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8 Tips on How to Get Into Graduate School

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For undergraduate students on the verge of graduating, applying to a graduate program is a common pathway to advancing their education and career prospects. A graduate program is an advanced course of study that allows you to specialize in a specific field and gain deeper knowledge and skills. It helps you stand out in the job market, pursue academic interests, and open doors to higher-level career opportunities. Applying to graduate school might be hectic and stressful as there are a lot of steps required, so here are some tips from our Collegeboxes experts to help you prepare for applying to a graduate program.

1. Research the Programs You Are Interested In and Start Planning Early

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It’s always beneficial to start planning early, ideally during your junior or senior year. Begin by considering what interests you and what you want to study. Also, consider which schools and states are the best fit for you. Research available graduate programs and their application timelines. Look for programs that align with your future career goals and academic pathway. Make a list of approximately 5-6 programs you want to apply to before starting the application process. Check out the schools’ websites to understand their application requirements, which can vary depending on the school and program. Many requirements take time to prepare, so starting early is key.

2. Gain Relevant Experience

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When selecting candidates to get in the graduate school, the admission committee focuses on whether you have any prior relevant research or work experience. It proves that you are academically able to succeed in the graduate program. Having prior research experience can help you stand out among other candidates. Whether you are a teaching assistant (TA), residential assistant (RA), or working on small projects and assignments, any relevant experience is valuable. Check with your department opportunities to participate as RAs/TAs or look online for internships, major-related projects, and certificates. Many professors also offer opportunities for participating in research studies. Take advantage of your college years to make yourself a strong candidate.

3. Maintain a Strong GPA

Yes, GPA plays a specific and important role in your application. Along with your test scores, your GPA is an indicator of your academic commitment. The admission committee will look at your transcript to measure your academic eligibility and potential to succeed in a graduate program. A high GPA can demonstrate your commitment to academic excellence and your ability to handle the hardship of graduate-level coursework. Some graduate programs have specific GPA requirements that applicants must meet to be considered for admission. It doesn’t have to be a 4.0, but it’s still crucial for you to maintain a good GPA, especially in your major courses.

4. Prepare for Standardized Tests

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To be considered for a position in graduate school, some institutes require applicants to take entrance exams to evaluate their critical thinking and analytical writing skills. Common ones are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Start working on these tests during your first few years of college so that you don’t get overwhelmed during your last year. Utilize online resources and seek advice from friends. Check both the application and test timelines to avoid any conflicts. Most importantly, practice, practice, and practice. Be well-prepared and confident. Most schools require international students whose first language isn’t English to take additional language tests such as IELTS or TOEFL. Research in advance to know if these tests are required.

5. Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation give the admission committee a comprehensive view of who you are and why you would be a good candidate. Most graduate schools require at least 2-3 letters. A strong letter provides positive insights into you and your work. It’s beneficial to have letters written by someone who knows you well academically, such as professors or managers. To secure a strong recommendation letter, don’t just aim for high grades; get your professors to know you more. Introduce yourself to them, help them understand your goals, attend their office hours, and be active in class. Professors are much more likely to write a strong reference if they know you well and see your academic performance. Strong references can make you stand out and boost your chances of getting admitted.

6. Write a Compelling Personal Statement

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The admission committee uses your personal statement or statement of purpose as a key factor in deciding whether you’re a suitable candidate. They want to understand more about you, your future goals, and your self-evaluation. Spend a decent amount of time crafting a compelling personal statement. Determine what makes the school your target and convince the admissions committee that you’re a good fit. Highlight your motivation, relevant experiences, and future goals. Tailor it to each school’s program, showcasing your fit and how their program will help you achieve your objectives.

5. Prepare for Interviews

The interview is the last step of the application process. Getting invited for an interview shows that you are one step away from getting into your dream graduate program. It means that you are being seriously considered by the admission committee. Common interviews likely include one-on-one interviews and teamwork projects. Preparing for the interview early can help you be more confident. Research and practice common interview questions while preparing thoughtful questions for the faculty. Think about your future goals and research interests. Most importantly, be professional, confident, and genuine. 

6. Network With Professionals and Alumni

Meet With Advisors

It’s always good to have support and assistance from peers and professionals during the application process. Knowing someone familiar with the graduate program application process can provide valuable insights and advice. They can help you understand what admission committees are looking for and how to tailor your application to stand out. You can also gain a deep understanding of the graduate school’s environment and culture. Building strong connections in your field can open up opportunities for research projects, internships and valuable experience. Start by looking for staff and alumni who specialize in your field of interest. You can find these information through the school’s websites, GitHub, and LinkedIn. Email them to introduce yourself and ask for a coffee chat to learn more about them or the programs. You can also reach out to your academic advisors and professors for tips and resources.

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