How To Get Into Grad School in 8 Steps (With Tips)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated July 26, 2022
Published May 3, 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Graduate school is a collection of specialized programs that students can attend after receiving their bachelor's degree to further their education, either in a new subject or as a continuation of their undergraduate studies. If you're interested in pursuing a graduate degree, it can be helpful to understand how the process works so you can put together an informative and impressive application and begin your graduate school journey.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of attending graduate school and we offer eight steps and tips for applying to and getting into graduate school.
Related: Is Grad School Worth It?
Benefits of attending grad school
Not every graduate program is for everyone. Depending on the career you want, you may not need a higher-level degree. For those who are interested in attending grad school, however, there are some benefits:
It can increase your future salary
Depending on your major, it's likely that attending graduate school can increase your future salary. People with higher-level degrees often make more money than those who only have bachelor's degrees, so attending graduate school can improve your financial prospects. This is because positions that require graduate degrees typically pay higher, and companies may see you as more valuable if you have a graduate degree.
There are networking opportunities
Graduate school is full of experts in your field, from professors to your colleagues. Your fellow students can have the same passions as you and are likely pursuing jobs in similar industries. Your professors may have the skills and knowledge to help guide you in the field. The opportunity to network with the faculty and students in your program, as well as with other people in your discipline, can help you once you move on to finding a job with your graduate degree.
You can develop as a scholar
Graduate school can help instill principles of lifelong learning in students. It's possible you may have developed this mindset while you studied for your bachelor's degree, but if not, the atmosphere of graduate school can greatly influence you to adopt constant improvement and learning as a lifestyle. Attending graduate school can help you improve your research and theory-building abilities, especially for your specific career field.
It can help you stand out among the competition
When you're searching for a job, your graduate degree may set you apart from other candidates. If the other candidates for the position all have bachelor's degrees and you have a graduate degree, it's likely that the hiring team can see you as a more valuable asset to their organization. This distinction may also help you in other social circumstances, allowing you to identify yourself as highly knowledgeable in your field.
There are opportunities for grants
Depending on the program that accepts you, there are many funding opportunities that can help you pay for graduate school. If you're interested in scientific or historical research, some programs have summer and postgraduate opportunities for funded research positions. If you are an artist, you may receive a grant to finish your novel or remain in the city of your program and create artwork.
You can use your skills to better society
Attending graduate school allows you to refine your skills and knowledge in your field of study. Building upon these skills can allow you to contribute to society and make the world a better place, whether it be through groundbreaking medical research or emotionally moving short films. Graduate school can be an opportunity to increase your impact on the world and allow you to build your legacy.
It's a requirement for certain jobs
There are many positions that require candidates to have graduate degrees. For example, if you are interested in becoming a professor in your discipline, you need a terminal degree, whether that be a Ph.D. or master's degree. Though graduate degrees are not a strict requirement for many jobs, laws and company rules may require you to earn a graduate degree. For example, if you want to be a doctor or lawyer, you must attend graduate school to work in these fields.
There may be travel opportunities
Many graduate programs consider travel to be an important part of developing a student's understanding and reach. Many programs have options for students to complete terms abroad or to take part in summer research programs. Depending on your interests, the chance for funded academic travel can be a great motivation for attending graduate school.
How to get into grad school in 8 steps
The process of applying to graduate school is long but it can be rewarding. If you enhance elements of your application for graduate schools like your personal statement, you may increase your chances of getting in and becoming a graduate student in your chosen program. You can follow these steps to apply for graduate school:
1. Make sure grad school is the right option for you
Applying for graduate school requires a lot of time and energy, and it's best to ensure it's the right option for you before beginning the process. Evaluate your goals and identify whether grad school is necessary or helpful in reaching them. You may want to take some time aligning your vision for your future to make sure graduate school is the best option for your professional and personal development.
2. Start the grad school application process early
Many graduate school application deadlines are in the fall and winter, from October to December. If you are planning on attending graduate school directly following your undergraduate studies, you may need to work on your graduate school application while completing your undergraduate degree. Starting early can give you the summer months to work on graduate school applications and help you avoid becoming overwhelmed.
You may want to start thinking about graduate school one to two years before applying. You can start gathering and creating your application materials as early as January or February. Many graduate school applications require references or letters of recommendation, so it's a good idea to choose a few professors and ask them as early as possible if they can be a reference or write a letter of recommendation.
3. Make a detailed list of your top choices for grad schools
Research potential programs and make a list of qualities you're looking for in a graduate program. Some applicants look for schools that are willing to fully fund their studies. Others consider highly distinguished professors, a great campus atmosphere, inclusivity and great weather as factors for determining which schools to apply to. Quantifying each of these qualities and ranking your schools using them is a great way to determine which school is your top choice and eliminate schools that don't have what you're looking for.
For applications, learn which of your school choices require statements of purpose, letters of recommendation and portfolios or manuscripts. Some schools charge application fees, and the cost can differ from school to school. Understanding these variables can help you understand the qualities of each school and decide which are worth your time.
4. Make a comprehensive grad school application plan
It's helpful to break the application process down into minor tasks like refining your resume, asking for recommendations and writing your statement of purpose. Consider other responsibilities like jobs, current schoolwork and family obligations when creating your grad school application plan. It may be a good idea to plan on working on your application during the summer months when you may not have your studies and other responsibilities to manage as well.
Related: How To Apply for Graduate School
5. Study for and take the GRE if it's required for your school
Like with the other aspects of graduate school applications, it's a good idea to take the Graduate Record Examinations as soon as possible. You can ask friends and family to help you study. It's helpful to understand the score you need for your target schools and aim for that score. On test day, eat a nutritious breakfast and be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before.
6. Dedicate time to refining your statement of purpose
Your statement of purpose, or objective statement, is your chance to show the program what makes you unique and how you can contribute to a school in ways that other candidates can't. The statement of purpose can be the most important part of your application, as it's the aspect you have the most control over. You may not have much control over your work experience or GPA while creating your application, but the statement of purpose is an opportunity to showcase your personality and strengths.
7. Submit applications with ample time before deadlines
Many applications are online, but there are still programs that prefer receiving paper copies in the mail. Regardless of the program's submission methods, it's important to submit your application early. If an error happens with online submission or your mail carrier loses your application, you'll have plenty of time to resubmit.
8. Practice interviewing with people you respect
Interviewing can be an important part of the application process for some programs. Practicing interview questions can help improve your answers, but it's also good to improve your interviewing skills overall. Conduct fake interviews with someone you trust but admire, like a mentor. Sitting down for practice interviews with someone you're not too comfortable with can better simulate the experience and help you learn to sit up straight, make eye contact and smile even when you might be a little nervous.
Tips for getting into grad school
You can use some of these helpful tips to increase your chances of getting into graduate schools:
Enlist the help of people you trust. Asking those you trust most to help you with the process can help motivate you and increase the quality of your application. When the people in your life show excitement about your application, it can help keep you excited as well.
Find and join social groups dedicated to graduate school applications. There are many online groups dedicated to graduate school applications whose members can answer your questions and offer support. You may even find online groups dedicated to one specific program or school.
Reach out to alumni from your top programs. If you want to learn more about a program, or what success looks like for the alumni, speaking with people who have completed the program can be helpful. Consider reaching out to alumni and asking to talk with them about what they enjoyed about the program or what they think influenced their acceptance.
Apply for the FAFSA as soon as it opens to students. The Federal Application For Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a government form that determines the financial status of both undergraduate and graduate students. Some schools may determine your eligibility for aid based on the FAFSA. Applying as soon as possible can help you avoid any setbacks in that process.
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