Advice for successfully completing graduate school applications

Stephanie Kinkaid Assistant Director of the Wackerle Career and Leadership Center Monmouth College

Research supports the fact that adults with advanced degrees experience lower unemployment rates as well as the potential for more income. However, undergraduate students are often baffled by the process. Getting an advanced degree means preparing to apply for graduate school, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds of paperwork. To land the position you want, read on!


Do

Do get an early start

If you are considering graduate school, preparation begins the sophomore year of your undergraduate program. Speak with your academic advisor and the career center to get started. Applying for graduate school takes time, so allow yourself at least two years to research campuses.

Do consider multiple schools

Find out the rankings of the schools you are considering, and then compare cost, requirements, and employment prospects for that particular program. Don’t be afraid to apply to multiple schools after doing your research - this will increase your chances of getting into a program you want. In addition, ask your professors which schools have the best programs. It also helps to research school websites to find the graduation rates and how well graduates are doing in the field.

Do study for any entry tests required

Your advisor and the career center of your undergraduate school should have information about the MCAT, GMAT, GRE and other entry tests. Study and work hard on the required test(s), as these play a major part in your application. You should always take a practice test, study for several weeks, and then retake the practice test to measure your improvement. Libraries often have stacks of resource books containing practice tests and questions. Additionally, most tests are online now, so get used to taking practice tests in the format of the official test.

Do get your references in order

Ask for references at least two months before they are due. This gives you a chance to get your letters in order in time. Pay attention to the titles/roles of your references. If you can give the chair of your department as your reference, then do so! In higher academia, education and titles matter.

Do prepare for the personal statement

Begin this process at least six months before the deadline. These statements should be edited and proofread multiple times. If you put this off until the last minute, the personal statement will not reflect who you really are. Always make sure your personal statement reflects your own personal experiences and that it captures attention.


Don't

Do not forget the importance of deadlines

All of your information should be submitted in a timely manner. Most applications are due by December of your senior year. It is recommended that you begin applying by September of your senior year to allow you enough time to get your documents in order.

Do not assume a graduate degree is imperative in all fields

For some degrees, such as business administration and communication studies, it may be more beneficial to gain experience in the field. In fact, communications studies graduates can make MORE with an undergraduate degree than an advanced degree. For business administration majors, the advanced degree may not be necessary, or an employer might even help you obtain the degree if needed for a specific job. Check with your career center to see if obtaining a graduate degree is the best idea for your future career aspirations.

Do not forget about assistantships

Apply for these early. The financial assistance these positions offer make graduate school more attainable for many students. Because assistantships are very competitive, keep your GPA above 3.0, and gain experience in clubs and organizations in college to enrich your academics. Many graduate programs are seeking candidates with a well-rounded background. Off campus study and internships make your application even more appealing.

Do not ignore your GPA in undergraduate programs

You will need a minimum of a 2.75 in most fields, with preference being given to those with a 3.0-3.5 or higher combined with extracurricular involvement on campus. But don’t give up. If you are not accepted the first year, work in the field to gain experience, and then reapply the next year. This is especially important in the medical field. Most medical students have to apply more than one year before being accepted.

Do not start the process your senior year

Most deadlines are around December of the senior year. Begin the application process the summer between your junior and senior year. This allows you time to study for an entrance exam and retake the exam if your score is not at a qualifying level. By starting the search your sophomore year, you will have more knowledge and less fear of the process by the time your senior year rolls around.


Summary
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Graduate degrees are becoming more important in today’s work world. To be a success in graduate school, it’s important to start the process early. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Preparation and knowledge are the keys to a successful application process.


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Stephanie KinkaidAssistant Director of the Wackerle Career and Leadership Center

Stephanie graduated from Illinois State University and has been employed with Monmouth College since 2007. She has a background as a mental health professional and has worked with thousands of college students as they prepare for the future. Her...

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