Applying to Grad School: Slow and Steady (and Early) Wins the Race

This could be you!

The early bird always gets his worm.  Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  I think by now you get the picture.  As fully developed adults with fully established adult habits and careers (what’s the term everyone’s using these days? Adulting?), we have by now learned that procrastination can be a formidable foe.  My sincerest apologies for the deluge of age-old idioms and rinse-and-repeat motivational quotes, but let’s be crystal clear: you need to begin the process ASAP.  How soon?  If you are applying to fall admission for Graduate Studies, you need to begin the process in the spring semester of the previous year.  For those of us who are not so future-oriented: if you are applying to Graduate School for the fall 2019 Semester, you need to begin your application process in the spring of 2018.  Today is February 2, 2018, so that means like, NOW!

Just like you, I am currently beginning the Graduate School application process, which, I have come to realize, is one that requires a series of well-planned out steps.  But where do you begin?


Recommendation Letters (LoR’s)

Generally speaking, Graduate Schools will ask for 2 to 4 letters of recommendation.  If currently enrolled in college, you are in a prime position to ask (nicely) the professors you trust most to write approvingly of your work.  You might still be in close contact with the professors you have in mind, or, better yet, you are currently taking their courses.  Spring is the perfect time to establish, rekindle, or continue communication with the professors who will be responsible for validating the competence of your academic work.  It is important to note that LoR’s should come primarily from academic sources, although it can be beneficial (or even required) to submit one or more from a previous employer.  If, however, your graduation date is longer ago than you like to tell people (as in 5 plus years ago), then it is completely reasonable for your LoR’s to come from your current or previous employers.  The content of the letters should speak to the excellence of your academic work or your accomplishments in the work place.   However, you should submit at least one LOR from a source that is focused in your area of study.  For instance, as an English Literature Major applying to philosophy, most of my endorsements will naturally come from my English professors.  Of the three philosophy courses I took in college, I am making sure to include at least one in my recommendations.

Also, the person writing your recommendation is not necessarily going to know your life story.  Therefore, it is often useful to provide a resume or at least a short list of y our accomplishments that are pursuant to that person.  For example: “Professor Ramirez, you may not remember me but I was in your physics 1 and 2 class and I received A’s in every class.”
Figuring out the sources for your recommendations early on will allow you to further strengthen the working relationship with your professors, and, more importantly, it will give those busy academics plenty of time to write an awesome endorsement.

Graduate School Exams

By now, you’ll have at least heard of the most common graduate school exams: the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc..  You’ll want to find out which test is required by the school(s) you are applying to.  Generally speaking, the GRE covers a broad range of graduate school applications, MBA programs require the GMAT, law schools require the LSAT, and medical schools require the MCAT.  More specialized subjects, such as microbiology or physics may require GRE subject tests.  You’ll now have the summer to enroll in a preparatory course for that specific test or study on your own via study guide books.  Regardless of your preferred preparatory method, you need to know:

1.  The approximate score you will need for entrance
2.  When and where the test is administered (you need to take the exam early enough to be submitted with your application)

If you would like to inquire more about specific tests and test preparation options, please reach out to us at Testmasters via our website or over the phone.  We are experts in professional test preparation and the admissions process.  We have a friendly staff ready to take your calls!


See it

A friend of mine once shared a concise formula that he and his father would use to hone in on a specific task: “See It.  Feel It.  Trust It.”  Now, the specific task they usually had in mind was hitting a golf ball, but I think there is an aspect of truth in it.  Regardless of your future field of study or the nature of the program you intend to pursue, it is essential to visualize what your life will look like as a graduate student.  How will you be spending the majority of your time in graduate school? Running lab work and doing write ups?  Parsing obscure passages from William Faulkner short stories?  Cramming columns full of advanced excel formulas?  You need to SEE what this future looks like in every aspect.  If you’re unfamiliar with the specifics of graduate work in your field of study, do some online research (looks like you’re already doing that now!) to answer a few simple questions:

1.  How long will it take to complete graduate school?  (Note whether or not you intend to attend a full-time or part-time program)
2.  How many hours per week will graduate school take up? (This varies widely depending on the field of study)
3.  What will the courses look like?  (I.e. what are some of the specific topics you might find in the course work?)

In my case, I was able to gather these facts about philosophy graduate school: it will take 2-3 years depending on pace, I will spend approximately 20-24 hours in class and studying per week, and the courses will consist of various periods or subjects in philosophy for which I will be required to read, comprehend, and analyze the various viewpoints.  As it turns out, this is something I already do in my free time: I thoroughly enjoy reading insanely dense and archaic philosophy!

These questions should lead to a better visualization of what graduate school will look like for you.  Now that you can See It, you’ll need to dig deep and ask yourself: am I truly willing to put in the work?

Feel It

You’ve fully visualized the general path of your golf shot (I mean graduate school); you should now take a few practice swings.

What do I mean by practice?  In graduate school, you’ll most likely be doing a lot of research or reading about research.  It’s time to take a focused look at the specific topics you are interested in and begin reading the work of the professors who engage those topics.  The next few months should serve as a sort of rehearsal for graduate school.  During this period, you should familiarize yourself with the common themes, arguments, research techniques and methods, and prevailing theories that surround your topic of interest.  Through your reading, you will begin to figure out which schools, professors, and programs most align with your goals.

With this information in hand, make a list of schools that you think fit your needs and goals.  Maybe the department has a specific professor you would like to work with or a specific research project you are enthusiastically interested in.  Regardless of your final choices, the time spent “practicing” (i.e. educating yourself on the material) will provide a solid base of knowledge for you to write your personal statements for admission.  Furthermore, you will be putting yourself in an excellent mindset for graduate school.  In other words, you will now be getting a small taste of it FEELS like to be absorbed in your field.

The graduate professors whose work you find most appealing will hopefully be the ones guiding you through your thesis (if your program requires one).  Therefore, it will be beneficial to keep a list of the emails for these instructors and reach out to them during this time period.  You will want to keep it short: introduce yourself and your hopeful field of study and specific interest and ask if they will be working with graduate students in the next few years.  This simple email is an easy way to establish contact and assess the viability of working with a specific professor.

For reference, I am particularly keen on 2 specific philosophy professors whose published works explore the same topics that fit my interests.  Accordingly, I have reached out  in the exact format that I stated above.


Trust It

You See It.  You’ve done the groundwork and now you understand a bit more about how to Feel It.  It’s graduate school application time and now you need to Trust It.

Let’s review the timeline you’ll want to follow for your application process:

See?  That wasn’t so hard!  If you start the process of graduate school admissions early enough, you will have ample time to accomplish each task and relieve yourself of the stress of procrastination.  The time you’ve taken to diligently work through each step along the way will prepare you for the years of study that lay ahead.  I wish you the best of luck in pursuing your dreams and remember: See It.  Feel It.  Trust It.

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