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There comes a time in every student's life where they must decide whether or not they want to pursue graduate school. I myself decided to attend a journalism graduate school after being out of college for two years. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After being out of the swing of the college scene for two years, I wasn't certain of all that I would need to do in order to be accepted into the right program. Thankfully, I had friends who were already getting their masters that lent me some helpful words of advice. It takes quite a bit of preparation and planning to choose the right graduate school, and the last thing you want to do is not have all your ducks in a row when it comes time to apply. If you're preparing to apply to graduate school, here are some important steps that I took that got me accepted into the right graduate program.
Tour the campuses
A lot of my friends made their final graduate school decisions without even visiting the campuses. To me, that seems absolutely absurd. If you're going to be spending the next two to four years of your life at a school, you want to make sure that it's the right school for you. On paper, something can sound fantastic, but your opinion can change in an instant after seeing a campus in the flesh. Even if you're dead set on a certain school, go ahead and tour the campus. Speak to the professors, walk around the campus, eat the food, look at the dorms, and explore the city it's in. If it doesn't seem like the right fit for you, move on to other options. By visiting a campus, you'll be able to get a feel for whether or not a school is the right fit for you.
Having said this, it's also reasonable to assume that you may not be able to visit every grad program that you would like to apply to. Time and financial restraints are definitely limiting factors for many students. If this is the case, take a look at this article that offers tips on visiting the grad school before applying, and also includes some alternative strategies for finding out important things about the grad program without having to visit.
Consult other graduates in the program
Before I considered applying to a particular graduate program, I made sure to consult former and current graduates of the program. I wanted to make sure that:
1 - The program was interesting and worthwhile
2 - The program actually helped further along graduates careers
Keep in mind, the whole point of going to graduate school is to broaden your skills and to open up more career paths in the future. If you consult with other graduates of the program and find that many of them regret pursuing the program, I'd suggest looking into other options. You're going to invest a lot of money into your education, so you want to make sure it's going to pay off in the long run.
Take the time to prepare your grad school essay (aka personal statements, statement of purpose, letter of intent)
I learned this the hard way, but you should always put enough time and effort into your essays. I didn't get into the school of my choice the first time around because of the poor quality of my essays. How did I find this out? Well, I reached out to the admissions council and asked why it was that I wasn't accepted into the program, since I thought I was more than qualified to be at the school. I'll never forget the direct-mail response I got. "You were under serious consideration, but we could not get past the lack of depth and numerous mistakes in your essays." I'm not the only person in the world who didn't put in enough time and effort into their essay. Many individuals don't put much thought into this section of graduate school applications because they believe essays don't affect the admissions process that much, but that assumption is absurd. Remember, colleges wouldn't require this section if it wasn't an important part of their decision process. Do yourself a favor and put in the work it requires to submit informative and convincing personal grad school essays.
You don't want to not get into the graduate school of your choice simply because you didn't dedicate enough time to the writing process.
Study for the standardized test
This almost goes without saying, but it absolutely has to be emphasized: It's of the utmost importance that you study and do well on your standardized tests. Don't be deceived by individuals that tell you this test doesn't matter all that much; trust me, university admission commitees takes the GMAT, GRE and other various assessment exams very seriously during their decision-making process. The key to doing well on this pivotal post-college exam, is knowing what to expect when you go to take it. Enrolling in prep classes, studying in groups, and taking the test multiple times are great ways to prepare yourself for this crucial exam. So do yourself a favor and don't slack off. You'll sincerely regret it if you don't get into the university of your choice simply because you didn't dedicate yourself enough to preparing for these tests.
If you're thinking about applying for grad school, it's helpful to get a head start on planning what steps you'll need to take in order to get into the best school for you. Before it's too late, start writing your essays, consulting graduates of the program you're interested in, study for your standardize tests and touring college campuses.
Nadia Jones is an education blogger for www.onlinecollege.org She enjoys writing on topics of education reform, education news, and online learning platforms. Outside of the blogging world, Nadia volunteers her time at an after school program for a local middle school and plays pitcher for her adult softball team. She welcomes your comments and questions at email@example.com
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