Editor's note: This piece was originally published in February 2020.
As your undergraduate college career comes to end, it is time to figure out the next step in life. While some people begin to search for a job, there are a number of students who plan on continuing their educational career by applying to graduate school.
There are many different graduate programs ranging from M.D. and Ph.D. programs that are seven or eight years long to special master’s programs that last less than a single year.
No matter what type of program you choose to apply to, the graduate school application process is long, grueling and stressful. Luckily, there are several techniques and tricks that can make the entire process much easier and pain free.
For starters, make sure that you completely understand why you intend to apply to graduate school in the first place. Graduate school is not cheap, and it is not for everyone. So, consider the advantages and disadvantages of graduate school as you decide whether or not it is the right step to take.
At Virginia Tech, every program provides academic advising, so be sure to talk to your advisor. More often than not, an advisor can provide an outside opinion that can provide students with more clarity when making the decision.
If you are a pre-health student, there is an additional Health Professions Advising department as well; the staff is extremely well-informed and prepared to help with these types of things. Consider making an appointment to meet with them before making any major decisions.
If you eventually decide that graduate school is the next step for you, decide which graduate school programs you want to apply to. It is important to do research beforehand in order to ensure that you meet all the requirements.
Organization is also important when applying to graduate schools. You do not need to do anything fancy like creating complex color-coded Excel spreadsheets. All you really need is a list of programs that you are applying to along with due dates and the requirements for each one. This is a great way to ensure that you do not forget anything because missing a single element of an application can be catastrophic.
Additionally, time management is key; it is absolutely crucial to make sure that you do not leave everything to the last minute. It is important to get everything done a couple weeks early, which gives you time in case anything goes wrong.
Especially when asking professors and other mentors for letters of recommendation, it is important to ask them several months in advance. Make sure you provide them with all the necessary information beforehand, and, if possible, it is much more helpful to ask them in person as opposed to sending an email.
Some graduate programs require exams such as the MCAT, GMAT, GRE, etc., and it is important to get these things done ahead of time as well. It is especially beneficial to take these types of exams over the summer, as it gives you more time to study so that you only have to take exam once.
Of course, the most important thing is to be unafraid to ask for help. Nobody is perfect, and it is very important to understand that.
When writing a personal statement, be sure to reach out to friends and family and have them read over it because they tend to know you better than you may know yourself. Professors and mentors provide great sounding boards as well because, in many cases, they have been where you are.
In addition, be sure to take advantage of the resources at Virginia Tech. The Writing Center, located on the second floor of Newman Library, provides help to students working on essays and personal statements, and it is completely free of charge.
Overall, the entire process is essentially what you make of it, and it provides you with a chance to grow and learn. So, as long as you just take a breath and have a little faith, the application process will be a breeze.