Grad School Prep

From the point at which you decide to pursue graduate education, there are a number of steps you should take to better prepare yourself for the application process and the rigors of graduate education. These include taking appropriate academic coursework in your intended area of study, conducting or participating in research activities in the field, and gaining related clinical or work experience. All of these experiences will deepen your understanding of the discipline and help solidify your professional interests. They will also better prepare you for the rigors of graduate study and make you a more competitive applicant.

What is involved in the graduate school application process?

Aside from the actual application form and fee, there are a number of parts to the application package. They can be broken down into two major categories- quantitative data and qualitative data. Quantitative data consists of your GPA and your standardized test score. For most applicants, this will be the GRE. Also referred to as threshold data, they are sometimes used to initially screen out candidates. Qualitative data is comprised of the more subjective parts of the application package. Included here are your statement of purpose, resume or curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation, admissions interviews, and any other subjective work such as portfolios, writing samples, or auditions.

What is a curriculum vitae (CV)? Do I have to write one?

The curriculum vitae, or CV as it is often referred to, is a professional document similar to a resume but with some key differences. First, the CV is the document generally used in academic and research circles rather than a resume. Second, the CV is generally longer than the resume. Unlike the typical job resume, it is not limited in page length. It is meant to be a comprehensive listing of all of one’s academic and professional activities and accomplishments. It is not unheard of for veteran professionals to have CVs that are many pages in length.

As an applicant to graduate school, writing a CV is a way to showcase all of your professional and academic experience, including any research and clinical work that you have done as an undergraduate. Additionally, you can also list extra-curricular involvement, leadership experience, as well as any professional development activities that you are involved in, such as memberships in professional organizations, attendance at professional conferences, and publications. Since the CV is the document used by academic professionals, submitting a CV rather than a resume will demonstrate your understanding of this important academic protocol.

When should I take the GRE? Can I retake it?

If possible, it is best to take the exam during the summer before the Fall semester in which you plan to apply. If you are planning to attend graduate school immediately following college, this would be in the summer after your junior year. The reason for this is that you can use your entire junior year to prepare for the exam and use part of the summer to do intense prep without the distractions of school work. If you do not achieve the score that you want, you can retake the exam. However, how multiple scores are treated is school-specific. Whereas some schools may take the highest score, others may average multiple scores.

Because the GRE is now a computer-adapted test, applicants can take it whenever it is convenient for them. There are no longer national administration dates for the general test. You should contact the test center where you want to take the exam and set up an appointment. However, there are still national administration dates for the subject tests. If a program that you are applying to requires you to take a subject test, you will need to register for that exam in enough time to take it and get your score submitted to the school in a timely fashion.

What type of financing is available for graduate school?

Financial aid in graduate school varies from grants and fellowships to assistantships to waivers to work-study. When choosing which programs to apply to and ultimately attend, the cost of the program in relation to the amount of financial aid you will be receiving is definitely a prime consideration to make.

Who should write my letters of recommendation? How many do I need to get?

In general, graduate programs typically require at least three letters of recommendation. Who you choose to write your letters is up to you, but there are some general guidelines that you may want to follow:

  • No matter what type of program you are applying to, you will want to obtain letters from faculty members who can speak to your abilities as a student and your potential for success in graduate study. 
  • If you are applying to a program that has a strong research emphasis, it would be good to have a letter from someone who supervised you in the research setting and who can attest to your skills as a researcher.
  • If you have gained some clinical experience in your field, it could also be helpful to obtain a letter from a clinical supervisor, especially if you are applying to a program that has a strong clinical or applied focus for your field.

How do I know which program is right for me?

Okay…so you’ve endured the pressure and managed to dazzle the admissions committees of more than one of your prospective programs. You now find yourself in the enviable position of having to choose which offer to accept and which to reject. A few tips to follow:

Revisit your initial research – Be clear on why you were originally drawn to this program and reaffirm those interests.

Reevaluate your circumstances – Have you had any significant changes in your life personally that would affect your ability to attend the program? Have your academic interests changed at all…is the program still a good fit? Have you had any financial changes that would make one program more attractive over another?

Refresh your memory – If you have visited the program, what were your impressions? Did you feel comfortable in the setting? What does your “gut instinct” say?

After taking time to review these factors, a clear “winner” usually rises to the top. If you have not had the chance to visit, you are strongly encouraged to do so before you make a matriculation decision!