Preparing for Graduate School: Tips for Undergraduate Students
By IvyWise Graduate Admissions Counselors
You made it to college! You’re attending the school of your dreams and enjoying all that the college life has to offer. For most undergraduate students, graduate school is a possibility, but many aren’t sure until closer to application time. By then, you’ve passed many opportunities to work on areas that will influence your application to graduate school. You may or may not be entirely sure which field you’ll be pursuing in a few years, but regardless of this fact, it’s important to get involved the moment you step foot on campus to ensure that you’re making the most of your time in college and that you have best chance of gaining admission into a top-choice graduate school.
Admissions officers like to see your journey, and the important point to underline here is that the activities, the jobs, and the experiences you pursue during your undergraduate career should tell a story in line with who you are and the path you are taking. It’s also important that they tell a story on their own, because many times you won’t have the chance to explain yourself when admissions committees are reading through your application materials. You can retake exams and edit your personal statement to improve your application, but you can’t go back to freshman year to join another club or pursue an internship.
Below are some tips for current college students to follow as they plan their time through college with an eye towards applying to graduate school.
Join several clubs.
Clubs are a great way to explore your interests and meet people outside of your immediate academic cohort. Be sure to join both professional and social clubs as they will reflect the depth of your interests and show your desire to be a dynamic part of your school’s community. Be sure to grow into leadership roles so you can build your skills in leading others and demonstrate responsibility. Admissions officers want to see that you committed to a club for more than one semester, ideally for all four years, and they’ll see a leadership role as a sign of maturity and drive.
Perform community service.
Find a cause you care about and explore ways to give back to the community. Many clubs and sororities will have built-in community service activities, but there will be other ways to show your dedication to giving back. Take a shift at a food bank, tutor local students, or organize a food or clothing drive. Community service is an often-overlooked element to grad school applications but is important to show your interest in helping others.
Get an internship.
If you are applying to business school, an internship will add time and much-needed experience to your professional resume. Internships are a great way to obtain professional experience, build your resume, and secure your academic path. Besides the fact that an internship could also lead to full-time employment, it gives you a chance to show your professional motivations. Keep in mind that you’ll need letters of recommendation for graduate school, so this is a chance to make a good impression on your supervisor and colleagues. You may be asking them to write a letter on your behalf one day. Starting in sophomore or junior year, a top graduate school will expect to see internships on your resume.
Start a resume.
The resume is a very important element in any application but very much so for the MBA applicant. Sometimes the resume is the first thing an Admissions Officer will look at when they review your application. It gives a good overview of your experience- academic, professional and personal. Be sure to include all of those elements when you put together your resume. As you add your experience, accomplishments, and work history, you’ll see your persona develop and provide direction as you move through your undergraduate career. Use your school’s Career Center to get help with layout and formatting so you have a good base to build upon. This will save you a lot of time later on and will help you capture details about your experience that you might forget to add several years later when you are putting together your application.
Consider a part-time job.
If you need a part-time job, try to find one that lines up with your other academic and personal interests. If you’re interested in design, try working at a university art gallery. Some schools will give work study funding to any student who asks, so you might even be able to find some great jobs through your school’s work study program. Check with your financial aid office to inquire about work study, and the Career Center for part-time job listings.
Pursue additional coursework.
If there’s a class or particular topic that interests you, reach out to a professor in that area and see if you can join in on any research or fieldwork they may be doing. Even just helping a professor compile materials for publication is something you could list as experience on a resume, and further shows the lengths you’ll go to in order to follow through on your interests.
Foster good relationships with faculty.
Throughout your undergraduate career, you may take upwards of 40 classes. Use each class to consider whether that professor may be someone you can form a lasting academic relationship with. You will need two letters of recommendation for most graduate programs, and they want to hear from someone who really knows you. Form a relationship with a member of the faculty, bond over shared interests, work with them on an academic project. This relationship is important and may be the difference between getting into your top-choice program or not. This is even more important if you end up applying as an undergraduate without any professional experience.
Some of these seem like no-brainers, but you would be surprised to find that many people lack these elements in their applications to grad school. Jump on every chance you have to get involved, because you never know what may come of each opportunity in your path.