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Top 10 Tips for Getting Into Graduate School


1. You should be getting into graduate school for your reasons – not for other people’s. Graduate study represents an enormous investment of time and money. Don’t sign on to that commitment unless you’re sure it’s what you want to do.

2. Be realistic about the benefits of graduate study. Don’t fall into thinking that getting into graduate school is a magic bullet that will guarantee you career advancement or personal fulfillment. Some fields require an advanced degree for advancement; some don’t. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong (and quite a bit right) with continuing your education because you value learning and enjoy what the experience adds to your life.

3. Research your program options carefully. There’s a bewildering array of degrees and programs available in many fields. Make sure you understand the differences and you’re getting into graduate school because it serves your interests and needs.

4. Think about taking graduate level classes on a non-degree basis. Many colleges and universities allow people to take a limited number of courses without having to apply for or enroll in a degree program. Doing so can give you an idea of what to expect from graduate study. It can also demonstrate your interest in your field, and your ability to do work at the graduate level. If you’ve been out of college for a while, this can also help you get letters of reference attesting to your intellectual potential.

5. Take the time to prepare for the GRE. There are many good gre test preparation books available. Use them! A good GRE score alone won’t get you into grad school, but it will bolster any application. Besides, if you’re required to submit test scores, you may as well make sure you submit good ones.

getting into graduate school

Make sure you are getting into graduate school for the right reasons.

6. Invest the time upfront to work out the story of your life – and how you will tell it to the admissions committee. Don’t let them even faintly suspect you’re going to graduate school just by chance. Something did lead you to this decision – life experience, intellectual curiosity, career ambitions. Your story makes you unique. It differentiates you from the pool of other applicants the admissions committee considers.

7. Learn more about the school you want to get into. Find out what is going on at your chosen school. Has a faculty member recently won an award, or has a research project made the news? That is the kind of information that you can use to help explain why you think this school or program is the right one for you (and why you are the right student for it).

8. Get an early start on your personal statement. Your personal statement may be the most important part of your application. It tells the admissions committee who you are, and why they should want you at their school. Don’t leave it until the last minute – you’ll want time to review and revise. Don’t follow a canned outline, or ask someone else to write your statement for you. Admissions committees can spot generic and ghostwritten material a mile off, and they do not like it.

9. Work on getting your letters of reference. This can be one of the more intimidating aspects of graduate school admissions, especially for applicants who have been out of college for a while. Think about what kind of information will help your application – would it help to have some assurance that you’re intellectually capable of graduate level study, or that you can handle a heavy workload? Who can provide a credible letter that provides that information? Don’t be overly shy about asking people to write letters for you. Remember, it’s a compliment to them that you value their opinion and believe an admissions committee will give weight to what they have to say.

10. Relax! Once you have your application and supporting materials submitted (and know they’ve been received), there’s nothing more you can do re getting into graduate school. Take a break from your labors. With attention to the above tips – and some luck – you should soon be in the position of having to choose among acceptances.

Click on the links in the drop-down box in the upper left to go to the web page with more information about specific programs.

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