Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
Just because you are still in college doesn't mean it's too early to begin thinking about how to get into graduate school. In fact, if you plan to make that academic leap after graduation, it's probably wise to start preparing now. Actually, it's probably mandatory to start right now.
So let's go:
Make the Most of Your Undergrad Years
Obviously, maintaining a high grade point average is one way to make yourself an attractive candidate to graduate schools. You can also spend time preparing for entrance exams such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) that most grad schools require you to take before you apply. Several programs and courses are available which allow you to become familiar with the nature of the exams and to get some practice. And a handful of books focus on preparing you for the GRE tests. In addition, if you believe you could use some help with writing, you can find workshops and courses that can help get you ready to write your graduate application essay.
If you have decided you would like to attend graduate school to further pursue the field you are studying as an undergrad, enroll in high-level courses. It's great to already know where your passions and interests lie. You can also investigate which undergraduate courses are required by most graduate programs in your field. If you get those courses out of the way as an undergrad, you will escape having to take them as a graduate student.
Graduate schools require at least three letters of recommendation, so it is an excellent idea to begin seeking out the professors who can write them for you. Make connections with a few of your professors outside of the classroom. Face-to-face encounters are much better than simply e-mailing a professor to request a letter of recommendation. Your professors and advisors at the undergraduate level can help give you a clearer idea of what graduate schools expect from students.
Even if you plan to attend graduate school at the institution where you are an undergrad, you should consult a graduate advisor for tips on the graduate school application process. To get into graduate school, you will be required to write a statement of purpose. It would be a good idea for you to begin work on that statement as an undergrad.
Assessing your financial situation is another important way to prepare for graduate school while still an undergrad. Request financial aid information from the graduate programs you are interested in and try to begin saving money if possible. You can also investigate what scholarships and loans are available for you to obtain in order to pay for grad school, which can often be expensive.
The sooner you begin your planning for getting into graduate school, the better. The application process comes with several deadlines, so it is beneficial to establish a timeline even when you are still an undergraduate. Different graduate schools have different deadlines, so watch those dates carefully. Take a look at the applications and deadline dates from a few of the graduate programs that interest you and map out your steps.
One of the best ways to gain an advantage for getting into graduate school is somehow to find work in the field you plan to study. If you can find a paying job, even if just part-time, that is ideal. However, you can also find volunteer opportunities and internships available to students at the undergraduate level. Working in the field will expose you to what you will study as a graduate student and is a great way to begin networking.
Research is the cornerstone of graduate education. Getting involved in research at the undergraduate level gives students a huge advantage when it comes to getting into graduate school. When students apply for a grad program, the institution will evaluate whether or not the student will excel at research. Having worked in research before applying to grad school will impress grad programs and increase your chances of being accepted.
The hands-on, practical experience that research provides students is valuable for learning analytical and statistical skills that will be utilized in graduate school. Grad schools will use your prior research experience as an indication of your future success in their programs. You may be able to locate a professor who is seeking a research assistant during your undergraduate studies. If you cannot, try community organizations that are willing to have students conduct research for them. If you cannot find a professor or organization, you should attempt a research project on your own.
If you are fortunate enough to find a professor with whom you can conduct research, you may find that you can receive some kind of academic credit for your involvement. Researching with a professor can expose you to conferences, meetings and professional organizations within your study field. This gives you a chance to network and work in a group, as well as to possibly have your research published. You will find a growing number of undergraduate journals - many of them online--to which you can submit your research projects.
Conducting research as an undergraduate enables you to become active in your department, and can sometimes even lead to a scholarship. The outcome or quality of the product of your research as an undergraduate is less important than the experience itself. If your research project turns out to be a success, that's great, but it's not necessary. The important thing is that you have begun your scholarly career.
Getting into graduate school can be a challenge, but you can find many ways to increase your chances of being accepted, even before you receive your undergraduate degree. Making connections, engaging in research and early planning can go a long way in preparing you for the next step in your education. If you are motivated and know what you hope to study in grad school, there is no limit to what you can do to become a promising candidate for acceptance.
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