Are you buried in an avalanche of applications, transcripts and various graduate school brochures? Do the letters “G”, “R” and “E” leave a sinking feeling in your stomach when arranged in just the right way? Then don’t fear – the guide to grad school is here!
The first step toward an even higher education is to make the decision if grad school is right for you. According to Advising Services Pre-Graduate Adviser Danielle McManus, if you are ready to consider applying there are signs.
“You’re sincerely interested in and have a passion for a particular field, you enjoy school and are doing well in your upper division courses and you recognize and accept that going to grad school involves sacrifice,” said McManus in an e-mail interview.
Conversely, she stated that there are signs that demonstrate you should not be thinking about grad school at all. She discourages applying if you are only afraid that you will not get a job. In other words, do not use grad school as a back-up plan.
“You shouldn’t [apply] unless you truly want to go, both because application committees can sniff out [any] whiff of uncertainty or insincerity in an application and because grad school represents a commitment that you don’t want to be half-hearted about,” McManus said.
If post-graduate education is your first choice, then the time to start preparing is as soon as possible. Start researching programs in your field and make sure to base your judgments off of the program’s reputation – not the school’s overall reputation. Talk to professors in your field to see if a specific program is right for you.
“Go to the library and browse through some of the academic journals in your field. Flip through and look for articles about what you want to study and pay attention to what institutions the authors are from,” McManus said.
The web site petersons.com can also be used to search for programs based on specific degrees and fields.
The basic timeline of applying to graduate school begins as early as junior year. The pre-graduate school advising web site suggests that students begin requesting letters of recommendation in spring of their junior year.
During the summer before senior year, students should take the general GRE and begin their statement of purpose. To prepare for the GRE, students can download a sample exam from ets.org/gre.
“Based on how you score on it you can gauge how much studying you’ll need to do to get your scores where you want them,” McManus said.
If students feel like they need to make a lot of improvement, enrolling in a GRE prep class through a test-prep company can help, though McManus points out that they can be expensive. In terms of taking the GRE multiple times, McManus recommends against it.
“Most Master’s and PhD programs will average your total scores together – rather than take the higher score – if you take the exam more than once,” she said. “It’s better both emotionally and economically to take it once and put in your best effort.”
In fall quarter of senior year, students should complete their statement of purpose, finish gathering letters of recommendation and take the GRE Subject Test if it is required for their program. Grad school applicants should also start showing their statement of purpose to qualified reviewers.
Shaena Grossman, a UC Davis alumna from 2001, received her Master’s of Education from Boston University and emphasized the importance of the statement of purpose.
“A good essay that states your specific interest in the field helps when applying,” she said.
With the statement of purpose perfected and letters of recommendation collected, the fall and early winter of senior year is the time to request official transcripts. Winter is the time to submit final applications, as most deadlines are in December or January.
With the timeline of grad school applications set out, McManus offered a few helpful hints on how to better prepare.
“Get to know your professors. Go to office hours regularly. You want to establish a good relationship with as many professors as possible,” she said. “Get into research; take advantage of the research opportunities on campus.”
Meghan Balk, a UC Davis alumna now attending graduate school at the University of New Mexico, echoed this thought.
“Get experience now. College is the only time you can find lab jobs so easily, since most opportunities are geared towards undergrads and not post-grads,” she said.
In addition to doing research and networking with professors, McManus clarified the difference between undergraduate schools and grad programs.
“Clubs and extra-curriculars are not as important as research experience and internships. The experience that matters most is the experience related directly to the field you’re applying to. Unlike graduate schools, graduate programs aren’t looking for you to be ‘well rounded.’ They’re looking for you to have specific knowledge, skills and experience,” she said.
If students need more help or want to find out more about applying to grad school, Pre-Graduate Advising Services are available on a drop-in basis at 111 South Hall. To make an appointment or find out about drop-in hours, call the office at 752-4475.
JENNIFER SCOFIELD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.