Thinking about attending graduate school is a huge step in your academic career. Graduate school is unique in itself because people from so many different levels in their life attend graduate school for their own personal reasons. You want to make sure that if you do choose to pursue a master’s degree, you are well prepared for it. Here are a few tips to consider:
1) Figure out what it is you really want to study. You must know what you want to study before you can move forward with anything. Whether it is in the same field as your first degree or not, that second degree is meant to lead you in a direction that your first degree didn’t. I know it’s not simple to just tell someone to just “figure it out” but I mean, do your research. You have graduate school on your mind, so why is it on your mind? Maybe it’s because you want to do something different or advance your career or maybe your institution asked you to because that’s the only way you’ll get that promotion. Whatever the case may be, you want to make sure you are choosing the right program for you. When I reached my junior year in college, I interned for a program that allowed me to work on campus at my college’s counseling center. After a year of working on campus, I also became the president of the psychology club and interviewed for a peer educator position for the career services office for the following school year. The summer before my senior year, I had also worked in the academic advising center. Not sure if you’re seeing the pattern here, but I got involved. It took me two years, but I did it. At first, I thought these opportunities were random … but then I noticed they all had a commonality. I was always serving and helping college students. I finally noticed that THIS was what I wanted to do, I wanted to help college students succeed. I did my research and found the right program for me. This still applies to you if you have been working for years and have been out of school. You still need to figure out the “why” factor of getting the degree you want.
2) Seriously, fix your resume. It’s very important to have a clean, legible, and concise resume. One good resource is your college’s career services office. Instead of paying someone to look over your resume you can get the service for free at your alma mater or current institution. You can even have meetings virtually or over the phone for a more convenient solution for those who are not able to make it in person. You have options, and it's free, so go get your resume looked at! It’s an important piece of your graduate school application so the earlier you work on your resume the better your final product will be. If going back to your institution seems like a hassle, there are plenty of free resources and videos that can help give you tips on fixing up your resume.
3) Research programs well in advance. Generally, people start to look at grad school programs a year and a half in advance because of early application deadlines, but also because the application process for every program and every university is different and you must be prepared. Materials include your resume, personal statements, essays, transcripts, GRE scores (some programs), etc. Depending on what you are interested in pursuing, the application and/or requirements to get into the program vary. That is why doing your research a year in advance, maybe even two years, will give you enough time to gather your materials and prepare yourself to have a stellar application. If the program you find requires you to take the GRE or GMAT, make sure that you plan for that as well and take the test as soon as you can so that your scores don’t come in too late. Everyone is on their own timeline and not every person who’s in college plans to go to graduate school right away. It’s important to note how totally okay that is. When you are ready to go to graduate school, it is important that you are prepared.
4) Don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts of your personal statement. One of the most important parts of a graduate school application is your personal statement. I say this because it is the one part of the application that allows you to really tell the admissions counselors why you belong in this program and what is so unique about you, beyond your grades and extracurriculars. You have a chance to talk to them, and they have a chance to really get to know you. Every program/university has a different prompt on what they want your personal statement to reflect or focus on, but the overall theme is whether or not you are a fit for their program. You pretty much have a chance to brag and sell yourself on paper. Make sure that you have an adviser, administrator, or someone else look it over. It is important to write a draft and narrow it down to the most important points; this takes time and a lot of editing. Personal statements are usually only two pages max. Doesn’t seem like much, right? True, however, admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications and they do not have time to read a boring statement that says the most cliché phrases like “it has always been my dream to attend this school.” Be you and be unique and don’t express how much you want to be there, they know that – give them a reason to believe you belong there.
Overall, these tips are meant to help you get a jump start on your grad school application journey. Do your research, start early, fix that resume, and do not be afraid to be yourself!