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Getting Into Grad School: A 6-Step Self-Assessment
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getting into grad school

Socrates believed in the maxim "know thyself" and you should too. Spending some time upfront to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses will pay dividends in the graduate school selection process. If you earned your undergraduate degree at an Ivy League school with straight "As", then you should shoot for the stars. But if college parties were more exciting than lectures, you should recalibrate your expectations. For most people, the truth lies somewhere in between, and a self-assessment is a helpful tool. So banish the Narcissus in you and balance your optimism with a healthy dose of realism. To help you get started, we've put together a list of qualities that an ideal candidate would possess. That doesn't meet you need to have them...but it will help inform where you stand!


The Strength of Your Undergraduate Major: It's wonderful to have attended a great school, but if you didn't study a relevant major, it's not going to help you a whole lot. Take an example. Say that you studied engineering as an undergraduate and are applying to master's programs in religion. Even if you went to MIT, you're going to have a tough time convincing schools to take a chance on you. Ideally, your undergraduate and graduate fields will be the same...or closely related.


Your Grades: Graduate schools look at past performance as a predictor of future performance. Makes sense, right? Schools will consider both your overall GPA and your major GPA. This can be a saving grace if you did poorly in classes outside of your major, but ideally your grades will be strong across the board.


The Prestige of Your Undergraduate School: Having attended a prestigious university is a powerful calling card. It demonstrates that you've already passed a rigorous selection process and studied alongside the nation's best and brightest. Graduate schools love this.


Your Professional Accomplishments: Perhaps you worked as an intern in the summers. Or maybe you've been out of school for some time pursuing a career. Graduate schools care about your professional accomplishments as this is another data point to judge your character and motivation.


Your Extracurricular Activities: Similar to your professional accomplishments, graduate schools love it when you've been involved in outside activities. This demonstrates an active interest in issues beyond the classroom walls. Consider everything you've done, even if it's unrelated to your major.


GRE Score: Getting a high test score plays a significant role in your application. Most schools and programs have minimum GRE scores, and you'd be well advised to beat them. Simply put, the higher your score, the higher your chance of getting admitted. If your score is low, though, don't despair about getting into grad school. You can compensate for a low GRE score by excelling in other areas of your application, such as your undergraduate GPA, personal statement, or writing sample.





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