5 Tips for Applying to Grad School

Applying for graduate school is a big step, especially if you have been out of school for a few years. Admission is not guaranteed, so be prepared. Choose the best program for your goals, know the admittance requirements, and start studying for any entrance exams as soon as possible. 

  1.   Identify Your Goal Programs

The first step in getting ready for grad school is to choose a program. Consider the subject you want to study based on goals for your career and future. This will help you determine which programs to put on your list.

Look at the schools with graduate programs best suited to your goals, and find the programs ranked highest for your subject of study. 

If you’re returning to school after a hiatus of a couple of years or more, you may need to consider practical factors when choosing a program. For instance, you may need a school that accommodates non-traditional students by scheduling classes on weekends and evenings to suit your work or childcare schedule.

Narrow down your list to your favorite programs, making sure to include some you feel especially confident you’ll be accepted to. 

  1.   Prepare For Any Tests

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s time to prepare for testing. Most graduate programs require some type of standardized test for admissions. Make sure you know which tests your chosen programs require and the minimum score needed. These are some of the grad school entrance exams you may need to pass:

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) – The GRE is a test of general knowledge. It includes sections on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.
  • GRE Subject Tests – For specific subjects of study, you may need to take an additional GRE. These include biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, English literature, and psychology.
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMA) – The GMAT is used for admission to many business schools. You’ll probably need this test if you are going for an MBA.
  • Law School Admission Test (LSAT) – All law schools accredited by the American Bar Association require a passing score on the LSAT for admittance.
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) – If you apply for medical school in the U.S., you will need to take and pass this exam.

Most applicants spend at least a few months studying for these exams. Those taking the MCAT spend up to six months studying. Use test prep materials, put time into studying, and be aware that any retakes will cost you more time and money.

  1.   Consider the Financials

Grad school isn’t cheap. Before you take the plunge and apply, make sure you understand what it will cost and how you will finance your degree. If you have time to plan, consider using a 529 plan to save. Even with just a year or two, this plan can be smart to prepare financially for grad school.

Look at options for scholarships, financial aid, and federal loans to help pay for or offset costs. Create a budget that considers not only tuition but other costs as well. If you are not working full-time, consider getting a part-time job on campus to support your budget.

  1.   Clean Up Your Online Presence

When applying for grad school, your grades and exam scores are essential, but admissions will consider other factors as well. They will likely look you up online to get a sense of your professional reputation and even check out your social media presence.

Prepare for this scrutiny by doing research. You may want to make your social media accounts private and delete old accounts you no longer use. Depending on the information about you online, you may also want to work with a firm for online reputation management. If cleaning up your reputation is beyond your skills, these professionals can do it for you. It’s well worth the cost to ensure you don’t get denied admission because of past mistakes.

  1.   Check Your Work-Life Balance

If you have been out of school for a few years, returning to academic life can be challenging. Be prepared to adjust to being back in school to ensure you find the right work-life balance. Grad school, especially if you have to work as well, is time-consuming.

Make sure your boss and co-workers understand this significant shift you’ll be making. They will most likely be willing to work with you to accommodate classes and study time. Your friends and family should know your plans as well, so they can support you through this new endeavor.

Preparing for a Major Life Change

Going back to school is exciting but also a little scary. If you haven’t been in academia for a while, give yourself the best chance of success. Plan well ahead for applying and getting into a program, enjoying the ride, and earning that degree.