1. Find Out What Program To Apply To
If you’re thinking about going to grad school that means you’ve either almost done with your undergraduate courses or you’ve already graduated, so congratulations! Applying can seem overwhelming at first since there are thousands of programs across the country but that doesn’t mean you should worry. If you already know what direction you want to take your career in, that’s great! If you don’t, then that’s completely fine too! Find a program that is either relevant to your undergraduate degree or something you’re interested in. Many programs now are virtual, so make sure that is something you are willing to do or if you prefer in-person classes, look for schools that are offering them (possibly in areas that are not a hotspot). You can also defer a year if that makes you more comfortable.
2. Research Schools and Their Admission Requirements
Look at schools that have your ideal program, taking into consideration the school’s location, tuition, student life, research opportunities and financial aid. Follow them on social media and attend their virtual events. This is a free way to get a feel of the university and know if you will fit in there. Many schools also hold zoom calls with professors, which is a good way to network even if you don’t end up attending that school. Due to the pandemic, many schools have dropped the GRE as a requirement but double-check if the schools you’re applying to still require it. Make an Excel spreadsheet for each school and what their requirements are in order to keep track and make sure you don’t miss anything.
3. It’s Testing Time!
If you’re taking the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or MCAT and you’re tired of watching Netflix on repeat (it’s okay we’re all doing it) then it's time to start studying! If you prefer handwriting your notes, buy study books from your local bookstore or through Amazon. There are also online study opportunities through Kaplan Test Prep, The Princeton Review, Magoosh, etc. Join an online study group through Zoom and meet other students in your situation. If you prefer studying with other people, then this is a great way to get that experience while also staying safe.
4. Work On Your Essay/Portfolio/Resume
If your school requires a personal essay, reflect and find an aspect of yourself that you want the admission counselors to see. Write a statement that will make you stand out from the pool of applicants. Most of the time if you’re applying to a writing or design program, or any program related to those fields, the school will require a portfolio of your work. Update your resume and get rid of any high school experiences. Application committees are only interested in what you did during your undergrad and be sure to include any extracurricular activities, volunteer work, leadership roles, jobs or internships that you took part in.
5. Get Experience
COVID-19 has made it way harder to get a job or internship. Fortunately, many companies have been offering remote internships to college students. Make a LinkedIn page and research internships that are similar to your interested field and send in your cover letter and resume. While you’re at it, connect with people that work in the field that you want to get into. It’s never too early to start building up those connections! Applying to jobs outside of your field can also be beneficial and help you build skills that your future self will thank you for. Look for volunteer opportunities in your community or virtual and spend your time helping those in need. Universities will see this and take it into account when reading your application, plus it puts you in a good mood! Building up your resume in the middle of a pandemic will show schools how dedicated you are to growing yourself.
6. Ask For Letters of Recommendation
Reach out to your professors, bosses, mentors, etc. and politely ask them a few months in advance if they would consider writing you a letter of recommendation. Ask those who you have built a connection with and who know your work, so they can say good things about how you can succeed in the program. Give them your resume so that they can write a letter based on your past experiences.
It’s time to apply! Gather up your materials and send them to your top programs by the deadline. If you need a fee waiver, send an e-mail to the school and ask if you are able to qualify for one. Most schools will be understanding given the current situation.
8. What To Do While Waiting To Hear Back
It can be nerve-racking waiting around for acceptance letters to be sent out but becoming occupied with other beneficial activities can help you in the long run. If you’re still in school, then finish off the year strong! Apply to scholarships and start saving up money because grad school can get expensive. Find a calming hobby like painting, sewing or reading. This is the perfect time for self-care sessions and finding out what really makes you happy. Remember to never settle for less than what you are capable of and always strive for the best!