You’re looking for your best-fit graduate program, but have you thought about what you’ll need to actually apply and enroll? While you’re asking for recommendation letters and sitting for standardized tests, don’t forget to check each program’s prerequisite courses. Let’s take a look at what these requirements are and how to make a smart academic plan for your desired advanced degree program.
What are prerequisites?
During your undergraduate career, you have to take 100-level courses before you can take more advanced classes to make sure you know the basics first. Well, the same applies for grad school. In an advanced degree program, you’ll be focusing on the finer details of your field, and your professors won’t want to waste time going over details you should’ve learned in undergrad. Most graduate programs have a set of courses you’ll need to have passed already before applying so that all students start with the same basis of knowledge. So how do you make sure you have these prerequisites before it becomes a problem? There are a few easy ways to make sure you’re prepared.
Related: 5 Questions to Ask Before Committing to Graduate School
For current undergraduates
If you’re looking at graduate programs while you’re still in college, great! You’re in the best position to make sure you have the required courses you need for your grad program of interest.
If you’re in a pre-professional program, you’re in the perfect place. These programs are built to lead right to grad school. Some colleges and universities even have joint-degree programs available for pre-professional track students, and the curriculum is designed to be seamless. If you’re enrolled in one of these programs, breathe a sigh of relief. (But still talk to your advisor just to be sure you’re on the right track.)
Many students plan to go to grad school with degrees that don’t always have a pre-professional path, like students hoping to earn an MBA. The best course of action is to meet with your academic advisor and research, research, research! Many programs have similar course requirements, but they’re not always the same. Discuss your grad school plans with your advisor, and research programs you may want to apply to so you can take the right courses now.
Related: What Questions Should I Ask My Academic Advisor?
For college graduates
It’s not uncommon to get a graduate degree in a field completely unrelated to your undergraduate major—and there are plenty of ways to make up those prerequisites if you need them.
Postbaccalaureate and non-degree programs
Postbaccalaureate programs are built for students who’ve already received their bachelor’s degrees. You’ll enroll at a college or university similarly to how you enrolled for undergrad but won’t have as large a course load. According to U.S. News & World Report, most students enroll in postbaccalaureate programs to meet medical school requirements, but you can find programs to meet requirements for other graduate degrees too. Many institutions also allow students to enroll as non-degree students. As the name suggests, you won’t enroll in a degree program, just specific courses. But each institution has different rules. Do a deep search on school websites or contact an admission official to discuss your options as a non-degree student.
It’s common for students of all ages to enroll at community colleges as non-degree students. If a nearby community college offers the courses you need, it may be worth looking into them. However, check with someone in admission for your desired grad program to be sure they’ll accept community college credits. Some schools are picky about where courses come from, according to U.S. News & World Report—especially medical schools.
Related: Top 20 Community Colleges in the United States
Most grad schools understand that students come from many different backgrounds and prepare for that. You may be able to gain tentative admission to a program with full admission upon the completion of a bridge program. The biggest benefit to a bridge program is knowing you’ll have the necessary courses because the curriculum is planned to meet the grad program’s specific requirements. Not all grad schools offer these programs though, so do your research before applying without the prerequisites.
Are prerequisites always required?
Sometimes you don’t necessarily need prerequisites if you have a certain amount of professional experience in your field. Not every grad program allows this trade-off, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. When you’re researching programs or visiting grad schools, speak with an admission rep or program contact to discuss your options.
Related: 4 Things to Keep Track of When Applying to Grad School
Lacking the prerequisites for a graduate program doesn’t have to mean an end to your application. Just do your research and ask the right questions and you’ll be on track to your advanced degree in no time.
Start searching for a great grad school that you’re qualified for with our Graduate Program Search tool!