Preparing for Graduate School: Tips for Being a Competitive Applicant
Written by Annie Rose Stathes, Edited by Laura Morrison, May 2014
Applying for graduate school can be a daunting task, one upon which your entire future may depend. To properly prepare to apply for graduate school and to potentially become a more competitive applicant, consider the following tips:
Contact Graduate Schools
As soon as you know that you want to pursue graduate school, contact graduate schools that offer programs in the field of your choice. If possible, speak or meet with the director of each program and discuss your goals and options and the requirements of the program. More specifically, ask the directors:
- About specific application guidelines
- About GRE and other standardized test requirements
- What will make you a competitive applicant
- What type of experience you should obtain in the field prior to applying
- Who you should talk to about the program and its requirements
Contacting graduate schools and learning more about their acceptance policies will help you custom design your undergraduate program, your experience in the field, and most importantly, your graduate school application (especially the essays).
Start making connections with your professors and advisors right away. When you apply for graduate school, you will likely need to submit letters of references. Those letters of references should come from professors and/or advisors who can attest not only to your integrity and personality as a student, but also to your writing, researching, and communicating skills. In addition, graduate schools may be pleased to know that have successfully developed and maintained meaningful academic relationships with your professors over time. Evidence of your ability to engage in your studies and academic community may prove to graduate schools that you could contribute to their school and programs as well.
To connect with your professors and advisors, complete your work with integrity, participate in class, and treat them with kindness and respect. Visit with them during office hours and ask them for help and guidance on academic projects and endeavors. Demonstrate to them your academic rigor and work ethic, and allow them to get to know you as a person. Also, tell them that you want to go to graduate school and ask them for their support in getting there. Most professors and advisors will be more than happy to help you.
When you ask professors and advisors for letters of recommendation, give them plenty of time to write one and provide them with any requirements of the letters from the school.
Intern and Work
Pursue internships and work that will give you experience in the career you wish to pursue. The more experience you have in your field, the more your graduate school may view you as an excellent candidate. Interning and working in the field may demonstrate to acceptance committees that you are committed to the field and therefore more likely to do well and complete the program. By interning and working in the field, you may also be better able to write an application and essays that demonstrate your knowledge and competence in the subject and/or field. This could distinguish you from other candidates who know nothing or very little about the subject and/or field. Additionally, interning and working in the field may enable you to network with professionals who can recommend you for graduate school and future jobs. Connect with as many professionals in the field as possible and keep in touch with them over time. Demonstrate to them your work ethic and commitment to the field.
Study with Intention
If you already know that you want to go to graduate school to study a particular subject, start using your undergraduate coursework to become knowledgeable in the subject. When your undergraduate courses afford you the opportunity to research the subjects of your choice, choose ones that tie into your future career. Doing so may help you become literate in the field and enhance whatever other experience you have in the subject and/or field. Studying with intention and demonstrating your knowledge of the subject could make you a more competitive applicant for graduate school.
It’s important that you maintain a high GPA if you want to go to graduate school. While some graduate schools require a relatively low minimum GPA of 2.5, other graduate schools, when accepting limited numbers of students, select students with higher GPAs (all other things equal). To maintain a high GPA, it’s important that you take every class seriously and that you strive to earn As in the majority of your classes. Also, working hard could help ensure that you develop good relationships with your professors and are better prepared for studying for and taking the GRE. To do well in your courses, keep track of the work that is due, complete your work in plenty of time, put effort into your work, and talk to your professors when and if you’re falling being or confused. Establish partnerships with your professors and do the work necessary to do well in their courses.
Also, consider taking the GRE or other required standardized tests well in advance of your graduate school application deadline. You might want to take the test multiple times to achieve your highest score and doing so will take time.
About the Author: Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado.