Once upon a time, about thirty years ago, an undergraduate degree was of significant value. Today, that is not the case. A high school diploma is practically handed to most, and an undergraduate degree is viewed as something that everyone cultured adult should obtain. A lack of a college degree greatly decreases one’s social mobility in our society. Yes, many people do well starting up a company doing something that they are passionate about, and their drive led them to learn all aspects of their business.
Some examples are Tyra Banks, Steve Jobs, and Mike Zuckenberg—all of which still had to learn the ins-and-outs of their businesses in order to become the household names they are today. However, their professions did not require graduate or undergraduate degrees. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or work on Wall Street a graduate degree is useful. A graduate degree not only teaches you a specific profession, but it is a great networking tool as well. So, for those who are considering graduate school, I compiled a list of ten things that you should know.
1. You will need money to apply
Yes, graduate school applications cost money. Expect to pay around a hundred dollars, plus supplemental fees, for every school to which you apply. To break it down, that means if you apply to five grad schools it will cost $500 and $50 to $100 additional payments to each school. Therefore at the most five schools will cost $1000, and $750 at the least. However, if you are a poverty level undergraduate you may qualify for a fee waiver.
I say may, for five-thousand dollars may be enough to pay rent and live well in one state, but have you eating Top-Ramen every night in another. The fee waivers require you to meet government qualifications, even if it is awarded through a specific organization. If you are unsure if you qualify, take the risk and find out. You may have to write a letter explaining your situation, but it may be worth it.
Most graduate schools require exams, similar to the SAT and ACT for undergrad. If you are unsure about if there is an exam to take, most likely there is—and in some cases you may be able to choose from more than one for the same profession. This means that it is your job as a potential grad student to find out what tests to take, which programs accept what exam, and the test dates. Don’t freak out! The majority of grad programs will have the exams necessary listed under their admissions sections. If it is note clearly stated online or not visible, call or email admissions.
Grad school applications require a lot of time to fill out, and be processed by you potential schools. On average, it takes about two to four weeks for applications to be processed, and ready for the admissions board to review. Thus, if you send out your applications in August, admissions will not review it until September. Another aspect to consider is that you apply an entre year before the year that you wish to attend—if you’re applying for Fall 2014, you apply Summer 2013.
Most graduate schools will have prerequisites that you will need in order to qualify for admissions. So, check the admissions section online!!!! If you know your desired vocation as a freshman, research your school prerequisites. What you will need to apply depends on the program. There may be certain courses, work experience, volunteer work, or even required intern experience. A good example of this is that many of my friends who desire to be medical doctors.
Those who did not look up the prerequisites had all of the required courses complete, but did not know until the year that they applied that science courses were not the only things necessary. Nor did they know that they did not have to waste their time taking a shit-load of science courses, for you do not need to major in Chemistry or Biology to apply. The point is, check your prerequisites before you are ready to apply, so that you are able to have time to take classes you enjoy and life in general.
5. Know what classes they will accept
I know that this ties into prerequisites, but many readers skim through bullet points—rather than reading an entire article. I’m guilty too.
Moving on, not all graduate schools will accept credits from community colleges or online courses. If it is not explicitly listed, call or email admissions.
6. GPA isn’t everything
Your GPA and exam scores are highly valued in the admissions process, but are not everything that they consider. For instance, if you have a 3.8 GPA, but did not get involved on-campus (volunteer work, Greek-life, clubs) you seem boring. Aside from having fun, the personal statements are of great importance! If you not feel that you are a strong writer, ask a professor to review your essay, pay an editing service, or contact admissions for they may provide a general outline of what questions they want you to answer.
Most graduate schools require you to travel to the schools that you have applied to for interviews. Hence, on top of application fees, consider the money and time that it will require to travel to each school.
Also consider if you want to be near your family, and how far and much it will cost to travel back home for the holidays and breaks. Personally, I think that most people have had a chance to mature during their undergraduate experience, and that you should go to school away from home. Go to school in a place that you enjoy, for you will make a majority of your professional connections during this period of your life. If you hate the snow, do not go to Buffalo State—simple. Unlike undergraduate, most graduate schools do not accept transfers; so, you’re either stuck where you are or you will have to start over. Travel. Visit the schools that you are considering.
Expect to be stressed out, it’s normal. You’re professional fate is based on a short compilation of information and an interview. Between taking the exams and filling out applications, you may snap at a few of your friends. Some friends will understand for they are going through similar situations, where as other may not understand why applying to graduate school will cause you to be M.I.A. If your friendship is worth having, they’ll support you. Haters gonna hate.
Waiting is the worst part. Checking your mail and emails constantly to make sure that admissions received all of the components of your application, drives you insane. Wondering if you have gotten in at all, is even more nerve racking. As I said, waiting is the worst part.
Whether you are accepted or not, celebrate. The results allow you to move on with your life, and take the next step. You may decide that you no longer wish to embark on the same career path, or you determination will increase. If you did not get in your first attempt, you may be able to contact an admissions officer and ask why.
This way you can improve your application for your next attempt. Don’t worry about it, there are many people who did not get in their first time. Don’t let one set-back ruin your life. Keep moving forward. To those who got in, party even harder!!! It will be a while before you do not have an exam to take that prevents you from enjoying life.
DO NOT let this article discourage you. To get what you want out of life, requires work—whether you like it or not. Not slave labor, but you are going to have to do something.
Top Photo Courtesy: Guennadi Ivanov-Kuhn