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A Suggested Plan of Action for Graduate School Admission

Susan J. Schumacher, Ph.D.
North Carolina A&T State University
Greensboro, NC 27411

You need to plan carefully from early in your college career if you think that you might want to attend graduate school. If you do not, you reduce your chances of being accepted and increase your stress level tremendously for your senior year. Therefore, post a copy of this checklist in an obvious place and write the date of completion beside each.
Sophomore Year

  1. Contact major professors who conduct research and/or other activities of interest to you in your proposed career and discuss the possibility of becoming involved in these.

  2. Attend seminars related to your major at your school and surrounding institutions and document your attendance, along with any other academic activities and honors. Join the honor society and the departmental club on your campus.

  3. Find out what professional meetings are held in your region that students can attend(state, regional, student conferences, etc.). Check the publication of the major association in your field for the locations and dates, and attend as many as possible.

  4. Talk to graduate students on your campus and on other campuses in your area or major or to those at the meetings in 3 above about graduate school life, finances, and work loads. In addition, ask them about professional seminars or upcoming meetings.

  5. Order one or two of the books on graduate school preparation, financial aid and admission mentioned in this reference list or download from the web detailed information on these and read. You need to know these things in advance!

  6. Maintain a "B" or better in all major courses, and get a "B" or better in statistics and research methods courses if a part of your major, or in other key courses. This will greatly enhance your appeal to employers and acceptance committees. Remember, you need to obtain knowledge in all courses as well as good grades!
Junior Year

  1. Become involved in a research project as part of a course requirement, do an independent study project(well enough to impress your instructor), or volunteer to work with a faculty member on his/her research project.

  2. Prepare a resume as described in one of the guides for graduate study or on the web. Follow the suggested guidelines, even if the resume is to be submitted to potential employers and not to graduate schools. Emphasize extra-curricular activities, meetings, volunteer work, etc. related to your area of interest in your major. If you are a minority student, be certain your ethnic identification can be determined in a resume to be sent to a graduate school, as there is a shortage of minorities in most research areas, and there are additional sources of funding for minority students.

  3. Submit your research or products for presentation at student or other conferences. Continue 4 from sophomore year. Submit your research for publication, even if in a student journal or a local publication.

  4. Investigate summer jobs and research opportunities at your other institutions. Many large research institutions are funded to support students in special programs during the summer, some professional organizations offer such opportunities, and even some professors who have funding can use an extra pair of hands in their lab during the summer. Check with your departmental faculty regularly about such opportunities, and apply early! Prepare and register for the aptitude part of the GRE and for the Miller Analogies Test or other tests that may be required for admission, even if you are not certain you will apply to graduate school.

  5. Consult one of the Guides to Graduate Study or the web for graduate schools with programs of interest. Obtain a list of faculty in the department or program of interest to you, along with a description of their research interests or specialties. Then do a literature search for publications by faculty with whom you share similar interests and with whom you may wish to work. Go to the library and obtain copies of their most interesting articles and read and STUDY them. When you have found someone who conducts research of special interest to you, write, call, or email them, express you interest in their work (and be prepared to discuss it) and ask if they have any summer opportunities available for you. If not, ask if you could visit their lab sometime over the summer. Establishing personal contact is very important.

  6. Check with the campus placement or career counseling office for dates of on-campus visits by recruiters from graduate schools or industries/agencies of interest to you after graduation. Determine the types of opportunities available, and what they are looking for in a good applicant, so that you can better prepare yourself for their demands. List the ones of interest to you, along with their addresses, phones, or web site addresses for future contact.


Summer Before Your Senior Year

  1. Obtain summer employment, experience, or education related to your field. If you are seriously considering graduate school, retake any major courese in which you received below a grade of "B", if allowed by your university, and if not, take a more advanced class in that subject AND DO WELL!

  2. Decide if you will try to attend graduate school (and in what specific area, considering your grades and advice from your advisor) or if you plan to work immediately following graduation. However, do not do anything that would prevent you from changing your decision later or from pursuing the other option if existing plans fail.

  3. From one of the Guides to Graduate Study or the web, again check the graduate schools with programs of interest, their requirements for admission, and deadlines. List schools of interest to you and request from them brochures, financial aid forms, application forms, a list of all things required and recommend for application, and deadlines for receipt of these. For job ideas, descriptions, skills needed, and interviewing techniques, consult the sources on the handouts. List job areas to pursue and investigate sources of any additional training you will need.

  4. Prepare for the advanced GRE test in your major by studying the commercially available books and software and by rereading a good advanced textbook in your major. Repeated testing should improve your scores. Also, register for the Miller Analogies Test(MAT)(if needed) and study the types of items contained in it, as they represent your knowledge on a comparative basis. Check to see what other specialty tests are required for your area, find out dates offered and study for them. You may wish to repeat these also, and need to allow time to retake them prior to application deadlines.

  5. Revise and update your resume to include new experiences related to academics. Remember neatness and organization will create a good first impression, which is lasting.

  6. SAVE money for graduate school application fees, resumes, and transcript costs.

  7. Consider retaking courses in which you did poorly, especially in your major, or take a higher level class in the same area and DO WELL to prove you can master that material.
Fall Semester of Senior Year

  1. Be certain you take (and do well in) all courses needed to graduate as planned. Obtain a statement of standing from your registrar to verify this. You don't want any suprises next semester when you apply for graduation.

  2. Discuss with your advisor and other faculty members the graduate programs or jobs of interest to you. Show them your resume so they may better counsel you (and offer suggestions) and determine if your expectations are realistic, and obtain a list of additional suggestions from them. Discuss the performance of other students from your department in the graduate programs or business settings of potential interest to you. Also discuss especially with faculty, the socioeconomic conditions that might affect you at the schools(or universities), industries, clinics, hospitals, etc. in which you are interested, and in the regions or cities in which they are located.

  3. Actually visit the schools, industries, or agencies of greatest interest possible, and establish personal contact with several key people at each. Obtain impressions of the institution or organization from others having similar backgrounds and qualifications. Even if there are no existing vacancies at the places visited, the expression of interest and establishment of personal contact will give you an added advantage should a vacancy occur.

  4. Prepare for and take the aptitude and advanced tests of the GRE in October if possible, and no later than December. Also take any other special tests required.

  5. Register to take the advanced test again in December, or January at the latest. Note the possibility that the January test date may be too late for your scores to be considered for fellowships at some institutions.

  6. Obtain information on available fellowships, scholarships, assistantships, and loans not associated with the institutions to which you plan to apply. This information is available from your financial aid office or department chair(check with both) and in the sources included in the handouts.

  7. Request a copy of your transcript from every institution that you have attended and check for errors. The process may take longer than you think, especially if there are errors, so allow ample time.

  8. Duplicate your resume and transcripts for distribution (although you will need to provide official ones in the application pack). If you plan to apply to graduate school, remember there are application fees(which may not be waived, so ask) and charges for mailing official transcripts(which should follow as soon as the fall semester's grades are included). Even resume duplications and mailing can be expensive for a student budget.

  9. Check the latest copy of the latest edition of one of the guides to graduate study found in the internet sources to obtain requirements and deadlines for various graduate school applications and fellowships. Some schools may request that you apply online. Check the campus placement office for dates of visiting recruiters who will conduct job interviews on campus. Follow through on these early.

  10. Write to the personnel office of the state in which you wish to apply for jobs and request descriptions of positions related to your major. If you need to take the civil service or other exams to qualify for these positions, register for the required exams. Put your name on mailing lists for job announcements.

  11. Narrow down your list of schools to 10 or so, including at least two where you are confident you will be accepted. If you are job-oriented or are uncertain that you will be accepted into any graduate program, list in order of preference the types of jobs, and if possible, the specific agencies with whom you would consider accepting employment. Remember, both job and admission competitions are keen, and you may not be able to obtain your first or second choice. Be prepared to be flexible. Post any deadlines for applications where you will constantly see them.

  12. Determine from whom you wish to obtain letters of recommendation, and notify these people at least three weeks before the deadline for your application. Supply them with necessary forms, addresses, information about your qualifications(a detailed resume) and due dates, along with jobs or programs for which you are applying. Include a stamped addressed envelope to each school or agency they must write. Follow up one week before each deadline with a thank you note(a "friendly" reminder to ensure that your information has been sent!).

  13. Request that GRE and other scores be sent to all schools or employers requiring them. If your scores are high and will be considered an asset, mail them to all places you are applying. Request that transcripts be mailed to all schools and agencies.

  14. Check before Christmas to be certain all materials, especially recommendations, have been sent. Most incomplete applications result from missing letters of recommendation. Be persistent!

  15. Include in your application package to all graduate schools or employers on your preference list all materials requested by that particular institution or organization, a resume, copies of transcripts and test scores, and names of those sending recommendations. Indicate what additional material is to follow (official transcripts), revised test scores, etc.). Follow application instructions exactly! For job seekers, contact local community service agencies, local chambers of commerce, state employment agencies, hospitals, research institutes, public relations firms, test or survey developers, and market research departments. Send them letter of inquiry for position vacancies and a summary of your credentials. Make these contacts as personal as possible. Keep a record of all contacts made and a copy of all materials sent to each employer and school.
Spring Semester of Senior Year

  1. Verify in January that all materials needed for your applications were received at every place you applied.
  2. Send additional GRE results(if higher) and fall semester grade report to update your applications.
  3. Expect first choice offers to be made by graduate schools before April 1, however, vacancies may occur any time prior to the fall semester, due to changes in plans of those already accepted. If you have not been accepted anywhere by April 15 you should:
    • Call everywhere you applied, asking them to keep your application active through the summer, as you are still interested, even in last minute acceptance.
    • Call admissions offices of schools whose requirements you easily met but to which you did not apply to see if they are still considering applicants. If so, apply.
    • Check Graduate Study Guide and web for schools with late or no deadlines and apply.
    • Apply to master's degree programs with late or open admission dates, if you were rejected for doctoral programs.
    • Job hunt, using the guidelines given above. You may need to postpone graduate school for a year and reapply. A good job related field will enhance your credentials.
    • Contact faculty whom you have met from other institutions, requesting their advice (keep network lines open).
  4. Follow up with a phone call or letter on job applications submitted and continue to make as many contacts with agencies and industries as possible. Often "word-of-mouth" among personel managers results in unexpected employment.
  5. Purchase and keep your most important textbooks, as they will come in handy later, whether in graduate school or on the job.
"I've Graduated and Didn't Get Accepted, So Now What?"

If you were not accepted into a graduate school, after checking all institutions for last minute openings and applying to several master's degree programs, don't give up yet! Seek employment, preferably related to your field, and try to be admitted as a special graduate student at the nearest institution offering graduate courses related to your field or in your weakest areas. Enroll in one or two courses per semester that won't conflict with your work schedule and commit yourself to making an "A" in these courses. The more experimentally oriented the course, the better (an "A" in graduate statistics will be quite valuable in convincing evaluation committees to ignore a "C" in undergraduate statistics). When you reapply to graduate school next year, these efforts will assist in persuading the review committee that you are persistent, capable of performing at the graduate level, and motivated to continue study at a higher level. These graduate credits may be transferred later toward a degree. You may even seek at midterm to be admitted to the graduate program where you are taking the graduate work (althought you may still wish to transfer to another program later). But to reap these benfits, you must perform well in any graduate course you attempt! If you cannot take graduate courses, repeat any relevant undergraduate courses in which you received a grade lower than "B". Mention in future applications your revised GPA or your grades in these courses, as it will not be reflected on your original undergraduate transcript. You should then update your resume, correcting weaknesses if possible. Review those for which you feel you are qualified. You may have been rejected because the particular applicants against whom you were compared were all exceptional, the next year this may not happen. Apply to a few new places, too. Follow the senior year timetable again, and consider retaking the GRE and MAT if your scores were low. Save what money you can while working so the availability of financial aid will not dictate if you are to attend graduate school.

A List of References for Those Wanting to Attend Graduate School

(Your department faculty or campus library may have these.)

Cambra, A.E. Schluntz, N.S. and Cardoza, S.A. (1984) Graduate students survival guide. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company

Cowell, P. (1985) Recruitment and retention for graduate student diversity. Journal of College Admissions, (109), 27-31.

Johnson, N. and Regina, N. (1989). Recruitment and retention of black students in higher education. Lanham, MD; University Press.

Kowalik, T. (1989). What we know about doctoral student persistence. Innovative Higher Education, 13(2), 163-171.

McDavis, R. and others (1989). Summer programs: a method for retaining black graduate students. Journal of College Student Development, 30 (3), 272-275.

Pruitt, A. and Isaac, P. (1985). Discrimination in recruitment, admission, and retention of minority graduate students. Journal of Negro Education, 54(4), 526-636.

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