12 Months Before Applying
Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students
by Dr. Donald C. Martin
1: Do an initial web-based search on graduate programs, based on the answers to your personal questions. For example, if you have decided on a part-time program and know where you would like to study, do a search of educational institutions that offer a part-time program in the area and degree classification you desire. You can also do a search by graduate program, such as Psychology, Law, Humanities, Advertising, Finance, etc. Make sure you do a couple of searches, so as many graduate schools matching your search criteria as possible are found.
2: Once you have done a thorough search, make an alphabetical list of all your options, regardless of what you presently know/have heard about them. Write them all down or put them on a spreadsheet. Remember: perception is reality - it's where you end up, not where you start, that matters. Be very careful about accepting word of mouth or what you think you know as final at this point in the search process. We are individuals, and as such, have different needs, expectations, and experiences. This is your educational experience – not someone else’s. You need to start by gathering a list of options. Do not eliminate any of them at this point. You want to get as much information as possible so you can decide what options are most appealing.
3: Go online and do some initial research on all of the institutions on your list. Assess not only the content of material on websites, but also look at the way in which it is presented. Is information easy to find? Is the tone friendly and inviting? Is it easy to request more information? Speaking of which, this would be a good time to request written information from each of the institutions. This will enable you to review what you receive any time you want. It will also provide you an opportunity to find out just how responsive admissions offices are to you. This can be very telling, and may shed light on the general level of responsiveness of those institutions about which you have made inquiry. Give each institution a grade on their website, and on the level of responsiveness they provided to you. Here is a suggested grading system:
|A = easy to navigate, informative, captivating||A = had a response within 7 business days|
|B = well-done, good information, friendly||B = had a response within 12 business days|
|C = fairly easy to navigate, not as helpful/friendly||C = had a response within 17 business days|
|D = difficult to navigate, not very informative||D = had a response within 22 business days|
|F = what were they thinking?||F = took three weeks or longer for a response|
|FF = no website, or close to nothing||FF = no response|
4: Should you consider taking a graduate level course or two now? Perhaps you were an undergraduate student awhile ago, or you may have received your bachelor’s degree very recently. Either way, if your undergraduate GPA was not what you believe is competitive, or does not speak to the academic work you believe you are capable of performing, you would do well to register at a nearby institution as a non-degree student and take one or two courses. If you do, earning an A or B will be very impressive to the admissions committee, and will demonstrate that you are able to perform well as a student.
TIP: This is a good time to start setting aside financial resources for your search and application process. There will be standardized tests and application fees for sure. In addition, you may decide to purchase some test taking preparation materials and/or to visit some of the institutions you end up placing on your list of top options.
For the complete twelve-month checklist, seven personal questions to ask about grad school, and much more, go to Dr. Martin’s website and order his book Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
Dr. Donald C. Martin is an expert in the fields of enrollment management, student affairs and higher education administration. From 1980 to 2008 he managed divisions including admissions, financial aid, student development, registration/advising, and career, disabled and international services.