Maybe you have set your goals for the future and that future includes graduate school. When do you begin preparing? Right now.
The first four parts of this college prep series have gotten you well-organized and ready to hit the deck running. You are taking your assignments seriously and you are not making excuses for not doing the work. You enter each class prepared and ready to learn. So how do you prepare for graduate school?
The first thing you do, after making sure you have stellar grades (some programs won’t accept you unless your undergraduate work had a certain high GPA), is to study for any qualifying exams you have to take in order to get in. These vary, based on the program you want to enter. I took the GRE. Keep in mind that you can take it more than once. I took it three times, studying like crazy in between testings (at about $150 each), so that my grades could give me a better chance at acceptance. I hired a tutor for the math section, after feeling that my grades in that section were less than outstanding.
The next thing you need to do is to ask your current professors for letters of recommendation. (I have covered this topic in another blog, so you should check that blog out). We have many students each term (I usually have between 125 and 150 students per semester, since I teach at 3 colleges) and you want me to remember you, even if you won’t need the letter right away.
How can you remind me that I know you? First, make sure that you received an A in my class- I do not give letters of recommendation to B or lower students, because I don’t want to write “Joe is a average student who never distinguished himself in my class in any way, shape, or form.” That will not get you into their program. Go to a professor whose class you aced and ask him or her for a letter.
Next, keep in touch. When you see me on campus, stop by and say “hello.” Tell me what you have been up to (I want to hear, even if I am rushing some place). Give me the Readers’ Digest condensed version of your life since we last met and remind me that you will be needing a letter in a few months.
Finally, do not wait until the day before the letter is due at the college to ask me for the recommendation. I will not be amused. Try to give me a few weeks notice, if possible. In your request, include the name of the class you took with me, when you took it, and what your final grade was. Don’t make me look it up; that takes time. If you did anything unusual that will help me remember you, tell me. One gal told me “I am the girl who always carried a huge purse” or “I always wore yellow.” Believe it or not, that was what I remembered first about the person and I was able to write a very strong letter on her behalf.
I hope this blog helps you begin your work towards getting into graduate school. I would love to hear any ideas you have on the topic. Was there something special that you did? Next time, I will discuss the transition between undergraduate programs and graduate school.