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7 Important Things to Do Before Applying to Graduate School

The decision to apply to grad school isn't one to be made lightly. It's important to do these seven things before submitting applications to any school.

You earned your bachelor’s degree! You’ve spent a lot of time and money obtaining a very expensive piece of paper. The last thing that may be on your mind is experiencing even more school in your life. All joking aside, the process of deciding what grad school to attend can be hectic. Consider these seven tips that I did when I was led to Lewis & Clark College.

1. Explore what you want to study

You are about to pursue an advanced degree! This is a huge endeavor, and you should be proud of considering this next step in your academic career. Regardless of what you decide to study, make sure it is something that maintains your interest and aligns with your career aspirations. Really explore your different options. The broader subject you majored in for your undergrad may not be offered the same way in grad school. Grad school majors often narrow down the field of study intensely, so make sure you thoroughly research all your potential options. 

Related: Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for Your Goals

2. Develop your non-negotiables

What I mean by non-negotiables is the list of factors that will highly affect what kind of institution you would like to attend. Be sure to identify every factor that will affect your decision—even the little things. Do you care if you identify as a Republican but attend a college in a Democratic or swing state? Do you care if your institution sells Coca-Cola products instead of Pepsi products? Does it matter to you if you bank with Chase, but there aren’t any branches or ATMs near your college? If you’re a sports fanatic, will it affect you if your college is in a state that has no professional sports teams? Some people may say these factors are petty, but they are still important to someone. When a person goes to Starbucks, they usually order a drink customized to what they like. A student should be able to do the same thing with the college they want to attend for grad school.

3. Look for a community

During your time as an undergraduate student, were you involved in a national organization? Something such as a service group, a human rights campaign, or even a Greek organization are prime examples. When looking at grad schools, I checked to see if there was a community present with my fraternity brothers along with members of my service group. For example, when I knew I was going to attend Lewis & Clark College, I started reaching out to members of my service group in the Portland area as well as fraternity brothers from the local chapter. When I first got to Portland, these individuals welcomed me into their community with open arms and made my transition much smoother.

Related: Great Expectations: How Grad School Differs From Undergrad

4. Assess affordability

The cost of grad school was a huge factor in where I was going to go. Luckily enough, I was able to obtain a graduate assistantship that covered the cost of my tuition, housing, and health insurance. Some institutions offer scholarships, while others offer fellowships, graduate assistantships, and paid internships. Be as persistent as you can; it may determine whether or not you have to pay for grad school or nothing at all.

5. Connect with students, staff, faculty, and alumni

Once you identify what you would like to study, don’t be afraid to reach out to current students in the program as well as current faculty that teach the courses part of the curriculum. Ask important questions like: What made them want to work at or attend that school? What do they think its best and worst qualities are? Questions like these and more will give you a broad perspective on your schools of interest. And be sure to specifically talk to staff and faculty in your program of interest so you can get more specific with your inquiries. Make sure you are getting the necessary answers to determine whether or not the institution and its program are what is best for you.'

Related: 10 Overlooked Questions to Ask About Graduate School

6. Look for professional development opportunities

For example, check to see if you can attend a national conference that aligns with your career aspirations or possibly be a part of a local group that caters to the needs of individuals with your professional interests. It is imperative to excel in the classroom, but it is just as important to gain as much experience as you can outside of the classroom.

7. Visit the campus

If you have the time and it’s not too much of a financial burden, make an effort to visit the campus. You may think campus visits are only for undergraduate students, but they’re not! Graduate students can get just as much value out of visiting a school's campus before applying to a program. Try to have that experience where the moment you take your first step onto campus, you think to yourself, “This is the place for me!” 

Related: Campus Visits: Not Just for Undergrads!

As a first-generation graduate student pursuing a master’s in Student Affairs Administration, I have no regrets about choosing Lewis & Clark College. I’m grateful for having found a good graduate school for me but also know I owe myself some credit for putting the effort in to find it. You also need to put in the effort to make sure you’re pursuing the right program at a school you’re excited about. Doing so will surely result in a great graduate experience.

Still looking for your best-fit graduate program? Check out our featured grad school lists and request more information from great institutions in just one click!

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About Kevin Wright

Kevin Wright is a first-generation graduate student from Las Vegas, Nevada, and earned his master's in Student Affairs Administration from Lewis & Clark College in 2016. Kevin graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2014, where he studied Communication Studies with a minor in Sociology. His hobbies include traveling, networking, going to concerts, and endlessly watching Netflix. Kevin aspires to become a college president so he can advocate for more affordability and accessibility for students wanting to pursue higher education.


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