Preparing Yourself for Graduate School (Part One)

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Although some people like to wait to begin the Graduate School process until the Summer before their Senior year of undergraduate, I highly recommend starting the process earlier, preferably during one’s Junior Year.  The process of selecting a graduate school, gathering the needed materials, and actually applying to schools is far too involved to get it done within the space of a few months.  In order to both save yourself hassle and headache during an already busy Senior Year, I recommend completing the following tasks during the early part of your Junior Year:  research and select your school of choice, study for your GRE, and begin to prepare your Personal Statement.

When you begin the process of selecting a Graduate School, you have to ask yourself some tough questions in order to make the choice an educated one.  First, what do you want to study?  Usually, graduate study will be an extension of what you’ve studied in undergraduate, but that’s not always the case.  If you want to take on graduate study of something different, make sure that you have the qualifications to be successful.  Also, ask yourself some other imporant questions about what you think is important about a school:  location (city, suburb or country,) student/faculty ratio, ranking (think U.S. News and World Report.)  Having thought these out, pick up a graduate school guide (like Kaplan or Petersons’s) and start looking at schools that offer Masters programs in your field.  Start picking out the strongest using the criteria you already wrote out.  Then, start narrowing your choices down to ten.  Then, narrow it further down until you have fixe ir sox.  These will be the schools you will apply to.

Having narrowed your choices down, start studying for the GRE; you want to make sure your scores are as high as possible to maximize your chances of acceptance.  Go to your local bookstore and find study guides, or go to www.gre.com, which also has numerous resources available to help you prepare for the actual exam.  The best thing you can do to improve your scores is to take the practice exams in the allowed time, thus closely imitating the actual exam itself.  Try to do an entire test, including the writing portion, keeping careful track of the time you are taking.  When you’ve finished, score your exam and identify areas of idevelopment.  Then, using the study guides, start beefing up your experience in those areas.  Retake the exam and see how much you’ve improved.  Contniue this process until you are satisfied with your score.

Finally, you need to start on your Personal Statement, probably the most important aspect of your application.  Visit your chosen schools’ websites and see what they expect from a Personal Statement; although it will be generally the same, there are some variations you should be aware of.  In general, however, you will want to keep it as brief as possible and tightly focused.  After all, you are only trying to give a general impression of your academic interests, not desribe your thesis.  Still, be specific in your examples; nothing indicates a lack of readiness than speaking in vague generalizations.  So, keep your statement focused and make sure that it adequately and completely answers the questions or criteria put forth by the school to which you are applying.

Having followed these steps, you will have made a good beginning to the process of applying to Graduate School.  Furthermore, by making this early beginning, you will ensure that you are giving yourself adequate time to prepare for  preapre for the endeavor of applying to Graduate School.  Remember, the process is very involved, so leave yourself plenty of time to get everything finished with the depth that it requires.  So, follow these steps and you will have laid a strong foundation for the successful application to the graduate school of your dreams.

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