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Graduate School Admissions: Building A Balanced Grad School List

Applying to graduate school is an intensive process, and whether you’re a current undergrad considering your post graduate options or a professional looking to go back to school, the most important preparation you will do for the graduate admissions process is building a balanced grad school list.

While the graduate admissions process is very different from undergraduate admissions, there are a lot of similarities when it comes to preparing to apply. Prospective graduate students should understand the graduate admissions process, identify a specialty, prepare with current experience or coursework, and, most importantly, identify best-fit graduate schools and programs. Since graduate school programs tend to be smaller and more competitive, students need to make sure they’re building a balanced grad school list that emphasizes academic fit.

Fit Matters
Academic, social, and financial fit is still paramount when building a balanced grad school list, but it’s also important for graduate school applicants to place considerable emphasis on the academic portion, as graduate programs are small, highly concentrated, and have more interactions with professors and classmates than most undergraduate programs. Graduate programs can also be highly specialized, making for a more focused search process and greater opportunities to find programs that fit exactly what students are looking for. For example, an MFA in photography is significantly different than an MFA in photography and film as one concentrates on one medium, while the other emphasizes both still and moving images. Highly specialized programs can allow students to study exactly what they want, but they can also omit some skills students are seeking, so it’s important to understand what each program offers and how it fits into your overall education and career goals.

Do Your Research
Research is paramount when building a balanced college list for undergrad, and it’s no different when preparing for graduate school. You may have an idea of where you want to attend grad school, but take time to do thorough research. Again, graduate programs in similar fields can be very different from university to university. Also, grad programs are smaller and the applicant pools tend to be more competitive, so knowing everything about the program and the admissions process can go a long way toward helping you build a good-fit list while also preparing you for a stellar application and interview. Graduate instructors might also have a say in the admissions process, so it’s important to not only do extensive research on the program and admissions requirements, but also the professors, courses, research opportunities, internship or work requirements, and more.

Understand the Importance of Test Scores
Whether you’re applying to a law school, med school, an MBA program, or another graduate school program, chances are you’ll have to take a graduate admissions exam. Depending on the program to which you’re applying this could be the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, or MCAT. It’s important for you to understand what test you need to take based on each program’s requirements and how those scores factor into the decision-making process. For example, many law schools are starting to accept the GRE or GMAT in lieu of LSAT scores. If you’re applying to an MBA program you might be required to submit GMAT scores. However, if you’re just applying to a marketing program at a different school they might only require the GRE. One MBA program could require the GMAT, while another might accept either the GMAT or GRE. It’s critical to understand what scores will be required and how that factors into your graduate school list.

Don’t Rely Entirely On Rankings
Just like when applying as an undergrad, it’s important to realize that a number on a list does not make a graduate program the best fit for you and your goals. Because graduate programs can be so specialized, students often consult rankings lists to identify the “best” programs in their field of choice – usually as starting point for their list research. It is perfectly acceptable to use rankings lists to learn more about specific programs and even identify schools you may not have previously considered, but don’t use rankings to create your graduate school list for you. Instead, use the data highlighted in graduate school rankings to inform your research and help you get to know a particular program better.

Building a balanced graduate school list doesn’t have to be intimidating. With proper research and expectations, you can develop a list of graduate programs that fit your academic and personal goals, while also setting yourself up for a successful graduate admissions process.

At IvyWise, our team of expert counselors works with graduate school applicants on all facets of the graduate admissions process, including identifying the best-fit graduate programs to which to apply. For more information on our graduate admissions counselors and programs, contact us today!