Graduate school applications. The bane of any social science or humanities student’s existence. For you undergraduates pursuing a degree that more or less mandates an additional two to four years of graduate education, pull up a chair and grab a drink, because this is for you, and let me tell you – it isn’t going to be fun or easy.
Before we get into this, let’s talk about my qualifications. For one, I am not a college advisor or academic counselor. I am merely a senior in college who managed to get into a flagship ACC doctorate program in Organizational Behavior with my out-of-state tuition fully paid for and a generous assistantship stipend, and my funding is guaranteed for four years (as in, money’s in the bank and it has my name on it.) So, I think I did something right in this entire process, and I want to share that with my fellow P’neers who are interested in pursuing an education at the graduate level.
If you’re going to graduate school, or are at least thinking about it, the time to act is now. When thinking about this column, I broke down the graduate school application process into five steps:
- Preparing during undergrad (1. Academics, 2. Extra curriculars)
- Researching schools
- Taking the GRE/GMAT/LSAT/MCAT/whatever
And honestly, that first one? Preparing as an undergraduate? Is the most important part of the entire process. Whether you’re only considering it or definitely planning to pursue a graduate degree, you need to start now. If you change your mind, the actions you took in preparation for building up a great record of achievement to make you a good graduate school candidate will make you an awesome job applicant; therefore, there is no reason to not prepare as though you’re planning to go to graduate school, even if you’re not positive about that decision.
Also, you’ll notice this first step, preparing during undergrad, is broken into to categories: academics and extra curriculars. This week I’m going to talk about the academic side of your undergraduate career, and next week I’ll be talking about all the extra stuff.
The first thing to do is tailor your academics to your preferred area of study. While you might not be positive about the exact program you want to go into, you should at least have an idea of what you want to do – communication studies, psychology, sociology, history, etc. Obviously, pick your major in one of those areas, but also select a minor or a concentration, and if you think you have the constitution to do so, consider a double major. In my undergraduate university, it’s completely feasible to graduate in four years with a communications studies and a political science degree. These are things you could definitely talk to your advisor about, as they would have a better idea of how strenuous the course loads would be for your selected majors.
Along with that goes considering your classes. When I was a freshman, I wrote out my ideal schedule for my entire undergraduate career with my course catalog and degree requirements. Obviously things had to move around based on class availability and such, but overall I stuck to the same schedule. I was sure to select classes that would teach me theory and skills related to my preferred graduate study. While Abnormal Psych would have been super-interesting, it was not relevant to my preferred field of organizational behavior; so, I took Personality Psychology instead. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t take courses just because they’re interesting, but if your schedule looks anything like mine did, sleep and free time sounded a whole lot better than doing work for a class that was supposed to be fun.
Everyone in the entire world ever is expected to take general education classes and electives; these are things a lot of students don’t think about when considering graduate school, but they can actually be pretty important. When selecting your general education classes, pick ones that relate to your major. If you’re a sociology major, don’t take British Lit for your upper-level English class, take business or technical writing (because you can expect to be writing a good number of research and scientific papers), or take something related to your research interests in your major, such as Latin-American Literature or a class on female writers.
When selecting your electives, pick classes in your minor or major that aren’t necessarily required but would add to your body of knowledge. For example, I’m a human resource management minor and I’m only required to take six particular management classes, some of which I can choose from a list, but there are about twenty I can take with my minor. I used up my elective credits taking those classes, because they would add to my knowledge and skill set, as well as give me more interaction with professors in my field, thus more time to build a relationship with them.
I know we have quite a few Persephoneers who have gone to graduate school, are in graduate school, or teach at the graduate level. What say you all about the academic side of undergraduate education and its relationship to graduate school? Also, if anyone has any questions about graduate school that you’d like for me to address in this series, feel free to post them and I will try to get to them in my next columns!
Featured image from someecards.com.