Preparing for the Next Step: Choosing a Graduate School

As I completed my final law school application this past weekend, I exhaled deeply with a sigh of relief knowing that I was that much closer to culminating my academic trek.    

 While some students immerse themselves into a career directly after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, many other students have anywhere from two to seven years of additional academia to complete before settling down.   

 In saying that, preparing for graduate school can be the most labor-intensive, high-pressure obstacle that an undergraduate student will face.

 Because many of you are either considering graduate school or have already started preparing for graduate school, I wanted to do a follow-up column to my internship piece with a piece on graduate school. Essentially, I will be touching on the application process, and ways to find an appropriate school for your personal preferences.

 The application process of graduate school usually entails sending your undergraduate transcripts to all prospective graduate schools, preparing and executing on standardized tests, receiving several letters of recommendation, and writing a thoughtful personal essay.

 Requesting transcripts from the registrar’s office should be done months before the due date of your application so that the admissions committee has ample time to receive and review your undergraduate courses, GPA, and academic standing. 

 Standardized tests for graduate schools are usually tightly-timed, conceptually-rigorous tests that should be prepared for at least a year in advance. You can properly prepare for a test like the GRE, LSAT, or GMAT by either enrolling in an expensive training course or simply taking several practice tests until you are consistently scoring the numbers that you want.

 Letters of recommendation should be written by professors, employers, or professionals who know you well and can vouch for your high-level of dedication, intelligence, and personable qualities. 

 Personal statements should employ creative and thoughtful writing skills that will articulate a unique experience in your life. The experience that you describe in your statement should be one that will make you an asset to that specific school.

 When attempting to find a graduate school that is right for you, try to consider three main factors: location, tuition, and job placement.

 Location is a major factor to consider because obviously you need to choose a school that possesses a habitable town. In other words, if you are going to be living at this school for the next several years, make sure that the town offers you the living conditions that you regard as being important, such as: access to cultural resources and entertainment.

Tuition is a facet of grad school that needs to be seriously considered and researched. Not only are you continuing to pile on student debt by further advancing your education, but because graduate school possesses a higher level of scholarly prestige, your bills are bound to reflect that prestige. Therefore, choose a school that is known for offering merit-based scholarships or even consider remaining in-state. 

 Receiving a graduate degree does not necessarily ensure employment. Find a program with high passage rates for certification exams and high levels of job placement. Many schools like to offer their students positions in the community of the grad school.

 Kaylor Hedges, a recent graduate of Shepherd University, decided to stay at Shepherd for graduate school in order to pursue an MBA. Hedges urges students to take the graduate school process seriously. 

 “Graduate school for me is an opportunity to network with groups of like-minded people while learning life skills along the way. The MBA program is designed to develop skills that will prepare students for life after graduation. My main advice is to take the whole process seriously and approach it as being your career,” she said.

 Because the finance, time, and dedication you put into graduate school greatly exceeds that of your undergraduate experience, make sure that you have put in the work to be accepted at a reputable institution – one that you will enjoy living at for years to come and that offers some sort of job placement after graduation. Remember, graduate school will most likely be your springboard into the career you practice for a lifetime; therefore, take the application process seriously. Best of luck!

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