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The 5 Things To Master When Applying To Grad School

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: November 17, 2023, Reading time: 16 minutes

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Some people go to graduate school to advance their careers, change job industries, grow personally or professionally, earn higher salaries, or get out of the situation of being stuck in a rut. No matter what your reasons are, it’s a wise idea and a worthy investment to apply for grad school. It may still be worthwhile to attend school as it improves your intellect and hone your existing skills even more. 


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However, grad school requires more preparation and steps than simply deciding to attend it. Grad school can seem competitive depending on your chosen field or the university you want to attend. In order to be fully prepared, consider the things to master when applying to grad school. 

The 5 Things To Master When Applying To Grad School

1. Know your why.

One thing to master when applying to grad school is understanding your why, the reason behind your decision, and your purpose. You will need to devote time, money, and energy to graduate school, so thinking about your “why” will be helpful. As early as you can, it would help to start asking yourself what your short-term and long-term goals are. You may want to shift careers or industries, and applying to grad school can increase your qualifications and credentials. Analyzing queries such as these might assist you in focusing your search.

Graduate programs are more discipline-specific than bachelor’s studies. Make sure the programs you are looking at will help you achieve your goals by reading through course descriptions, getting to know the staff, and understanding how the courses are delivered. Many people in admissions, students, or professors may question you about your objectives if you have the opportunity to speak with them. Being able to state what you’re looking for clearly can help them assist you. Finding a mutual match is crucial, and having a clear understanding of your search’s “why” helps facilitate open, fruitful communication.

It’s expected that graduate school will require your time and commitment. It’s crucial to ask yourself if you’re willing to do it, similar to how you accomplished your undergraduate studies. Again, you can constantly go back to your “why” in order to understand the essence of grad school in your life. 

2. Know what to look for in a program.

Once you understand what your “why” is, it’s time to know how to search for the best graduate program that will match all your preferences and goals. In order to have a positive experience and be successful in your endeavors, a program should align closely with your lifestyle and career aspirations. 

Here are some factors to seriously consider when assessing the best graduate program: 

Accreditation

Similar to choosing a bachelor’s degree, a master’s or PhD degree should come with accreditations. Universities voluntarily opt to go through the accreditation procedure. For instance, some specific master’s degrees come with specialized accreditations. These can help you significantly when you’re finally applying for a job after graduation. 

Learning Formats

If you have work or other obligations, it’s important to go for a graduate program that comes with diverse learning formats. Make sure you understand your alternatives, whether they are hybrid, on campus, or available online. For some, attending classes in person and full-time is the best option. Many others find that the flexibility of a part-time online degree allows them to balance a job, education, and raising a family. Examine your priorities and schedule over some time. You can identify which programs offer the possibilities that best suit your needs after you know which learning format is most convenient for you.

Hands-On Learning Opportunities

You should graduate from a graduate degree with the knowledge and abilities necessary to succeed in your area. Seek for courses that provide students with opportunities for practical, hands-on experience in their field of study. 

Cost

When assessing graduate programs, it’s typical to focus just on the price. However, the more important thing is to match the value with the cost. You can assess how worthy the program is when you realize its overall value and offerings. While it’s wiser not to go for the most expensive graduate program option, it’s also unwise to consider a program just because it’s affordable or cheap. Graduate school is an investment worth making in your future.

Career Outcomes

Take former students’ job results into consideration while selecting a graduate program. It’s crucial to visit the campus or do intensive research and check on their graduate and employment rates. In case you are interested in working for a particular company and have a specific career objective in mind, check with your graduate program to see if it has any partnerships with them. Attending a program with the said partnership will increase your chances of getting employed or being absorbed into the company after graduate school.

3. Learn the requirements and admission processes.

It is highly competitive to obtain a graduate degree or a professional degree. Before enrolling or applying to grad school, check their admission requirements and processes.

Here are some other factors that grad schools look into:

Grade Point Average

To qualify for most programs, undergraduate students needed a minimum of 3.0 GPA during the last two years of study. However, this GPA may depend on the university or school, and some programs require a higher GPA to be competitive.

Admission Test Scores

Some graduate schools require applicants to present their GRE or GMAT scores. Some others may have other test scores required for their admissions. It’s better to ask early and comply with their passing scores.

Skills and Experience

Many graduate programs will have to evaluate or ask about your skills and experiences. For instance, they need to ask about the other coursework required during their bachelor’s degrees. For some programs, they require research experience, career experiences, or extracurricular participation. 

4. Compare fees and costs.

Tuition costs and funding options differ significantly between countries. When applying for grad school, it’s essential to inquire and research about the fees and costs early. The good news is that there are financial aid options available for different kinds of learners. Certain students are, however, eligible for full tuition exemptions, scholarships, or assistantships to offset these costs.

You should, therefore, ensure that you are financially prepared before applying for graduate school. Running out of money and not finishing your degree is the last thing you want!

When evaluating the best financial aid option, it’s important to consider the repayment terms. Make sure you are choosing something that you’re able to pay for. Look for scholarships that are accessible to you in your field of study, for example, based on your ethnicity, your previous merits, or based on your particular set of circumstances. Don’t forget to take into account employer-sponsored scholarships or chances for tuition reimbursement, as well as federal or state support. Additional financial alternatives include work-study opportunities, grants, and military benefits.

5. Prepare early.

Finally, when applying for grad school, it’s important to prepare early. Here are some tips to consider during your preparation:

Try to have a good GPA.

As mentioned earlier, having a good GPA can help you during your grad school application. A consistently high GPA will impress admissions committees even if they are primarily looking at your last two years.

Build your experiences.

In order to gain research experience as much as possible, you should take senior-level thesis courses, dissertations, and research projects. Undergraduate programs also have internships and volunteer opportunities where you can gain knowledge and skills. Another way is to work while studying, as this can elevate your career even more. 

List down your graduate program options.

Doing research or considering a list of the best graduate programs is helpful but is not enough when choosing the best graduate program. A helpful tip is to attend open houses held by graduate schools, talk to your academic advisor, or share ideas with an alumni friend or work colleague. 

Gather references.

Grad schools would need some references so it can help you get admitted. Applications for graduate school require letters of recommendation. Participate in class discussions, attend office hours, take several classes with professors whose research interests you, join groups and associations that let instructors know you outside of the classroom, and generally get to know your teachers. 

Benefits of Grad School

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As you consider applying for grad school, it’s important to understand what the benefits are. Graduate studies can increase job prospects, among other things. Master’s degrees or other types of graduate degrees offer many other benefits. Consider these below:

Personal and Professional Growth

University education is challenging but rewarding. While it’s expected that you’ll undergo a lot of hurdles and challenges, it can contribute to your personal and professional growth. The opportunities for personal development and life experiences that come with earning a graduate degree are among the main advantages.

Enhanced Network Pool

The lifelong professional connections you make during your graduate studies are one of the benefits of having a master’s degree. Career advice is provided through these connections, as well as opportunities that may not otherwise exist. These professional relationships that you build early can benefit you long-term.

Eligibility for Leadership and Management Roles

Your ability to direct more complicated projects may be enhanced by the specific training, critical thinking, and concentrated abilities that come with a graduate certificate or degree. Furthermore, a lot of graduate schools place a high value on practical professional abilities, including leadership, management, and teamwork. These skills indicate to employers that you are unquestionably management material and give you the confidence to take on additional responsibility at work. 

Improved Emotional Intelligence

Getting a graduate degree also increases your intelligence in less evident ways. Your emotional intelligence will increase with more education if it strengthens your interpersonal, communication, and conflict-resolution abilities. Getting a graduate degree might provide you with the tools that the most emotionally savvy leaders possess.

Successful Career Switch

If you’ve gotten tired of your current career, having a graduate degree allows you to transition to a different field of expertise more easily. After two or even ten years on the job, your interests might have changed, and you’d like to move in a new direction. You may be able to leverage your professional experience and develop your previous education with a graduate degree, which can increase your career flexibility.

Stand Out in the Job Market

Having a graduate degree might help you stand out from the competition and even earn you the job. For instance, bachelor’s degrees are becoming more common these days, but you need to stand out from the competitive pool of applicants. The job interview is one of the most stressful scenarios, and extra knowledge from postsecondary education can help you succeed.

Enhanced Specialized Skills

Getting a master’s degree is frequently motivated by the desire to develop specific abilities. Gaining a master’s degree can provide you with highly specialized abilities in a sector that will increase your attractiveness and suitability for high-level employment prospects.

Questions to Consider Asking When Attending Grad School

Are entrance exams necessary and required?

While more and more institutions are adopting a test-optional approach, some still require—or even favor applicants to show good results with their GRE or GMAT test scores. A test may be beneficial if your academic profile needs a slight improvement.

For instance, some admission staff can be perplexed between two student applicants. But if you show good entrance exam scores, there’s a higher chance that they will choose you instead. When taking an entrance exam, try to view it as an opportunity to show off what you know. You should also keep in mind the importance of proper preparation for these examinations.

Do you need to write essays, personal statements, or a letter of intent?

While some graduate programs don’t require you to write and submit essays and personal statements, it’s best to stay prepared in case they do require one. A few programs call for several written components. However, some include no writing at all.

A personal statement and a letter of purpose are two of the most frequently requested written materials for graduate schools. The former is often a succinct letter outlining your motivation for applying to the program and your reasons for interest. Personal statements provide you greater room to convey a tale in-depth and are more narrative.

Are bachelor’s degrees required before being admitted to grad school?

Many graduate programs typically require would-be graduate students to have finished a bachelor’s degree. And getting one that is somewhat related to their graduate major or study is very helpful. However, it’s important to inquire and research early as this is not the case for all graduate programs.

You could still be able to get into some graduate programs designed especially for those who want to change careers, depending on your undergraduate studies. Furthermore, certain graduate and master’s degrees are inherently more accessible to students from other academic fields. Graduate programs might also benefit from transfer students with prior postsecondary education credits or job experience.

Are GPAs significant during evaluation and admission?

Many graduate programs would set a GPA and only admit those who have achieved this. A variety of factors may be taken into account by admissions committees when evaluating your grades. The cumulative GPA of your schooling is weighted more by some schools, while the later years are weighted more by others. 

Schools seek an increasing trend in your grades since it indicates that as your schooling drew to a close, you were more dedicated to and concentrated on your studies. But even if you didn’t graduate from college with honors, don’t give up on yourself.

How do you choose the right program?

As mentioned, what’s crucial in applying for grad school is finding the best program. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you focus your search and acquire advice on selecting a graduate school. The first resource is to visit the school websites, read student reviews, or search for third-party ranking sites that list the best graduate programs.

Additionally, enrollment coaches and admission staff are in a unique and special position to support you when you pick a graduate program and make sure you get the most out of your experience.

Are letters of recommendation part of the requirements?

Make sure to confirm with the school and the program to find out whether they require letters of recommendation. It is advisable to investigate the required number, the submission procedure, and the nature of the assessments. To ensure that your letter writers know exactly what to do next, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to what programs want in terms of evaluation content. It would help to seek help from your previous professor or other professionals who can help recommend you for graduate school.

It is advisable to begin the review process as soon as possible if it is a requirement for your application. Make sure the people you choose have adequate time to write. Additionally, you should inform them of any updates about time and expectations, such as the possibility of a second email from the school.

Do some graduate programs have special or specific requirements?

You’ll need to finish extra application requirements for several graduate schools. Some can call for further tests, a certain kind of work history, or reading the orientation materials ahead of time. Depending on the field, these expectations change, so be careful to ask questions about anything that doesn’t seem apparent. While you may have already gathered their list of requirements, there could be some that will be asked or required at a later time. 

How do you prepare your resume?

You may be requested to send in a CV or resume when applying for grad school. Remember to adhere to the length restrictions. Try to keep it to one page or two pages if needed. Making a short but concise one is more effective than preparing an overwhelming and too-long CV or resume. 

Your professional accomplishments should take center stage if you’re applying to a professional program like a business school. You should focus on your academic and scientific achievements for other programs. Also, include any honors or awards you’ve been recognized with. 

Exploring Master’s Versus PhDs

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When applying to grad school, you’ll need to choose whether to go for a master’s degree or a PhD. While Ph.D. programs can take anywhere from four to seven years to finish, master’s degrees, which typically take two years to complete, are designed to prepare students for careers in research or academia.

While coursework is the primary emphasis of master’s degrees, they often also include a semester-long thesis or capstone project. In the first two years of their programs, most Ph.D. programs in the US incorporate the coursework necessary for a master’s degree. After that, the majority of your time will be devoted to writing a dissertation, which is a lengthy, unique research project.

Both graduate studies are beneficial in paving better opportunities for you and your future. Scholarships for master’s degrees are occasionally offered, although they are uncommon. In contrast, many PhD schools offer a living stipend and waive tuition expenses in return for teaching or research assistantships. Despite the fact that master’s degrees are less expensive initially and have a smaller premium, they enable you to enter the workforce and start earning more money than PhDs far more quickly.

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Key Takeaways

Your lifetime earnings will be significantly greater than someone with a bachelor’s degree if you obtain a graduate degree. Furthermore, you will be at a competitive advantage in the job market. Graduate students must be able to focus on their professional objectives in order to succeed. Remind yourself of the motivations for your search and the eventual prize for your diligence. Hopefully, you can master the things above so you can apply to grad school seamlessly.

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.