So You Want to Go to Grad School

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BY Gina Nobile > English and Gender Studies > Senior > Rutgers University

Thought the stress of applications and tests was over after you got into college? Think again. While graduate school might not be for everyone, many professions require an advanced degree. The question is—how do you get there?

Generally, it’s best to start looking at programs one full calendar year before you apply in order to assemble application materials by each dealine. While Google and rankings published annually from U.S. News & World Report can point you in the right direction, one of the best ways to discover recommended programs is to talk to faculty at your university, says Deborah Franco, a mass communications admissions assistant at California State University, Fresno. “It can be an awkward situation for students to ask their professors or department chairs where they should go to grad school because they think that revealing that they’re even considering other schools will be insulting,” she says. “In reality, a lot of professors are quite frank and will say your best bet might be somewhere else. Students have to get over that fear.”

Franco says students often get caught up in applying only to big name programs in their field; and they tend to forget other important factors like a school’s professor to student ratio, history of job placement and climate. “A lot of students use tunnel vision when researching programs and in the process really cheat themselves,” says Franco. “For the most part, getting a doctorate or even just a master’s takes an average of 5 to 6 years. If you’ve lived in California all your life, grad school in New York might sound like a great idea until you realize the weather is a deal breaker,” she says.

Scott Trudell, a graduate student at Rutgers University, says students should test drive grad school before committing.  “Take an advanced level undergraduate course so that you can get to know a faculty member and get started on the essay you will eventually use as a writing sample,” he says. Not only will the level of work give you an idea of what to expect, you’ll get access to an invaluable resource: your professor. If you make a good impression, you might just get a letter of recommendation from your graduate-level professor in your field, which will give you a leg up.

Then there’s dealing with grad school entry exams—perhaps the hardest part of the process. Tests like the GMAT for business school and the LSAT for law school are typically requirements set in stone; but you may encounter a program that doesn’t require test scores. So should you bother? In order to set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd, go above and beyond the requirements. The extra effort may make up for places where you’re lacking: a slightly lower GPA or not enough extracurriculars, for example.

Applying to grad school requires a lot of work and waiting. But after you’re in, relax a bit. You just bought yourself another five years of college. The real world can wait.

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College Magazine Staff

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