I started school last week and like many campuses across the nation the first week of school is filled with excitement and promise. For me, the first week of school is like a reset button! It is an opportunity to do things better than the year before. I get a chance to do it all over again.
However, for my students, the start of a new year is either: the beginning of a long race (freshman) or a sprint to the finish line (seniors and grad students)!
Today, I want to talk about some of those students who are sprinting to the finish line! Right around now, many seniors are just starting to realize that Spring graduation is right around the corner. Some are even starting to realize that they want to go to graduate school and that the deadlines for graduate school are right around the corner. The reality is that prepared students are thinking about this in their junior year and the summer before they are seniors they are narrowing down applications! Sorry for the harsh dose of reality, BUT if you are a senior who is doing this at the last minute here are some of my tips for helping you apply to graduate school now!
- Applications for PhD programs are due in October, November, or December for Fall start dates, so you do not have that much time to waste. If you start looking in September you might still be able to take a GRE and submit an application (notice I said might…look into the GRE now).
- Do your research now! Use your career center to look for graduate programs. Start to google schools to look up dates!
- Keep your research organized. Make an excel sheet and include schools, graduate programs, application deadlines, and application materials. This will give you a sense of what you need to submit (statement of purpose, statement of research, transcripts, or writing samples) and when you need to submit them. This exercise should be a good reality check for what you want to do.
- Prepare a statement of purpose and get feedback on it! Your statement of purpose or autobiographical statement is very important! Schools use it to see if you will be a good fit for their program, so you want it to be professional, presentable, and reflect some knowledge about the program you are applying to. Get feedback from a writing center, career center, friend, or professor. Don’t submit your first draft to the school you are applying to!
- Think really hard about why you want to go to graduate school. Are you only going to graduate school because your parents want you to keep going to school? Are you afraid of not being in school or not having a job? If you don’t know why you want to go to graduate school, this will likely show up in your letter or application. I have seen many graduate applications where students do not even know which program they are applying to! I regularly get applications from students who want to be teachers, social workers, or counselors, but I teach in a graduate sociology program! These students describe passions that don’t always fit with a degree in sociology. So take some time to do a little bit of self-reflection and really think about why you want to do this!
- Start the applications! As a recovering procrastinator, I know that even after you find all of your application information and after you do the reflecting of your life, you might be tempted to stop! Don’t stop! Just start the applications, do the easy things first, but get moving! Use your excel sheet to help you draw out a plan and maybe ask a friend to meet you in the library or coffee shop to work on graduate application together! Having a friend to work with will help you be accountable for your work and will help you both move forward on your grad applications! Misery loves company!
- Ask professors for letters of recommendation as soon as you have decided where you will be applying! Do not ask for letters of recommendation and then decide that you ran out of time and you are not applying! Your professors are swamped with other work, if they agree to write you a letter and you do not apply, you have wasted their time and if they find out, they are going to be cranky! Ask professors for letters and follow through, apply! I have another set of ideas on how to ask for that letter of recommendation and what you should have, but the short version is that you should be more organized than your professor. Be sure you clearly state when the letter is due (to you or the school) and where the letter should go. Give the professor as much material as they need to write you a good letter. Don’t forget to include any additional forms that schools ask for and be sure they are signed by you if necessary!
Again, these are the rushed steps that could help you apply to a couple of graduate school in Fall. Remember, this is not ideal in academic terms, BUT if you really want to apply to grad school and you haven’t really prepared, this could help you! Plus, who am I to judge!? The first time I applied for graduate school it was rushed! I didn’t get in anywhere, but the second time I did and I had a better idea of what I wanted. So, even if you do all of these steps and don’t get in this year, there is always next year!