By Anne B.
Welcome back, Ramblers!
If you haven’t read the blog post on resume tips, head over there after reading this one because resumes are also a very important part of professional development and of getting into graduate school!
Applying to graduate school can be a very daunting task, so I’m going to give you 10 tips that will hopefully make you feel more prepared and confident about your application, interview, and transition into the graduate school life (because graduate school can be very different from undergraduate depending on what field you’re in).
Tip #1 ~ Experience, Experience, Experience
Yes, it’s good to have good grades when you apply for graduate school, but that is only a small part of the application. Experience is a major criterion and graduate school committees usually prefer quality and relevant experience over a 4.0 GPA. Of course, it’s still very important to try your hardest when it comes to your grades and classes; but if you get B’s, and maybe even an occasional C, you will be just fine as long as you have experience. Think of a high GPA as a Christmas bonus that is given to your resume, it’s not the always necessary, but it sure is wonderful to have.
Now, what kind of experience should you have on your graduate school application? Well, that depends on what field you are in. However, it doesn’t always have to be white and black. For example, if you’re in a science field, then you have to have worked in a lab to get into graduate school. Trust me, you don’t. I had never worked in a lab and I still got accepted to two amazing science/medical graduate programs. Why? Because I had experience that made me a good fit for those programs. On my application, I had an organ transplantation internship in France, important class projects like creating a biomechanical experiment and writing a scientific article on it, and starting my own home-baking business. This is a great case of which one of these does not belong?
Having varied experience, however, is actually a great thing to have on your graduate school application. One, it shows that you’re a hard worker. And two, it usually shows that you have passions outside of school work, which is actually a good thing for graduate school because committees typically see it as something that makes you unique. You are more likely to get accepted if the committee thinks you can bring something new to the program, so don’t send a cookie cutter application. Finally,
Tip #2 ~ Make Your Personal Statement PERSONAL
There’s a reason why it’s called a personal statement. Graduate school programs are typically smaller than undergraduate ones, so the committees really do want to learn about you. They want to see if you would be a good fit for their program, grade-wise and personality-wise, and if you’ll get along with the professors and students. Use this opportunity to tell the committee about who you are as a person, your strengths, your beliefs, and even your hobbies. Sometimes graduate schools have a second essay regarding a weakness or downfall you’ve had to overcome, but if they don’t, then definitely include that in your personal statement. Graduate school committees have been in your spot before and they know the road to graduate school can be a roller coaster. Pretending you don’t have any weaknesses or that you’ve never had to overcome tough moments will not impress them. Instead, they might think you’re a little arrogant. Plus, showing graduate schools that you have had rough patches but that you were able to overcome and learn from them will prove that you are mature enough for graduate school.
Tip #3 ~ Choose The Right References
Sometimes people think that having a reference who is well known in their field will increase their chances of getting into graduate school. I’m sure that is sometimes the case, especially if it’s someone who is super famous. However, graduate schools want references from people who actually know you and they can usually tell from the reference letter whether that is the case or not. When it comes to choosing references, it’s always good to choose people who have worked next to you and/or mentored you in some way (doesn’t have to be related to the field you’re in). For instance, I chose my manager from the part-time job I worked during undergrad, a professor who mentored me throughout college, and a physical therapist I’ve volunteered with. I chose my manager because she saw me grow as a person during the three years I was in college and she knew what I was like in a work environment. My stats professor saw me transform from a shy Freshman who was slightly terrified of going to his office hours to a more confident person who just knocked at his door whenever I walked by it. He sponsored the organ transplantation internship I did after my Freshman year, so he got to read a 23-page research report I had to write for internship credit. Finally, the physical therapist knew me well because we had gone on two 9-day trips to Nicaragua with Global Brigades, a non-profit organization that travels to several countries to help with medicine, dental care, water, and public health. I knew she would write a good letter of recommendation because she knew what I was like when I was outside of class and volunteering.
Tip #4 ~ Remain Professional, No Matter Whom You Are Talking To
Whether you’re visiting schools before even sending an application in, or you’re waiting for your interview, always stay polite and professional. But also be yourself. The final decision is generally made by an admissions committee. That said, their decision is more often than not influenced by several other people. Do not underestimate the influence current graduate students have. In fact, in some graduate schools, you’ll actually be interviewed by a professor and a student. So, if you are visiting a potential graduate school, make sure to always be polite to the current students you see because you might just get interviewed by them.
Tip #5~ Keep An Open Mind
I know, I know. Sometimes you really want to go to this one school because it’s in a town you love or that’s where your loved ones live. However, it is hard to get into graduate school, so I highly suggest sending your application to several schools. Do a little bit of research and look at all the different graduate schools that have the field you want and that have the kind of environment you want to be in. I guarantee that you will find that there are more schools that fit your desires than you thought.
Tip #6 ~ Dress For Success
Ok, yes this is a very known phrase and that you’re probably thinking “please, tell me something new, Anne”. Well, that’s how important this tip is. Most graduate schools will not consider you if you show up to your interview looking like a mess. I know sweatpants are comfortable, but can you blame them? If you can’t put the effort into dressing nicely for a graduate school interview, why should they believe that you will put any effort into the graduate program? Even if you are doing an interview through Skype or the likes, you should completely dress for success, as well as clean the room you’ll be in. I know it’s tempting to dress nicely on top and then put PJ bottoms, but there is always a chance that you have to get up during the interview. While some interviewers might get a good laugh at seeing your PJs, most of them wouldn’t add it to the Pro side of accepting you into the program.
Tip #7 ~ Always Be Transparent
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s always a good idea to send your applications to several graduate schools. Often, graduate school interviewers will ask you if you’ve applied to other schools. Always be honest and transparent with your answer. If you haven’t applied to any other schools, then say that and maybe give a reason as to why that is too. If you have applied to other schools, and maybe even have been accepted to other graduate schools, then you should also tell the interviewer because it gives them a good idea of what your goals are for graduate school. Also, if you tell an interviewer that you’ve been accepted to another graduate school, it will show that you are a good candidate and it’ll most likely speed up their decision-making. Finally, if you aren’t honest when answering this question, there is a good chance it will come back to haunt you. There’s always a chance that the interviewer finds out that you lied, and they will not be happy about it.
Tip #8 ~ Make And Keep Connections
This tip is for your entire experience regarding graduate school. Just like experience, connections are extremely important for graduate school and for life in general. Before applying to graduate school, it’s good to have connections that can help you with your graduate applications, whether it’s writing your application essays or finding you experience to add to your application. After you get into graduate school, make sure you keep those connections! I know graduate school life is busy, but if those connections took the time to help you, then you can take a little bit of time to maintain your relationship. Plus, you never know - those connections might come in handy again after graduate school. Once you’re in graduate school, it’s still important to make connections and maintain them because they can help you find your future career.
Tip #9 ~ Know What Kind Of Studier You Are
Transitioning to the graduate lifestyle can be very hard. Graduate school is quite different from undergrad. The classes and tests usually aren’t the same and you might not have as many deadlines to keep you on track. Knowing what kind of a studier you are will make it easier for you to keep up with your studying. For instance, if you’re a procrastinator, then try setting blocks of time aside for studying, setting your own deadlines, or planning study sessions with other people.
Tip #10 ~ You Come First
Alright, this is my final, and in my opinion, the most important tip: you come first. Going to graduate school is a big decision - it’s hard, it costs money, and you might have to move. This is your life, so it really should be YOUR decision to go to graduate school, as well as which school you want to go to. Sure, it’s important to listen to what your family and friends say, but in the end, you should be choosing the path that will make you truly happy because no one knows you better than you know yourself. People won’t always understand your choice, but if they truly care about what’s best for you, then they will understand your choice when they realize you are happy.
This tip also applies to the graduate lifestyle. You will have to work hard to get through graduate school, but it’s also important to take care of your wellbeing. You won’t be able to study much and focus on getting good grades if you’re energy is completely depleted. Remember to indulge in some self-care and to take breaks.
Well, there are my ten tips for getting your graduate groove on! I hope that they help you on your journey to graduate school. Let me know what you thought in the comments!
If you need any help or motivation regarding graduate school, please feel free to contact me. You can message me through the contact page or on any of my socials!
Just a little reminder: you are strong and anything is possible when you put your mind and heart into it!