Considering grad school? Here Are a Few Tips to Help You Get Started on Your Search
BY MONICA ECHOLS, CULTURE EDITOR
Getting through four years of undergraduate studies can be hard enough, but for many students, thinking about what to do after college can be even more stressful.
With the pressure to either immediately find a job or go to graduate school, thinking about those next steps can be scary. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) and Career Services created the CHSS Grad School Series to help students who are considering going to grad school.
The first event in the series took place on Monday, Sept. 27, titled “Considering Grad School? The Why, Hows and Ifs.”
The event highlighted an important step in going to graduate school: finding the right one. One thing to consider is a school’s ranking. Websites like the US News and World Report rank schools by program, which can be helpful. However, there are other aspects that students should keep in mind.
Rachel Lindsey, assistant director of career education, said, “Rankings are important as a piece of your puzzle, but think about why you’re there.” She encourages students to consider a school’s culture and whether “you [are] going to be happy there.” Lindsey also suggests looking into other factors, including what makes one school’s program different from others, the average length of time it takes to complete the program, the percentage of full-time and part-time students and what the program is centered around in terms of theory and application. These questions can help students decide whether a particular school is the right fit for them.
Once students decide which school they want to attend, the next step is to look at the admissions process, which can vary from school to school. “You have to remember upfront that every school is different,” Lindsey said. Even different programs within the same school can have different requirements. When researching the admissions process, take into account the relative weight of test scores, undergraduate GPA and recommendation letters. Students should also check to see if there is an interview and whether or not they can speak to current students in the program.
Lindsey also encourages students to consider applying for non-degree status, which allows students to take a limited number of credits before applying for the degree. Non-degree status can be a great way to try out graduate level coursework before making the commitment, decide if the school and program are really a good fit and develop relationships with faculty who could write reference letters.
References and recommendation letters can play a big role in whether or not a student is accepted into a school. Lindsey stressed the importance of asking permission before using someone, especially a professor, as a reference. Sometimes, people might not feel comfortable being a reference, or they might be too busy to write a good recommendation letter, so make sure to keep your options open. Other times, professors might not remember a student, especially if it has been a few years since that student has been in their class. This can also happen when students try to use a former boss as a reference.
Personal statements or essays can also make or break a student’s chances of getting into a school. Lindsey suggests that students tailor their essay to the program they are applying to. She also added that students should be careful not to repeat the same information that is on their resume, and instead try to make their essay more personal. “If you’re bored writing it, odds are the person reading it is also going to be bored,” she said.
Lindsey also gave some advice for how to prepare to for an interview and any entrance tests. Websites such as Princeton Review and Kaplan provide admissions test-prep guides. Lindsey suggests that students “try to recreate the test environment” at home so that they feel comfortable when taking the real thing. Most importantly, she said “don’t try to wing it” the day of the test.
Students can also practice their interviewing skills. University Career Services offers virtual and in-person mock interviews in SUB 1, room 3400. Students can also access InterviewStream, a virtual interview prep service, for free through the school.
Finally, students should make sure they have a plan to pay for graduate school. Just like undergraduate, students can apply for scholarships, loans and financial aid to help pay for graduate school. Lindsey also recommended that students look into research or teaching assistantships and and ask their employer if they offer tuition reimbursement to help cover the costs.
Applying to graduate school can be a scary process, but it doesn’t have to be. Following these tips can help make the process less overwhelming.