The first questions to ask are: do you need to go to a graduate school in order for you to achieve your dreams? What kind of school would help you achieve your goals? Are you ready to commit? Are you motivated and prepared to apply? If the answer is yes, here are suggestions of what you need to consider:
- Plan Ahead. You may start thinking about graduate school a year, two or more before you actually complete all the requirements.There are many ways you can create your own path to a graduate or a professional school. Some people can go to graduate school right after completing their Bachelor’s, others need one year of working or longer. Think whether you need work experience and, if so, how long. Once you know what you want to study, see what kind of work experience and what kind of completed degrees and courses would work for your plan.
- Talk to people in the field and in programs that interest you. This is where mentors would be most helpful. Talk with faculty, graduate or professional students and postdoctoral students in your future field or profession. School websites often list student names and contact information. In most departments, undergraduate advising has a list of graduate students who are willing to answer questions about graduate school.
- Cultivate and maintain faculty relationships. Faculty members are the best conduit of information about specific programs. They also write the letters of recommendation that inform schools about you. The best letters result from relationships developed over time from shared interests and work together.
- Participate in research and/or Honors in your field. Undertaking Honors projects in the humanities, sciences, engineering or a senior project in the arts, provides exposure to the graduate experience. Projects can include close work with faculty and awareness of new research and methods in your field.
- Participate in internships, jobs or special projects that relate to the discipline of your interest. This is how you gain “work experience.” Most graduate schools, however, may prefer direct work experience.
- Look at ranking services. Rankings can’t convey which school is right for you, but they can give you a rough idea of which schools are considered the “top schools” for your interests. You may also find information such as tuition fees and acceptance rates for each school. Please note that it is most important that you match your interests to faculty interests or school features. Consider funding options.
- Create a testing schedule. Develop your own study plan based on your experience with standardized tests and familiarity with the required curriculum. You might consider commercial test preparation courses or study on your own depending on circumstances. Since testing requirements can vary. You should consult the guidelines for each school and fellowship competition.