Applying for Grad School? Here’s Some Advice

Here’s the dilemma – you’re approaching your senior year of college and you want to further your education by going to graduate school, whether it be for a master’s or a Doctorate. You have all of these big plans for your life, but you have no idea where to start. Not to mention that’s more student loans to take out, living expenses to consider, and a plethora of other concerns. As someone who just went through the application process, I am here not only to assure you that you can do it, but to also offer some tips to make the whole grad school process less overwhelming.


Begin your preparation the summer before applications are due. This gives you plenty of time to gather necessary application materials, know deadlines more concretely, and really decide if you want to do this.


Know what you want to go to school for. This may seem obvious, but just as undergrad can be confusing, grad school offers the same cause for misconception. There are tons of degree programs, for both master’s and Doctorate degrees, and some are very job-specific. If you know that you want to become a school principal, it’s good to know exactly which degree (or degrees) would benefit that role, rather than studying something broader. There is something out there for everyone; make sure you find what your heart wants!


Narrow your options down to four or five programs. Just as you narrowed down your options for undergrad, you need to give yourself a few possibilities for grad school that would make you happy. Not every program will be perfect for you, so narrowing down the location, type of program, coursework, and cost can help you decide. If you don’t want to go to school six states away, don’t apply there; instead, look at options closer to home.


Look for assistantships and fellowships. If cost is a concern, worry not; there are just as many financial aid opportunities in grad school as there are in undergrad, if not more. Graduate assistantships can come in teaching form or in research, and fellowships can be similar. Some schools will not only offer a tuition waiver for your assistantship or fellowship opportunity, they also offer a stipend so that you can live and support yourself while in school. Keep in mind, this is not available everywhere and every program differs; if this is a deal breaker for your grad school experience, be sure to look those up.


Read the requirements for each program you are applying to. Your program will likely require official transcripts, recommendation letters (some require up to three), writing samples (this is more for the liberal arts sector, but other programs may require one), GRE/GMAT or other grad entrance test scores, statement of purpose, academic resume, and a cover letter. If you are applying for an assistantship or fellowship, the programs may require a separate application. These requirements vary from program to program, but if you have all of these taken care of, you’ll have most of the basics covered. Be sure to thoroughly check each requirement; you don’t want to miss something because you didn’t read all the way!


Keep up with deadlines. This is the most important tip I can give you. Deadlines are very firm when it comes to grad school, so make sure to apply for financial aid, the program, and any additional opportunities by the deadlines. Applying before the deadline can relieve a lot of stress, so if you have the chance to get the materials together and submit them early, you’re in good shape and it’ll take the stress off.


Save for the application expenses. Applications can be very expensive, sometimes up to $100 or more. In addition, if the program requires GRE, GMAT, or other grad entrance exams, those can be costly, too, especially if you retake them. Don’t let this discourage you! Know the costs a few months in advance and save up for it so that it doesn’t dent your bank account too much.


Find a mentor professor. One of the absolute biggest helps in my application process was my mentor professor. Not only can a mentor help find what’s best for you, but they can keep you sane and give you tips on what the schools are looking for so that your application is guaranteed to stand out. It also helps to ask someone who has taught you in a class, so they can tell you specifics on what to work on and some strengths they see in you. Plus, they can be a great editor for a writing sample to clean up your application.


Be prepared to wait. Grad schools are brutal in getting back to you about your application status. If you apply in November or December, be prepared to wait until February or March. That’s my case. I’m still waiting and it’s excruciating. Don’t let it discourage you, though, they do this to everyone and that does not mean you’re not right for the program. Keep your head up and try not to stress about it too much.


Make sure this is really what you want to do. After looking at everything that is needed in grad school and talking to people who have been through it, be sure this is really something you want to do. No matter what, you can do it, but you need to think about what’s best for you, both in your future career and in your mind. It can be rough, and it is more school, so if that isn’t something you’re willing to do, hold off on the grad school applications for now.

If you’re stressed about grad school and see the application process as an overwhelming mess, don’t worry, I’ve been there and know exactly how you feel. I wrote this article to encourage everyone in the application boat and to give advice based on what I’ve experienced and what my mentor professor has said to me. Take a deep breath, stay on top of things, and believe in yourself!