graduate schools is nothing like the process undergraduate colleges and universities use. There, decisions are made by the admissions department. For grad school, the professors in the department make the decisions. It’s a much more personal decision. For that reason, you should visit as many schools as you can, and talk to the professors there. Let them know how much you’d like to work with them, and try to convey what a good student you are, and what an asset to the program you’d be. You don’t want to fawn or grovel, but you most certainly do want to make an impression. Some prospective grad students strike up email conversations with professors at schools they’d like to attend after they’ve visited and met them. If you have friends in a program where you hope to wind up, you can ask them to introduce you to some professors, and put in a good word for you.

If you’ve written any articles for publication, be sure to include a copy of them in your application bundle. Since writing and researching is what grad school is all about, you’ll demonstrate that you can do the work. The fact that your writing was considered good enough for publication will say volumes about what kind of student you’ll be.

Keep abreast of developments in the departments of any universities you hope to attend. If you learn that one recently received a large grant for research purposes, or was given a large gift by a donor, that could well mean that they’ll be looking to accept more than their usual number of incoming grad students in order to make use of the money.

Finally, if you’re not sure if you want to earn a master’s or doctorate, think about applying for the doctoral program. Most professors and departments give strong preference to doctoral candidates over students studying for their master’s. And if it comes down to it, that could be the deciding factor at your school. And if you’re accepted into a doctoral program, but later decide that a master’s would be better, most departments will let you switch. By that time, you’ll already be in school, and so you won’t have to worry about getting into graduate school.

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Last Updated: 05/25/2014