IDENTITY THE CAREER PATH THAT YOU WANT TO EMBARK ON
Unlike applying to undergraduate programs, applying to graduate programs requires you to know what you want to do with your life. So, my number one suggestion is to know which path you want to take in life. For some this is not an easy choice because who actually has their life figured out and knows what they’re going to be doing in 10 years. I say this because in undergrad you are able to take courses in different disciplines as you figure out what it is that you like. In grad school you are working towards professional development and so all of your courses are tailored towards that profession with an exception of several elective courses that you may take that targets a specific population.
2. ATTEND INFO SESSIONS
I majored in psychology at UMass Amherst and my university hosted a lot of info sessions on applying to graduate programs and the types of careers that you can embark on in the field of psychology. I attended every single one of them even if I felt that the information will be repetitive. There’s no such thing as too much information. Attending the info sessions allowed me to get a grasp of the type of programs that were out there and the pros and cons of each program. These info sessions were also a chance for you to get an overview of what the process looked like, tips to applying to grad programs and some of the things that you can start doing now that will help you stand out in your application. I attended al the information sessions because they were hosted by different professors and each had something different and beneficial to offer. Additionally, people who worked in certain fields were invited to come and answer any questions that you may have. So, this really gives you a sense of what the career entails and if it’s something you see yourself doing.
3. Attend the Open-Houses
Attending open-houses if the school is in proximity is really important. Aside from the academic aspect, the environment and location is also important. In these open-houses you’ll get a chance to tour the schools, maybe sit-in on a class or two, and get a chance to ask questions about financial aid, and course load.
In open-houses you also get to meet some of the faculty members so this is a great opportunity to make those connections early on and identify some of the courses that you may be taking. This was really helpful for me because I got the chance to look at the syllabus and get a sense of how demanding the courses are and the kind of material we will be covering.
The other benefit of attending open-houses is getting an application fee waiver. Application fees can vary from $45-65 and if you are applying to 4-5 grad programs those prices can easily add up!
Some questions to ask during open-houses:
- What is the two-year graduation rate for this program?
- This gives you an idea of how many people successfully graduate from the program within the specified time. A low graduation rate should make you skeptical and move you to ask more questions as to why people are taking longer to graduate.
- What percentage of graduating students find a job within their field?
- THIS is an important question because it has a lot to do with the connections that the school has and how well they are working to integrate you into the working world. When asking this question follow-up with some of the resources that the school offers in regards to preparations for any licensing exams that you may need to take and internship opportunities.
- What kind of financial aid do your offer?
- In the end of your application process, how much financial aid the school offers you will determine your descision to attend. You would think that after all those undergrad loans, grad school will be cheaper? Yeah, no! Graduate programs (especially Masters) tend to be much more expensive than undergrad and knowing the the type of financial support the institution offers is important. A school with a lot of merit and grant-based scholarships are THEE best! (If Biden comes through with the loan forgiveness, we many not need to worry about being in so much debt)
4. Difference Between Applying for Undergrad and Grad School
In Undergrad, majority of people apply to school based on its illustriousness. On the other hand, when you are applying to grad programs, depending on the program, you will be applying to work with a specific professor in your department. What do I mean by that? When looking into grad programs, you don’t only look for schools that are ranked number 1 in that discipline but you also look for professors who are the G.O.A.T’s in your discipline. So, you need to research the work and research that your professors in your department are doing and identify which one best matches your interest. Once you have identified this professor, you would then apply to work under them and they essentially become your supervisor and you consult with them when it comes to writing and defending your thesis. In sum, depending on the type of grad program you’re applying to you’ll need to apply to the university and also apply to work with a certain professor.
This is very rare in the United States, but some programs in England require you to interview with someone from the department. So, identify what you need to do for your program so that nothing comes as a surprise for you!
5. Writing Your Personal Statement
If you have a low GPA or didn’t get a high GRE score, your personal statement is your chance to talk about things that are not reflected in your curriculum vitae (CV/Resume). Writing my personal statement took 2-3 months and required A LOT of revision!!! I had 3 people look at it, looking back I would recommend having two people help you otherwise too many opinions can confuse and delay the process. In order to reach my application deadline, I had to create deadlines for myself and for those who were reviewing it. Unlike your undergrad personal statement, the grad school one, the questions are centered around your discipline. The school wants to know what you have done to prepare for a career in this field. When I initially started writing mine, I was worried I was not experienced enough and there was no way I could answer these questions. But, after talking with my mentor and a good friend of mine, we were able to brainstorm some of the minuscule experiences and expand on them.
Tip: work on your personal statement everyday and keep a notepad and pen with you at all time incase you come up with an idea of what to include in your essay. The greatest ideas comes to us in the most random places!
This all seems like a lot of information, but really familiarizing yourself with your program requirements is really important and makes everything so easy. To sum up the steps:
- Identify which programs are of interest to you
- Build your graduate school list
- Make a list of admission requirements
- Plan to take and ace your GRE exams
- Some programs don’t require it. Save yourself the money and don’t take them if they’re not necessary
- Write your personal statement
- Ask for letters of recommendation
- Build those relationships with your professors early on.
- Request official transcripts ahead of time
- Collect exampled of the work you’ve done
- Depending on the program, some programs may want to see a a writing sample or a portfolio of your work.
- Anxiously wait for a response… but then again…