If you’re thinking about career options after graduation, you’ve probably considered graduate school. Attending grad school is a big and difficult decision! NSCS alum and Cofounder of Gradschoolmatch.com Brian Clark gives you the top 5 tips to help you before you apply.

1.) Determine why!


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If you’re going to graduate school to postpone getting a job or to perfect your resume… you may want to reconsider. Take a step back and think about why you want to go to graduate school. Some professions require an advanced degree and others do not. Graduate school should not serve simply as a bridge to a better job. Really think about your goals while completing your degree. Graduate school is a great opportunity to kick-start your career if you take advantage of the resources and network around you, but just showing up doesn’t guarantee success.

2.) Get up and get moving!


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The timeline for finding and applying to graduate school should start at least 2-3 months before application deadlines. If you fall into one of the 12 procrastination types, beware! Think beyond the time to fill out the application itself. You’ll likely have to find the programs you want to apply to, take the GRE (or other standardized exams), ask your references to write letters of recommendation (minimally two weeks in advance of a deadline), compose your statements of purpose (I advise writing one for each school you apply to), and have your transcripts sent to your programs of choice. If you are proactive, these checklist items will be easy to complete.

3.) Find the best fit!


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Fit is the most important thing to remember. Finding the best program for YOU is crucial. This goes way beyond rankings. No two programs are alike. Each has its own culture, faculty, curriculum, research focus, students, setting, etc. Prioritize your academic goals and what is important to you before starting your search. If you know exactly the area you want to study, find programs that are publishing in that area. If you’re not exactly sure, find interdisciplinary programs where you will learn a variety of fields and techniques. Geographic location and program culture are also important elements to fit. Finding a few programs that fit you will eliminate the need for a long list of “backup” schools.

4.) Be awesome!


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Once you find programs that might fit (using Gradschoolmatch.com, of course) begin digging in to determine which programs are truly right for you. Look up the faculty, funding, publication history, stipend/scholarship information, and how competitive you are for admission, and your list of programs will begin to slim down. Programs most often want to see a student that fits well with the program based on academic/work experience, success inside and outside of the classroom, and a personality that matches the culture of the program. Keep in mind that a picture-perfect resume is not always the key to getting into graduate school. Although it can help, it’s not always the golden ticket. You’re awesome! Even if your resume isn’t perfect, there’s a program out there that sees how awesome you are!

5.) Communicate with the graduate programs!


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The most underutilized resource in this whole process is the programs themselves. Always keep in mind that graduate programs need students that will excel in their program. Beyond your academic success, motivation, commitment to the program, and fit are common criteria in admissions decisions. Communicate with them. Ask them questions. Email the recruiter, director of the program (sometimes called the Director of Graduate Studies or DGS), or faculty you are interested in working with. Build relationships with these individuals. If you’re a good fit, you may end up spending the next few years working with them!

What else? If you’ve been through the graduate school application process, we’d love to hear your story. If you’re just starting the process and need advice or have questions, email Brian directly. He’s here for you!

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