7 Tips For Undergrads To Prepare For Grad School (Even If You Don’t Plan To Go)
by Puja Sarkar, Press & Written Media Team
You went through a grueling admission season and now you’re in college! These four years are bound to be some of your most formative as you figure out what you’re going to do next. However, figuring out what you’re going to do next starts while you’re in college and not after.
Many students entertain the possibility of going to graduate school for a Master’s or a PhD, but usually by the time they fix their minds on it, it’s a little too late and they have to do a lot more extra work to compensate and make their resume stronger. Not to mention it takes longer to get into grad school and chances are you’re going to keep delaying it.
So, it’s best you start preparing while you’re still in college. Besides, if at the end of the four years you decide not to go to graduate school, you’ll essentially have lost nothing and rather, come out with a much stronger resume.
So, here are 5 tips for undergraduates to prepare for graduate school:
Internships aren’t just there to boost your resume. In college, you might not know what you want to pursue in grad school — do you want to change your entire trajectory or which focus do you want to narrow down? This is where internships come in.
Not only do internships give you essential work experience and help make crucial connections, but also help you decide whether a particular career is right for you. This can also help you find out the educational prerequisites for the job you desire by speaking with experts in your industry. You also get the chance to decide whether going to graduate school is the best course of action for you to get to that position.
Knowing what you’re aiming for and how to get there makes choosing the best route to get there easier. This will make planning your graduate school course of study simpler and more fruitful.
Heads up: Don’t just opt for any and every internship. Keep in mind that an internship that alludes to your soft skills or is directly associated with your graduate program will have more weight.
Be smart about picking courses
In college, you might just be focusing on completing your credits and getting your courses done with. But that’s not exactly the best way to go about it if you want to keep the door for grad school open.
Look into what other courses are being offered which complement your major. Sometimes, grad school programs don’t require but prefer that students have taken certain courses. Depending on what you’re studying in college and what you aim for in grad school, these prerequisite courses might be international affairs or relations, communications, language courses etc.
Make sure you’re also keeping an eye out for writers, experts and professionals in your field, and who might be teaching in your program, who might be a visiting faculty or is conducting a workshop. This can help you decide on any professor or expert you might want to work with.
Also consider taking some graduate-level courses that your undergraduate college offers. These courses can help you prepare for graduate school by giving you a taste of the experience and a chance to network with existing graduate students.
Set aside time for admission tests
Just like how undergraduate colleges require students to take the SAT, grad schools also have standardized admission tests which aid in the evaluation process.
It’s common for grad schools to evaluate your aptitude and capacity for success in graduate school using standardized admissions examinations. These vary depending on your graduate program, but the most common evaluations are Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) and Graduate Record Exam (GRE). There’s also the Miller Analogies Test (MAT), Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Your performance on these assessments matters, even though different graduate schools give varying weights to them.
Not to mention, if you’re going for a Master’s, these tests might also be a requirement for scholarships and funding, even if your program doesn’t require it.
You’ll probably need to take these exams while still an undergraduate student if you intend to enroll in graduate school right after college. You’ll have to use your breaks and invest some hours into preparing for these tests daily to ensure a good score. To avoid overloading yourself, schedule your tests in between semesters and think about enrolling in a study group or test preparation course.
Develop your resume
Usually, when grad schools ask for your resume, it does matter quite a bit. Oftentimes, the resume is the first thing admissions looks at and this is where the admissions officers begin making the initial cuts. This document helps admissions to skim over you as a potential candidate within a short amount of time.
It’s not the same as the resumes you’d use for applying to internships or your one-page academic resume. It’s more specific to your academic achievements and experiences, publications, strengths and such.
So, how do you effectively build your resume?
Firstly, working while you are an undergraduate is a great way to gain experience without delaying graduate school, but it’s also a great way to build your resume. Whether it be as a research assistant or office assistant in your campus library, these roles are significant to your resume. Additionally, these positions are great to list on your graduate school application if you are employed in a division or position associated with the subject of study you hope to pursue.
Secondly, make sure to take advantage of tools like your school’s career center. This is a great resource that can assist you in locating relevant internships, conducting your search for graduate schools, and thinking about your long-term goals. All this extra work adds to your resume and to your candidacy as a graduate student.
Thirdly, don’t forget to mention any awards or honors you might’ve received, even if that was in high school. The more achievements you portray on your resume, the more it strengthens your entire application.
Fourthly, add any additional sections if necessary. For instance, your publications, workshops you might’ve conducted or volunteered in, language proficiencies and so on.
And lastly, proofread. Make sure your resume meets any and all guidelines set forth by the university.
Cultivate a good relationship with professors and alumni
Professors and alumni play a crucial guiding role in the process of applying to graduate school. They’ve been through this process of getting into grad school and some alumni might already be in grad school.
Professors who you get along with and have a good rapport with are more likely to give you advice, keep you in mind for jobs or internships, write you recommendations, and provide you with advice on programs you might be a good fit for.
Keep in mind that professors are there to support students, and they are typically more than willing to share their knowledge, skills, and time. Whether it’s by email or in person during office hours, don’t be hesitant to get in touch and ask questions or discuss your graduate school goals.
Use alumni resources and social media platforms to get in touch with alumni who might already be in grad school. Initiate conversations with them to get a better idea of what graduate school admissions look for and awaits you once you get in. You can refer back to your school’s career center to put you in touch with alumni who are currently enrolled in graduate school and can act as mentors as you decide what to do next.
The importance of club involvement is a tricky area. Some grad schools don’t place much weight on your club activity or social work. In some cases, clubs are just important for grad school admission as they are for college admissions. This is where you get to develop and exhibit skills which you might not be able to in the classroom.
It boils down to your graduate program and what its requirements are.
Clubs give you the ability to climb the ladder and advance into leadership positions. This on your resume is seen as an illustration of accountability, a sign of maturity and determination by admissions officers. Grad school admissions officers want to see that you are able to commit to a club for more than one semester, ideally for all four years. Your duration with the club is a testimony of how dedicated you are to your role, something that is a necessary trait for when you’re in grad school.
Any extracurricular activity supporting your research or aligning with your future field of interest will probably be valued by the admissions committee. Graduate school admissions committees give significantly greater weight to undergraduate research, publications, language proficiencies, writing abilities, technical capabilities, and so on depending on your area of interest. So, choose clubs and activities that can provide you with these things.
Don’t forget about funding
Getting funding and scholarships for grad school is much more difficult and competitive compared to that of college.
The funding options for graduate candidates are much more limited and you’ll have to reach and start preparing for applying to these scholarships side by side with your other actual preparing for grad school. After all, if you do everything right and get in, but can’t afford it, what’ll that have accomplished?
Graduate students often have two common options for funding which could be offered by their program — assistantships and fellowships.
Some graduate students decide to apply for assistantship programs offered by their institutions, which give them the opportunity to work as teachers or research assistants. The jobs typically come with stipends, and some even come with extra perks like housing.
Additionally, reach out to the department chair or student services whether there are any related fellowships or scholarships you can apply for after being accepted into a graduate program. It’s a good idea to check with your school as well as conduct an online search because some schools may maintain an updated list of various local or national organizations that offer financial support.
Graduate school is no easy task. It’s a lot of work and research even before you get in. It’s important that you take some time throughout this entire time to actually assess if graduate school is something you want to go for. While you ponder on that and come to a decision, remember that preparing for it won’t do you any harm. With all the experiences and skills you’ll have gathered during your grad school preparation, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to do and how you want to build your career. If anything, it’ll make you a stronger candidate for whatever you choose to do next.
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