By: Bethany Richardson
For those of you approaching your senior year of college in the fall, this summer is the perfect time to start thinking about applying to graduate school. After having gone through the process of applying to and eventually choosing a program, I wanted to offer some advice for those following a similar path.
Decide whether graduate school is the right choice for your career path
While today’s economy is pretty rough, graduate school shouldn’t be used simply as a tool to “avoid the real world” for a few years longer. Graduate school is very different than college and will challenge you in new and different ways; if it isn’t something you really want to be doing, the journey will be a lot tougher.
Do your research
Spend quality time looking at all of the different options out there. IFT’s graduate program directory is a great place to start. Read the online information, request brochures, email the graduate coordinator, and visit if it is convenient to you. The more knowledge you have up-front, the better off you will be. This can save you money in the long run in terms of sending GRE scores. You are allowed to send scores to four schools for free with your exam.
Set up a GRE date and STUDY
Having a date set in stone helps you to really get the ball rolling in terms of preparation. In my experience, having 2-4 months to study was really helpful, especially because I hadn’t used any of the math since high school. Buying GRE preparation books (Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc.) is a good way to practice; in fact, I got some of the exact same analogies I had practiced on the verbal section of the real exam. The books aren’t terribly expensive, and often you can sell them to a friend after you are finished.
Pick schools to apply to and do it early
Once you have your scores from the GRE, now is the time to start applying. Similarly to college, it is good to choose reach schools, as well as some safety ones. Take into account the geographical location of the school; now might be a good time to try out living somewhere completely new and different. Also, if the school has a particular research focus, make sure it agrees with your career goals and interests. Getting the applications done early will make the process a little bit less stressful, especially once classes begin again in the fall.
Make your visit count
In order to decide which students will receive certain assistantships or fellowships, many schools will hold interview weekends (and sometimes even fund your travel to the school). Absolutely take advantage of this opportunity. I thought I had made my final decision about graduate school, but I still went on my last two interviews. Visiting Illinois and meeting my current advisor completely changed my opinion. Had I not, I would have probably ended up at a school working for an advisor that was not the right fit for me. At a visiting weekend, make sure to talk to as many current students as you can, especially those in labs you would like to join. They will give you the most honest opinions about what it is like to go to school there. Also, be sure to ask about job opportunities that students have after finishing the graduate programs.
Lay out all of your options and make a decision
Once you have all of your offers in front of you, it’s time to compare them and make your final decision. For almost all colleges, the deadline to accept is April 15th. The next two to five years of your life ride on this decision; it is an important one, and should not be taken lightly or be influenced by the schools themselves. Remember, if you accept an offer at one school, you are allowed to rescind it and accept another if done by the deadline. Once you have made your choice, relax and get excited about the new journey you are about to embark on.
While there is a myriad of advice that people can give you, these are just a few pearls of wisdom that I suggest. Even still, there have been plenty of times during this past year where I wondered if I had chosen the right school or if I should even be in graduate school. But in the end, I know that I made the right choice for myself and my future and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Time for your opinions! What helped you make your decision on graduate school and what advice would you give to others?
Please share in the comments section.