How to Prepare for Graduate School

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

Graduate school sounds fun in the abstract. When people ask about your student’s life plans, they tell them that they intend to go to grad school. Cue all of the (real) adults swooning over how smart and talented your student is. But even though your student is sure of what they want, they might not be sure of how to get there.

The graduate school preparation process can be scary and vague if you don’t know what you’re doing, so have your students follow the steps below to make sure they’re ready.

Learn how the process works.

How, exactly, do graduate school admissions work? A lot of undergraduate students hoping to attend grad school one day aren’t sure. There are plenty of in-depth guides online that can explain the process, and when in doubt, tell your student not to be scared to speak to an advisor or favorite professor. They’ve been where your student is, and they might be able to give your student some insider advice that a basic guide would gloss over.

Do your research.

Certain graduate schools look for different things, and unfortunately, graduate schools often aren’t as upfront as undergraduate colleges about things like acceptance rates. Although the average Joe can usually pick out the names of some high-caliber universities, oftentimes graduate school programs are competitive even at colleges you might not expect. Encourage your student to do their research and get a feel for their chances of acceptance at every school they apply to. You don’t want your student to end up applying to a bunch of schools and getting rejected from all of them.

Doing your research isn’t limited to the academic realm, however. Your student should research within your family and ask themselves some tough questions. Is graduate school, financially speaking, even a possibility at this point? Are you, the parents, still willing to support your student for some expenses, or is your student going to have to factor in paying for things that they didn’t have to while they were an undergraduate?

Is it best for your student’s future to go to graduate school right now, or to work a job or internship for a while and go back later? Is this degree necessary to get a job in your student’s desired field, or do they want to learn more for the sake of learning? Make sure your student is honest with themselves about why they want to go to graduate school now, and if it’s even a possibility at this stage in their life.

Start your application as soon as possible.

Remember how stressful it was for your student applying to college as a high schooler? Now imagine that schools aren’t using the same general application, and your student is going to have to fill out a bunch of entirely different ones. That’s a daunting task, especially since they’ll want to go over their essays numerous times with experts and professors, so they’re going to need to start their applications far in advance if they expect to turn in their best work.

Ask for help when you need it.

Your student is going to have questions or want advice while they’re applying to graduate schools or when deciding whether to apply at all. Have them reach out to family and friends if they’re looking for solutions in their personal life. If their questions or worries are more academic in nature, encourage them to seek out an advisor or professor. They’ll be happy to help by glancing over your student’s essays, giving you a feel for how their graduate school experience went, what to look out for, what an admissions committee is searching for in an ideal applicant, etc. They’re a wealth of information that your student shouldn’t pass up, even if they feel like their question is trivial or short. Trust me, they’re excited to help your student down this path.

Prepare for the GRE.

The Graduate Record Examinations. Think SAT or ACT, only for an undergraduate student aspiring to grad school, way more terrifying. It won’t be easy to wing the GRE and still do well on the test. Invest in a GRE prep book, at the bare minimum. If possible, your student should try taking classes in subjects the GRE will test them on (a STEM student may want to take a class to help them brush up on their general writing skills, and a humanities or social sciences student may want to take a basic math class to help them with those portions of the GRE).

If your student knows other students that are planning on taking the GRE, try to link them up for study sessions at least a few times. If your student can afford it and such classes exist near them, they may want to pay for a GRE prep class. Whatever your student chooses to do to prepare, make sure that they try at least a few different methods so that they’re as ready as possible.

Preparing for graduate school can seem like a scary process, but it doesn’t have to be if your student does their research, relies on their mentors, and studies, studies, studies!

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