Some people come into college with a full plan for their lives. They’re getting their undergrad, graduating in four years, buying a place in the designated city of their dreams, and landing a job at a spectacular company. Then there’s the girl who is only going to college because her parents want her to, and after finishing school, she’s moving L.A. to pursue her acting career. Or maybe she’s going to marry her high school sweetheart, return to her hometown, and have a family.
On the other hand, I came to college because I loved school, and I knew I wanted to obtain a degree. That’s all I knew. No plan for my future, no idea what I planned to do with my life. Now, I’m an English major, and I think I want to work in the publishing/editing industry. I finally feel like I’ve found what I would like to do with my life. No five year plan, but at least a rough draft for the next couple of years.
Everything’s going great, or at least better than it ever has. Then bam! I’m relaxing in my junior seminar, thankful for a class that demands very little of me, when all of a sudden, a professor comes in ready to talk about obtaining a master’s degree. A what?
Well, so much for the rough draft of my future. Now, I have another decision to make. The professor shared her advice and a summation of what’s needed for grad school, so I thought I would bestow some of her knowledge and a concise description of what I’ve found on my own to be beneficial in my decision.
1. While all programs vary somewhat on what is required, many request a writing sample
This writing sample should be your best work. Most students take past pieces and develop them into what will become their sample. Programs typically want this sample to be between 10-20 pages depending on your field of study. Even though it seems daunting, you want to have fun with this! Write about something you’re passionate about, and it will show.
2. You typically need two to three recommendation letters
Get these from a professor who knows you and has worked with you! The better they know you, the more honest and personable the letters will be. Make sure to give your professors plenty of time to complete these so that they can be genuine and shed some light on your talents.
3. The dreaded test
Depending on what program you’re going into, you’ll have to take a test. It might be the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, etc. Apparently the test is pretty grueling, but you still gotta do it.
4. They want those transcripts
You’ll need to send in your official transcripts to each program that you want to apply to. This usually costs money, so prepare for that.
5. Personal Statement
Your personal statement is your place to shine. This requirement is the part of the application that you can use to really set yourself apart from other applicants. It is typically about 500 words, so you want to be concise and clear. Tell them why you have chosen to apply to this specific program, what your goals are, your professional interests, your motivations and what you can bring to the program.
1. Motivation and passion
Don’t go to grad school because you don’t know what you want to do after graduation. It’s a hard two years, and you have to want it! If you’re unsure if it’s the path for you, you can always apply in a few years, but don’t go into it because you’re lost.
2. Make sure you’ve considered your payment plan
As we all know, education is pricey. Whether you plan to work your way through school, take out loans, or get help elsewhere, make sure you have it thought through. In grad school, some schools offer the option to apply to be a teaching assistant or research assistant. If you get this job, you typically will get a stipend each month. It probably won’t be a ton, but it will help you get by.
3. Check out the culture of the program
Every program will have different values and dynamics. Read about them all to see what fits best for you.
I know it’s not always easy to carve out the time for everything, but visiting schools is so beneficial when deciding where you want to be for the next few years. The vibe and feel is going to be different everywhere, and we all have our preferences. These are the next two years of your life, so make sure you can see yourself being happy here!