Preparation for Graduate School

Applications for graduate programs are due early, often in fall of the year preceding admission. You may gain a big advantage in future success in employment by enrolling in the best program that will admit you, especially for Ph.D. programs. You should apply to a number and range of programs to hedge your bets and because a certain element of chance is involved.

Key information for admission includes:

  • Overall GPA
  • Performance in specific courses — especially prerequisite and other relevant courses
  • Performance on key standardized tests (notably, GRE, GMAT, LSAT). Take the test before Fall. If advisors know your score, then they can give you a better idea of how high to shoot. And if you don't like your score, you have time for a retake.
  • Letters of recommendation.This component is commonly overlooked. A letter that says only that you have a good overall GPA is not helpful because it adds nothing to what is already in the transcript. A constructive letter says that the professor has known you for some time, and thinks you are a mature and smart person capable of independent research.

To obtain such a letter, you need to develop a relationship with the professor. Ways to do this include working (as a reader or TA), attending office hours often, interaction in class, taking more than one class from the same professor, and writing a term paper or honors thesis.

Tell the professor about the range of schools in which you are interested. Information to give the professor typically includes: transcript (most professors will accept a photocopy, but ask first); statement of purpose; other personal information relevant to explaining your goals and parts of your past that you would like to be highlighted (or downplayed); and written work from the class, such as essays or exams that can give more information than just the recorded score.

Try to give the recommendation forms to be completed by the professor in a packet rather than one school at a time.