Being an upperclassman certainly has its perks – having a car, getting to take courses that pertain to your career, maybe living in a single or at least with people of your choice.
There are responsibilities, however, that come with this move up the totem pole, perhaps the most important of which is making the choice between diving into the working pool or going on to further education.
For seniors, and even juniors and sophomores, the time to think about graduate school is now. Much like the process of applying to college in high school, the search starts well before you fill out the first page of an application. It starts when you take an active role in researching graduate programs and institutions and making connections with faculty at the school of your choice.
The office of Career Services recommends that at the latest, the process should begin one full year and a half before the start of professional school. Again, like college, there is the early decision option, and these applications can be due even before your senior academic year begins. A number of other schools require applications to be in before the end of the fall semester, with a few in the winter and early spring and some that have rolling applications for students who want to start classes in the spring.
Most graduate programs will have open houses or other forums when potential students are invited to come tour the school and meet the faculty. If you can’t make it to the date, you can call the office of your program of interest and try to arrange another date when you would be allowed to view the facilities and talk to some of the faculty.
If your school of choice is too far away to visit easily, still make it a point to contact the school so that you can have a connection with some of the faculty in the program to make yourself stand out from the thousands of other applicants.
Applications are only the beginning. You will also need to procure at least a few letters of recommendation from your professors. Make sure to approach the professors who you would like to write you a letter of recommendation far in advance and provide them with any supplemental materials that they needs to fill out.
Expect that some specialized programs will require a portfolio of work or an interview, in most other areas you will be required to write a personal statement, and perhaps submit other examples of your work. Graduate schools will judge your personal statement on how concisely you present your ideas and how clearly you have thought through your graduate school career and life goals beyond.
What would applying to school be without standardized testing? While some schools and programs have their own subject-specific tests that you are required to take, most applicants will have a throw-back to SATs when they register for the general Graduate Record Exam (GRE). The GREs are flexible, as computer testing is offered almost daily in testing centers at various times.
When you register you will receive a study package, but there are also additional books and online resources to help you study as well as classes to take to prepare for the exam.
Other tests for specific professions include the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Some programs require a GRE subject test, similar to the SAT IIs, focused on an area of study.
Of course you don’t have to travel this road alone. Your advisor, professors and the office of Career Services are all important resources to utilize when researching, choosing and applying to graduate school. The Career Services Web site has a number of helpful tips, as well as links to graduate schools and available scholarships. For more information, visit petersons.com, fastweb.com and princetonreview.com.