Consider your reasons for applying to a graduate or professional program.
Delaying your job search is not a good reason to go to graduate school. Career indecision or uncertainty is also not a good reason to pursue a graduate degree. Students who are unsure of their career goals and who are considering graduate school in an effort to delay making a decision, only create more debt for themselves and face the same dilemma a couple of years later. If this sounds familiar, make an appointment with your career counselor to develop your career goals and an appropriate strategy.
So why go to graduate school?
Graduate school is a good option if an advanced degree is required to enter a particular career field (medicine, pharmacy, counseling, law, advanced research, or academia, for instance), or if you are simply passionate about a particular discipline and want to gain specialized education within that area.
Yes, graduate school is for me.
Great! Here are some tips to prepare yourself, improve your competitiveness, and confirm your career decision during your undergraduate education.
- Get to know your professors. Not only will you be able to discuss graduate school with them, but you will need to provide several letters of recommendation as part of your application. Your professors cannot recommend you if you haven't taken the time to get to know them and share your career and educational aspirations. Take advantage of office hours, actively participate in class, and offer to help out with research projects.
- Maintain a high GPA. Use tutoring and support resources at the first sign of difficulty - do not wait! The course material only becomes more difficult, so ask for help at the first sign of trouble. All graduate and professional programs have GPA requirements and some will not accept applications with course grades lower than a "C" in core academic areas, nor permit repetition of core courses.
- Get involved in research projects and take writing intensive courses. Research will be required in graduate school, so the more experience you can acquire as an undergraduate, the easier the transition will be for you with graduate-level work. Strong writing skills are essential for any profession. Your graduate school application will be evaluated on many factors, including the quality of your writing sample or personal statement, so take every opportunity to improve your writing skills.
- Gain experience in your chosen career area. Volunteer, job-shadow, intern, or seek out a part-time job related to your career interests. Related experience is a big plus on a graduate school application because it demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm for your career field. Applicants with experience have a better understanding of what is actually involved in the career area they are choosing to pursue. Some programs require a minimum number of volunteer hours or years of work experience in order to be eligible to apply.
- Involve yourself in community service opportunities. While it is important to be focused on your academic discipline or career area, it is also important to be well-rounded and socially conscious. Community involvement provides opportunities to gain new perspectives/challenge beliefs, meet new people, or excite new ideas related to your educational or career pursuits. Most admissions committees look favorably upon community service experience and some programs may require it.
- Prepare for required entrance exams. Many graduate programs require submission of a GRE (Graduate Record Exam) score. Some specialized fields require exams other than the GRE to test for proficiency in certain discipline areas required for completion of the field of study, e.g. the MCAT for medical school, the PCAT for pharmacy school, the GMAT for MBA programs, and the LSAT exam for law school. Whatever your goal, be aware of deadlines and procedures for taking your required entrance exams, and prepare using practice tests or prep courses.