Increasingly, a master's degree or even a doctorate, are requirements for job advancement in many fields. If you're considering graduate school, here are some things you can do to give yourself a better shot at getting in and pursuing that degree of your dreams.
- Work hard on your coursework as an undergrad. One of the most important things a potential grad school student can do to assure admission into a graduate school is to have good grades as an undergrad. Just as a higher GPA widened your options when you looked for undergrad programs, a high GPA as a college student will open more doors for you at grad schools. Grad school in general is selective and competitive, and in some fields ferociously so. So, keep those undergrad grades up, and make sure you're taking or plan to take classes which may be prerequisites to gaining entrance into a graduate program. You can consult your professors or an admissions counselor about what those classes may be if you're not sure.
- Optimize your chances of getting good test scores. Most graduate schools require some kind of standardized test. The GRE is the most common, but there are others for law school, medical school, business school, etc. Application materials, your adviser, or an admissions counselor can let you know which tests to take. Obviously, high scores will help your case with the admissions committee while low score may have the opposite effect. So, if you're not good at taking standardized tests, then look into prep books or classes so you can improve those test-taking skills, go in and do your best. You may also need to take a test of your English fluency if you're a foreign grad student. Tutoring and prep books are available for those tests as well.
- Get involved in your field. Graduate school is where people go to start seriously down a specific career path. If you're applying to a graduate school and you have some evidence in your application that you have already begun that pursuit in earnest--say a job, independent research, an internship, or membership in a professional society--it will show you're serious and even somewhat prepared for what the program has to offer. Again, grad school is selective and competitive, and showing admissions committees that you have already dedicated yourself, to some extent, to your field can help your application. It may also prepare you for your graduate coursework.
- Get good letters of recommendation. Almost every graduate program requires applicants to have letters of recommendation from people like professors or employers. Choose wisely when you are asking someone to write a letter for you. Good selections are those who know and have a favorable opinion of you and your work and can write with specificity and enthusiasm. Most professors will put in a good word for a student, but those who can be specific will sound less generic and may be able to give reviewers a better picture of who you are. Same with employers. Other people to ask include alumni of the school to which you're applying and people with professional recognition who have at least some knowledge of who you are and what you can do.
- Apply meticulously. The last thing a person wants, after he has worked hard to get a bachelor's degree, planned, prepared, and organized to apply to graduate school, is to miss an opportunity by forgetting to dot an "I" or cross a "t." Graduate schools often have lengthy checklists of required materials (letters of recommendation, transcripts, test scores, essays, etc.) and stringent deadlines. Make sure you don't waylay your grad school plans by forgetting to submit the right thing at the right time. Keep a checklist yourself. Do work ahead of time--like asking for recommendations and scheduling standardized tests. The application process may seem arduous, but the payoff--admission to a graduate school--will be well worth the paperwork.