Over the last two or three years in college, you've worked hard, kept your grades up, and have even completed a few internships. But what next? What do you plan to do once you graduate?
Your junior and senior years of undergrad are prime time to figure out your next move and start the application process if going to grad school is what you choose. While you had some wiggle room as a freshman and sophomore, you now have to kick things in gear and start planning for the next phase. If you don't know how to get started, keep reading to find out.
GRE, GRE, GRE
When you are an undergraduate, your grades are what they are. If you have kept your mojo going from your SAT days, you are doing pretty good for yourself. The GRE, however, is a different ball game.
The SAT focuses on evaluating your skills while the GRE works to evaluate your progression throughout your undergraduate studies. Think of the GRE as an older, more somber sibling of the SAT.
With a practical and robust study plan, you can start preparing for the GRE right from your junior year. The first thing that you need to lock down on is the dates. A quick search of the GRE 2020 dates should give you a precise idea of what's in store for you. You'll also find plenty of online resources to help you develop your preparation plan and take practice tests.
Start Researching Program Requirements
Once you have decided on the date, you need to start scouring the grad schools that you are interested in and finding the right choices for you. You should have a good idea of what you want and what will suit you. Try contacting a few of the current alumni or faculty members of those schools.
Read as much as you can about the schools that interest you. Yes, that means going through the dull fine prints as well. You need to find out every bit of information that you can find. Only then can you successfully conclude if you and grad school are a good fit for each other.
When researching, having a checklist helps. You can set a couple of parameters to tick off your checklist when shopping for a grad school. Different programs would have different requirements. Keep abreast of them when you are making a list of the schools in which you intend to apply.
Secure Your Recommendations
Most schools will require a letter of recommendation. You need to start scouting people to help you with this. Maybe there is a supportive professor, a counselor, or a working professional who may write a recommendation for you. The earlier you start, the better. Having ample time gives your writers enough time to recollect things that may be useful and give your letter an advantage. Planning and starting on this earlier lets you focus more on your preparations.
A straightforward way to get better letters of recommendation is by talking to your professors frequently and openly. Remind your professor or your counselor how you have improved throughout your course. Remind them of the challenges that you overcame. Discuss any weaknesses, for example, a bad score during your sophomore year.
Order Your Finances
Transitioning from undergrad to a grad school is by no means a simple feat—your world changes. As you get closer and closer to the end of your tunnel, you will find things become expensive. If you are like most students who don't have unlimited funds available, this is the phase of your life when you will truly learn how to budget. While it doesn't make financial sense for everyone to go to grad school, it does pay off in many fields of study.
Apply for scholarships and do everything that you need to do to lower your student loans. Most schools do offer scholarships, financial aid as well as teaching assistantships. These can all help you stay as clear from student loans as possible.
Explore all these options thoroughly, including student loans, as eventually, you should be able to clear them off. Alternatively, you can also look into part-time jobs, which will help ease your financial burden.
Keep Your Wits About You and Stay on Track
Most Ph.D. programs have their deadlines around the end of the year and the beginning of the next, typically December to January. And graduate programs have theirs right after this. So, January to March is your typical window. Keep your checklist handy and keep ticking off boxes as your date gets close. With a solid plan in place, this should allow you a comfortable net to meet your submission deadline.