Tips For Getting In
Once you've used a grad school finder to come up with a list of schools that you want to apply to, are there things that you can do to improve your chances of getting into graduate schools? Yes, there are! Here is a list of things you should consider during the application process.
Don't wait until the last minute. Start preparing for grad school as early as possible. Obviously, it will help if you have good college grades. If you're still working on an undergraduate degree, work as hard as you can to maximize your grades for whatever time you have left before graduation. This may hurt your social life and leave you less time for extracurricular activities, but if it helps when it comes to getting into graduate school, it will be worth the sacrifice.
Take as many courses as possible in the field you wish to get an advanced degree in, and don't take only the easy ones. Take advanced courses that will look good on your resume and do your best to get high grades in them. Get to know your professors. Show them that you're interested in pursuing a higher education in the field. Offer to help them in their research or assist them in their classes. The experience will be valuable to you for graduate education, and the bond you form with your professors may pay off in terms of strong recommendations. You'll no longer be just another student to your teachers. You'll be a colleague, someone they can wholeheartedly recommend to the professors in a graduate program. And start filling out the applications as soon as you reasonably can. This will give you a jump on the competition and it will give you time to do it right.
There will probably be standardized exams that you'll need to take in conjunction with your application. Take them seriously. Buy study guides for them. Do research. Take practice tests, which are often available from the companies that devise the exams. You should never take the LSAT, MCAT, GRE, or any other such exam without studying extensively in advance using a test guide. This will give you a significant advantage over people who make the mistake of taking these tests cold, and that advantage could make the difference between getting into the school of your choice and receiving a polite but firm rejection.
Don't apply to just one school. Apply to several. We recommend applying to at least six, and you shouldn't necessarily stop there. It's not uncommon to apply to twenty or more schools. Only you can decide exactly how many you should apply to, but don't stop at two or three. There's a lot of competition out there, especially at the top universities, and while you'd probably prefer to be admitted into your first-choice school, you need some additional possibilities as backup. Remember the old saying: Never put all your eggs in one basket.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that getting accepted is going to be just like getting into an undergraduate program. It's a very different process.
College rankings are usually a good indicator of how hard it will be to get accepted to a particular school. For undergraduates, the decisions are handled by an admissions department, but in grad school it's the professors who will decide whether you get in, which means that there's a personal factor involved. That's why you should visit the schools you want to attend and get to know the professors up close and in person. That way you'll be more than just an application form to them-you'll be a real person, one who's enthusiastic about learning the subjects that they teach. Let them know that you're a good student and that you're eager to work with them and that you think you'll be an asset to the program.
Don't fawn or grovel, but be sure to make an impression. Afterwards, you might want to continue the conversation with the professors via email. And don't hesitate to network with friends. If you know somebody who's already in the program, have him introduce you to the professors and give you a good reference.
Have you written for publication? Include a copy of your articles with the application. You'll be doing a lot of writing in graduate school, and showing that you're already published will prove that you're capable of doing the work that will be required of you. The fact that you've been published means that somebody thought you were a good enough writer to put your work in print. This says that you have what it takes for grad school.
Keep a close eye on important developments in the graduate programs you'd like to attend. Did one of them just get a large research grant or a significant donation that will go toward expanding the department? That means they'll probably be looking to fill more grad student slots than usual, which increases your chance of getting in.
And if you still haven't made up your mind whether you want the master's degree or the PhD, consider applying for the doctoral program. In most cases professors give priority to doctoral candidates and that could mean you'll be chosen over someone who is applying for a master's degree. If you decide later that the PhD really isn't for you, you can probably switch programs, but by then you'll already have been admitted to the school.
Last Updated: 09/18/2014