Tips For Future Graduate School Applicants

Tips For Future Graduate School Applicants


 

If you think you may want to apply to graduate school down the line, there are a lot of things you can do to set yourself up for success on your future applications. Some of these are obvious, others less so, but following these rough guidelines can prevent a lot of disappointment in the future.

 

Tips For Future Graduate School Applicants

 

 

Keep your grades up.

As far as tips for future graduate school applicants goes, it’s important to bring up right off the bat that GPA tends to be a large factor in the admissions process. It won’t guarantee you an acceptance, but it can guarantee you a rejection. The most important classes will be those related to your field of study, but you’ll want to have the highest overall GPA you can manage. A good rule of thumb is that a graduate program at the same tier as your undergraduate institution will want the top 1-2% of your graduating class. It isn’t set in stone but it’s a good guide for where your GPA needs to be. So if you studied physics and the top 1-2% of your class have around a 3.7 GPA, this is where you should aim. If the top 10% of your class graduate with a 4.0, then you’ll need to do the same.

 

Start and maintain relationships with professors.

Talk to them during office hours, always attend recitations, go above and beyond in class, chat with them regularly about research. Create genuine relationships with them. When the graduate school application process rolls around, you are going to need professors to write recommendation letters that state what an amazing student you are and how likely you are to succeed in graduate school. The best letters come from professors that know you well and can speak to their relationship with you. The more details you have in your letters of recommendation, the better your chances of being admitted. Keeping strong ties with professors will also help instigate the next major preparation requirement.

 

Start undergraduate research as soon as possible.

The best way to do this is to speak directly with professors whose work interests you and simply ask to get involved. If you’re not comfortable with that, poke around their professional and/or departmental website. Read through their work so you get a feel for the groups that interest you, and see if any list openings for part time undergraduate students (or even graduate students and postdocs, it shows they need more people). Obviously your interests are going to be broad and undefined at this point – that is absolutely fine. Just find a few things that pique your interest.
Reach out to those professors (either by email or by actually going to their office) and ask if they have any openings for an undergraduate research assistant, even if one isn’t listed overtly on their webpage. Be persistent and avoid the temptation to get detracted, it is unlikely that you will be able to get into the lab of the first person you talk to (depending on the size and financial status of your department/university). Be sure and point out that you’re willing to volunteer (free is always a selling point).
The easiest professors to get in with are ones those you’ve taken classes with or already have a good relationship with (see #2), so you can always start there. Don’t feel beholden to them exclusively however, if you want to get to know a different professor whose work really interests you, take the first step. It makes you look proactive and mature, not pushy!

 

 

Use your summers wisely. 

Summer internships, volunteer experience, outreach programs, a study abroad term– Whatever you do should be something that gives you a new experience and helps you grow as a person while (preferably) adding technical skills to your CV. Get out there, explore, try something brand new, broaden your horizons, all those cliches. Not only will you grow, but you’ll get a better idea of who you are and what you want to do, and you’ll also have something to talk about in your personal statement, should  you eventually have to write one.
Summer internships are an amazing way to get some research experience while still having fun (or making some extra money). If you are having difficulties getting into a lab at school, look for an internship that typically takes students with little research experience and use that as your springboard into the field. Internships are also a great way to explore research that’s different from what you are doing at school and can help you narrow your research interests, which is a huge plus for graduate applications. Don’t feel tied to your field though. Even as a physicist a summer internship at the World Bank or McKinsey still adds flavor and prestige to your resume (while letting you explore your interests). The important thing is to stay active. Admissions committees want to see that you spend every day, week, month, and year improving yourself and reaching your goals.
Lastly, engaging  in a summer program applicable to your field is a guaranteed way to get yourself a letter of recommendation from an institution other than your undergraduate school. This is a big plus, because great letters from several institutions is always better than great letters from the same department.

 

Attend Conferences and Symposiums.

Publications are the gold star of a graduate school application, but it can be extremely difficult to publish your research as an undergraduate (depending on your field). Whether or not you are going to be able to get a paper out of your research, try to find avenues to present it. Most research universities offer some type of undergraduate research symposium where undergrads present what they’ve been working on. There are regional as well as national conferences and societies that students frequently present at (again depending on your field). This is also an option with research you may do over the summer – be sure to talk to the people you intern/work with to see if that it’s an option for you.

 

Get involved outside the classroom.

By far research and grades are the two most important parts of your preparation. That said, it never hurts to have outside activities you can put on your CV. Graduate schools tend to like students who are engaged, active, and high energy. You’ll frequently see PhD students who are good at several things: physicists who play cello concerts on the weekends, philosophers who program apps, or art history majors that canvas for political issues. It can be anything you’re excited about: music, sports, community outreach, volunteering, journalism, or photography. You name it.
Show commitment to the activity or organization. Take on a leadership role, branch out and start a new organization, anything that can show concretely how involved you are. For example, if you love to travel–do a volunteer program where you help out communities internationally. If you love astrophotography, join a club and try to get on the committee. The goal here is to show that you are an active and self motivated person who commits to things they feel are important. It’s much, much better to be deeply involved in a select few things you are passionate about than to be barely involved in twenty different activities.

 

Apply for awards and scholarships.

There are tons of awards and scholarships out there that will recognize all of the hard work you’ve put in. Depending on what your interests/fields are, you can join honor societies like Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, or field-specific ones. You can apply for the Goldwater Scholarship when you have one to two years of college remaining if you are in STEM. There’s also Fulbright, Truman, Marshall, Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, and a whole slew of other prestigious scholarships that you can apply to. A lot of professional societies also have undergraduate awards and scholarships that you can consider for your individual field. There are also specific awards for minorities and first generation college students if it applies to you. There are even awards for completely isolated things, like essay competitions or science fair projects. If you don’t feel like your GPA is high enough to compete for the big awards, you can still find plenty of options that will allow you to compete based on skill specific performance.
While these are not as important as a strong research background and recommendation letters, they can definitely be extra jewels in the crown. A lot of schools are “award” junkies, and love accepting applicants with a long list of honors. Awards and scholarships show you are self motivated enough to apply, and also indicates you have passed through several objective “filters” set by third parties. Afterall, winning an award means you out performed your peers, and that’s exactly the kind of students admissions committees want. This is especially important for international students.
Your university probably has an office to assist people in applying for these types of awards, and it’s worth talking to them about your options.

 

Keep track of everything you do.

You’re going to be busy during college with lots of class, activities, research, and summer plans. Start a resume, CV, and list of classes (with course number, full title, number of credits, professor, textbook, your grade in the class, and a one-line blurb about what you did in the class). It’s not a bad idea to have a research spreadsheet or notebook where you can list all the techniques you learn and projects you contribute to. You will thank yourself later, it’s much easier to remember all of the details about your involvement when it’s actually happening rather than three or four years down the line. A lot of details get lost in the ether otherwise, and you should get credit for everything you did!

 

Research graduate programs early.

When you reach your junior year, or are no less than a year away from applying, you should start thinking about what grad school programs you might be interested in, what you want to research, and where stats (GPA, GRE, etc.) need to be in order to get into that type of program. You need to have a concrete goal in mind in order to decide how much time you’ll need to prepare. This is one of the tips for future graduate school applicants that few people heed, yet can make a huge difference. Beyond knowing how to prepare your statistics, knowing where you intend to apply early can help you forge relationships at that institution, through a summer internship for example. It will also give you plenty of time to learn everything there is to know about said program–which will pay dividends when you sit down to write your statement of purpose.

 

Plan application components early.

For every field, your graduate school application is going to have several key components: GPA (major and overall), GRE scores (verbal, quantitative, and writing), two to four recommendation letters from faculty, a CV, and a personal statement. For some fields, you may also need a subject GRE score, a writing sample, and/or a portfolio of your work.  If you will need anything time consuming, such as writing samples or a subject GRE score, you should plan for these elements far ahead of time. A GRE subject exam can take months to study for, not including the time it takes to prepare for the general GRE. If you try to cram all these activities into the same time you’re also trying to instruct professors on your letters of recommendation, write a statement of purpose, and prepare your CV– you’re gonna have a bad time. Start your application materials far enough in advance that you don’t have to rush.

 

 

If you utilize these tips for future graduate school applicants, by the time application season rolls around you’ll be nearly stress free and confident of your ability to get into your top choice program. Now go, get started!
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Tips For Future Graduate School Applicants

Tips For Future Graduate School Applicants April 16th, 2016


 

If you think you may want to apply to graduate school down the line, there are a lot of things you can do to set yourself up for success on your future applications. Some of these are obvious, others less so, but following these rough guidelines can prevent a lot of disappointment in the future.

 

Tips For Future Graduate School Applicants

 

 

Keep your grades up.

As far as tips for future graduate school applicants goes, it’s important to bring up right off the bat that GPA tends to be a large factor in the admissions process. It won’t guarantee you an acceptance, but it can guarantee you a rejection. The most important classes will be those related to your field of study, but you’ll want to have the highest overall GPA you can manage. A good rule of thumb is that a graduate program at the same tier as your undergraduate institution will want the top 1-2% of your graduating class. It isn’t set in stone but it’s a good guide for where your GPA needs to be. So if you studied physics and the top 1-2% of your class have around a 3.7 GPA, this is where you should aim. If the top 10% of your class graduate with a 4.0, then you’ll need to do the same.

 

Start and maintain relationships with professors.

Talk to them during office hours, always attend recitations, go above and beyond in class, chat with them regularly about research. Create genuine relationships with them. When the graduate school application process rolls around, you are going to need professors to write recommendation letters that state what an amazing student you are and how likely you are to succeed in graduate school. The best letters come from professors that know you well and can speak to their relationship with you. The more details you have in your letters of recommendation, the better your chances of being admitted. Keeping strong ties with professors will also help instigate the next major preparation requirement.

 

Start undergraduate research as soon as possible.

The best way to do this is to speak directly with professors whose work interests you and simply ask to get involved. If you’re not comfortable with that, poke around their professional and/or departmental website. Read through their work so you get a feel for the groups that interest you, and see if any list openings for part time undergraduate students (or even graduate students and postdocs, it shows they need more people). Obviously your interests are going to be broad and undefined at this point – that is absolutely fine. Just find a few things that pique your interest.
Reach out to those professors (either by email or by actually going to their office) and ask if they have any openings for an undergraduate research assistant, even if one isn’t listed overtly on their webpage. Be persistent and avoid the temptation to get detracted, it is unlikely that you will be able to get into the lab of the first person you talk to (depending on the size and financial status of your department/university). Be sure and point out that you’re willing to volunteer (free is always a selling point).
The easiest professors to get in with are ones those you’ve taken classes with or already have a good relationship with (see #2), so you can always start there. Don’t feel beholden to them exclusively however, if you want to get to know a different professor whose work really interests you, take the first step. It makes you look proactive and mature, not pushy!

 

 

Use your summers wisely. 

Summer internships, volunteer experience, outreach programs, a study abroad term– Whatever you do should be something that gives you a new experience and helps you grow as a person while (preferably) adding technical skills to your CV. Get out there, explore, try something brand new, broaden your horizons, all those cliches. Not only will you grow, but you’ll get a better idea of who you are and what you want to do, and you’ll also have something to talk about in your personal statement, should  you eventually have to write one.
Summer internships are an amazing way to get some research experience while still having fun (or making some extra money). If you are having difficulties getting into a lab at school, look for an internship that typically takes students with little research experience and use that as your springboard into the field. Internships are also a great way to explore research that’s different from what you are doing at school and can help you narrow your research interests, which is a huge plus for graduate applications. Don’t feel tied to your field though. Even as a physicist a summer internship at the World Bank or McKinsey still adds flavor and prestige to your resume (while letting you explore your interests). The important thing is to stay active. Admissions committees want to see that you spend every day, week, month, and year improving yourself and reaching your goals.
Lastly, engaging  in a summer program applicable to your field is a guaranteed way to get yourself a letter of recommendation from an institution other than your undergraduate school. This is a big plus, because great letters from several institutions is always better than great letters from the same department.

 

Attend Conferences and Symposiums.

Publications are the gold star of a graduate school application, but it can be extremely difficult to publish your research as an undergraduate (depending on your field). Whether or not you are going to be able to get a paper out of your research, try to find avenues to present it. Most research universities offer some type of undergraduate research symposium where undergrads present what they’ve been working on. There are regional as well as national conferences and societies that students frequently present at (again depending on your field). This is also an option with research you may do over the summer – be sure to talk to the people you intern/work with to see if that it’s an option for you.

 

Get involved outside the classroom.

By far research and grades are the two most important parts of your preparation. That said, it never hurts to have outside activities you can put on your CV. Graduate schools tend to like students who are engaged, active, and high energy. You’ll frequently see PhD students who are good at several things: physicists who play cello concerts on the weekends, philosophers who program apps, or art history majors that canvas for political issues. It can be anything you’re excited about: music, sports, community outreach, volunteering, journalism, or photography. You name it.
Show commitment to the activity or organization. Take on a leadership role, branch out and start a new organization, anything that can show concretely how involved you are. For example, if you love to travel–do a volunteer program where you help out communities internationally. If you love astrophotography, join a club and try to get on the committee. The goal here is to show that you are an active and self motivated person who commits to things they feel are important. It’s much, much better to be deeply involved in a select few things you are passionate about than to be barely involved in twenty different activities.

 

Apply for awards and scholarships.

There are tons of awards and scholarships out there that will recognize all of the hard work you’ve put in. Depending on what your interests/fields are, you can join honor societies like Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, or field-specific ones. You can apply for the Goldwater Scholarship when you have one to two years of college remaining if you are in STEM. There’s also Fulbright, Truman, Marshall, Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, and a whole slew of other prestigious scholarships that you can apply to. A lot of professional societies also have undergraduate awards and scholarships that you can consider for your individual field. There are also specific awards for minorities and first generation college students if it applies to you. There are even awards for completely isolated things, like essay competitions or science fair projects. If you don’t feel like your GPA is high enough to compete for the big awards, you can still find plenty of options that will allow you to compete based on skill specific performance.
While these are not as important as a strong research background and recommendation letters, they can definitely be extra jewels in the crown. A lot of schools are “award” junkies, and love accepting applicants with a long list of honors. Awards and scholarships show you are self motivated enough to apply, and also indicates you have passed through several objective “filters” set by third parties. Afterall, winning an award means you out performed your peers, and that’s exactly the kind of students admissions committees want. This is especially important for international students.
Your university probably has an office to assist people in applying for these types of awards, and it’s worth talking to them about your options.

 

Keep track of everything you do.

You’re going to be busy during college with lots of class, activities, research, and summer plans. Start a resume, CV, and list of classes (with course number, full title, number of credits, professor, textbook, your grade in the class, and a one-line blurb about what you did in the class). It’s not a bad idea to have a research spreadsheet or notebook where you can list all the techniques you learn and projects you contribute to. You will thank yourself later, it’s much easier to remember all of the details about your involvement when it’s actually happening rather than three or four years down the line. A lot of details get lost in the ether otherwise, and you should get credit for everything you did!

 

Research graduate programs early.

When you reach your junior year, or are no less than a year away from applying, you should start thinking about what grad school programs you might be interested in, what you want to research, and where stats (GPA, GRE, etc.) need to be in order to get into that type of program. You need to have a concrete goal in mind in order to decide how much time you’ll need to prepare. This is one of the tips for future graduate school applicants that few people heed, yet can make a huge difference. Beyond knowing how to prepare your statistics, knowing where you intend to apply early can help you forge relationships at that institution, through a summer internship for example. It will also give you plenty of time to learn everything there is to know about said program–which will pay dividends when you sit down to write your statement of purpose.

 

Plan application components early.

For every field, your graduate school application is going to have several key components: GPA (major and overall), GRE scores (verbal, quantitative, and writing), two to four recommendation letters from faculty, a CV, and a personal statement. For some fields, you may also need a subject GRE score, a writing sample, and/or a portfolio of your work.  If you will need anything time consuming, such as writing samples or a subject GRE score, you should plan for these elements far ahead of time. A GRE subject exam can take months to study for, not including the time it takes to prepare for the general GRE. If you try to cram all these activities into the same time you’re also trying to instruct professors on your letters of recommendation, write a statement of purpose, and prepare your CV– you’re gonna have a bad time. Start your application materials far enough in advance that you don’t have to rush.

 

 

If you utilize these tips for future graduate school applicants, by the time application season rolls around you’ll be nearly stress free and confident of your ability to get into your top choice program. Now go, get started!
By
@
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