So… You're thinking about going to graduate school? Congrats! That’s super awesome.
If you're like me you're already a senior and six months behind in your planning, according to a University of Washington Career Center article on getting into graduate school. They recommend at least six months to research schools, get recommendations, take any required tests (GRE) and work on your application parts, aka Personal Statement (more on this later).
Harvard University also thinks you're behind. If you're looking at schools in the US, you're definitely behind. In the UK? Not so much. In the UK, grad programs have rolling admissions and they close the applications when they've chosen their students. Unlike schools in the US, if the UK schools don't find the students they're looking for, they don't let in the scruff. Make sure you read the school's process prior to making a self-induced deadline.
So at this point I have a serious question for you… are you sure you want to do this? I mean really sure? If you're looking for a life in Academia, this is the path for you. But if you're not interested in the politics, hard work and low pay of a life of academia, then this is probably NOT the path for you.
Harvard reminds prospective students that getting a PhD does not guarantee them a higher paying job; getting a Masters Degree doesn't guarantee a higher paying job either. So if you're just in it for the pay, this is NOT the path for you.
Masters degrees and PhDs are time consuming, soul consuming, hard work and they take a lot of emotional energy. This is NOT your undergraduate degree, this one involves your heart and soul written in a GIANT paper which you will submit to your peers in academia, some of which have been writing for longer than you've been alive. It's a big deal.
So if this is you, read on dear friends. If you're looking in the US, here's what you need to prepare to apply, according to Harvard University.
1) General information about yourself: application form
2) Transcript and grade point average (GPA)
3) GRE scores
4) Letters of recommendation (usually three required)
5) Personal statement
The most challenging part of this whole process is going to be your personal statement. You might use the same statement for every application. However, you're probably looking at several programs, so it's wiser to curtail your personal statement to each specific program you're looking into. You can find out more about personal statements on Purdue Online Writing Lab.
As far as financial support goes, you probably have an area you'd like to focus on. Universities pay students to research. For the first time in your educational career, universities want YOU to come to their school and make them look good. If you've got decent grades (around or above a 3.5 GPA), you write a kick-butt Personal Statement, you've got research experience and you're applying to a program that is in demand, there's a high possibility that you will get funding from the prospective school to get your highest level of education.
Image: Thomas Aquinas