6 Things You Should Know Before Applying to Grad School

It’s your senior year of college, and you’ve decided you’d like to apply to grad school! Perhaps you need a masters degree for your desired career, or perhaps you would like to further your education in a particular area. Before you send out those giant manila envelopes, here’s a list of six things you should know:

1. How you plan to use a masters degree to advance your career.  If you’re getting your masters because you need it for your future job, this part isn’t so bad. It’s obvious why you need a masters. But those of us who don’t need another degree, but choose to get one anyway, will find that they’ll need to persuade an admissions board why this degree matters and how they’ll plan to use it. If you don’t know how you’re going to use a masters degree, don’t apply to graduate school yet.

2. How you plan to use their program to advance your career. Once you know why you need/want a masters degree, you have to be able to explain why the programs you’re applying to are best for you. Unlike your undergraduate application, the college’s social environment is not usually a reason to apply to that institution. You’ll be expected to discuss the program itself, which leads to the #3 thing you should know.

3. Know the program inside and out. When you apply to a graduate program, they’ll expect that you did your research and that it’s made evident in your statement of purpose (SOP). You’ll be expected to know what courses are offered, what will be required of you, and often times, who teaches the courses. Most colleges have their course catalogs and syllabi online. Go through the class descriptions and syllabi for the courses you’ll be taking. Read the resumes and accomplishments of the professors who teach the courses. The more you know about the program, the better you’ll be able to discuss your reasons for choosing it.

4. Know who you want to study under and why. The relationships you have with your graduate professors are often different than the ones you had with your undergraduate professors. In graduate school, you are a professional relating to another–far more experienced–professional. You’re there to learn from them and often times, collaborate. For that reason, it’s expected that you know a thing or two about the members of your program’s department.

5. Know your application’s expectations and meet them. Your grad school application is not the time to forget you need three letters of recommendation as opposed to two. It’s not the time to submit a 500 word essay and hope it’s good enough when they asked for 600 words. Know exactly what you need to submit, and give them exactly that.

6. Understand that it’s a competitive world: If you don’t get accepted to the graduate school you wanted or to graduate school at all, it doesn’t mean you failed at life. Graduate programs take in very few people, and it’s very competitive. Reassess your goals, and try again next semester!

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