The steps you need to take before diving in
As another school year rolls around, you are probably already gearing up for the traditional round of icebreaker games among your fellow peers. But, what would you say if your professor asks about your post-graduation plans? Have you even thought about graduate school yet? Do you even know where to start? If not, do not panic. Here are some tips to get you started.
Dr. Donald C. Martin, author of “Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students,” first suggests asking whether furthering your education is the right choice for you. “Graduate school is not something to take lightly,” he said. Once you have made your decision, Martin recommends taking a year to gather all necessary information before submitting applications. Yes, an entire year.
The first step involves researching potential schools and narrowing your options from information on schools’ web sites. However, Martin warns against eliminating choices too quickly. You should still have at least five options. This would also be a good time to start saving up for application costs.
The next big task is planning campus visits. “It is one thing to review a web site, read printed materials and communicate with admissions office staff,” Martin said. “It is quite another to actually visit a campus in person.” Seeing a school more than once would be ideal. But, an unannounced first appearance could be a deciding factor. “How you are treated as a ‘complete stranger’ can be very revealing,” he said.
Along with your research and campus visits, you can start preparing for the required standardized tests. Materials for the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc. are available on several web sites, such as the Education Testing Service and Graduate Management Admission Council. Find out which exam your potential schools require, and check out Barron’s Test Prep or Princeton Review for classes or your local bookstores for study guides.
Now that you are almost halfway through the search process, you may consider getting a student’s perspective on a chosen school. If you happen to know someone attending one of your prospective schools, feel free to ask questions. But, if you do not have a go-to source, do not worry. Simply contact the school’s admissions office and ask to be connected to a current student.
Based on all of your research, you can begin narrowing your options to those schools where you will submit an application and taking practice tests. If your initial score is not what you had hoped for, you can take the exam a second or third time. Rather than making you look less competitive, the additional scores indicate that you are trying your best.
With just a few months remaining, it is time to request those transcripts, start completing applications and select people to write recommendation letters. When deciding who will give you the good word, you should “pick someone who knows you well,” said Joyce Putnam Curll in her book, “The Best Law Schools’ Admissions Secrets.” While asking a famous professor may seem impressive, the name may not help if you have not built a relationship.
As you send off your applications, just try to relax. The only thing left to do is wait and prepare for whatever answer you may receive.