What undergraduate should know about applying to graduate school
By Laura Morrison, July 2014
Graduate studies are often held in high regard by undergraduate students. While this can contribute to the allure and appeal of pursuing higher education, it may also create some unrealistic perceptions of the application requirements, or their ability to pursue a graduate degree. These perceptions might discourage some students from seriously considering earning a graduate degree.
Fortunately, applying to graduate school doesn't have to be an opaque process. Being able to separate fact from fiction is an important part of managing your mental bandwidth as you prepare for this next step of your academic journey.
Myth: You have to go to graduate school right away
Many students barely wait for the ink to dry on their undergraduate degree before diving headfirst into the graduate application process. Whether looking to get back into school before the lifestyle wears off or simply attempting to put off joining the "real world" for a bit longer, taking a now-or-never approach to graduate school can lead to stress for potential applicants. Especially for those who are already facing significant student loans from undergraduate study, diving right into the graduate process straight out of college can turn out to be more of a financial and emotional burden than a boon.
While pursuing graduate studies straight out of college is a very viable option for many, students need not feel like it's the only possible way to approach it. In fact, there may be distinct advantages to holding off on applying to graduate school for a few years. In a report from Yale University, it was revealed that the principle benefit to waiting to resume studies is that it gives applicants the opportunity to gain real work experience. Graduate school is an academic endeavor, but it's also designed to prepare you to work in a specific field - if you approach the application process with previous experience working, especially if it was in your potential field of study, admissions staff may actually see that as a positive quality.
The perspective gained from a few years away from academia is also valuable in its own right. Graduate school represents a significant investment of money and time, and the decision to go should definitely not be considered lightly.
Myth: You have to be perfect
The application process for graduate programs could be described as "rigorous." Many experts, like Dr. Donald Martin, author of “The Roadmap for Graduate Study” recommend taking a full year to prepare your application. It's easy to get intimidated by perception of impossibly high standards. If your GRE scores weren't spectacular or your GPA wasn't what you would have liked it to be, you may be tempted to shuck the whole process in light of your perceived failings.
In reality, the application process is so extensive because it's an attempt to gather as much information about what kind of student you are as possible. Syndicated News reassured prospective applicants that absolute perfection isn't required or even expected. It's fairly common knowledge that test scores and even grades can be poor indicators of overall performance or passion, and students who don't test well don't have to feel like graduate school is off the table for them. If you feel your application has a weak spot, there are steps you can take to shore that up.
Recommendation letters can go a long way toward endearing you to the admissions board. Your professors are already well-regarded members of the academic community, and their opinion is bound to hold weight. Similarly, extracurriculars can do a lot to paint you as a more complete, well-rounded candidate.
About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for GradSchools.com. She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.