Thinking about a graduate school search in the social sciences, or advising students who are? In this two-part series, Kateri Collins shares advice, steps, and checklists to help plan a search process. Read Kateri’s own graduate school search story here, or explore her suggestions on finding mentors or her reflections on inhabiting transitional time well.
When you are thinking about going to graduate school and do not know where to start, the process can feel intimidating. Yes, applying to grad school is an exciting, but a daunting task; I hope these tidbits are helpful for you! Part 1 will include information about consulting professors in the field you are interested in, looking online for the best schools for your area of study, what you should do when you find a school you are interested in, and lastly organizing all the information. Part 2 will include information about the application process, tips for the interview process, and lastly suggestions on picking the right school.
1. Consult Professors at your school in the field you are interested in.
When I first started thinking about graduate schools, I was thinking about social psychology PhD programs, so I first consulted professors who had social psychology degrees and asked them about schools in the subject area they knew. Consulting professors is an awesome way to start since they are in the field. When applying to PhD programs, you also want to contact major professors at the schools you are looking at to see if professors are doing research on topics you are interested in. It’s good to meet with them as well if possible.
2. Look online to find the best schools in the area of study you want.
The U.S. News and World Report education website is great for more mainstream programs: http://www.usnews.com/education . At this website you can look up all different types of programs all around the country and see their rankings. This is a great place to find schools in your area of study and where they are located. For more non-traditional and extremely specialty programs such as mine (Clinical Counseling in Expressive Art therapy), a simple Google search is your best option to find very specialized programs because there will not be too many options.
3. What to do when you have found schools you are interested in?
After you have found schools you are interested in you want to contact those schools to get on their interest email list; specifically, the department you are interested in. Next I suggest to research the programs on the school’s website to see if they offer what you want. You might want to make a trip out to the school if possible to get a more hands on and personal look at the school and program; that way you can ask questions in person. If you make an information trip out to the school, I would do that first before applying and contacting an admissions counselor. If you want to apply to the school, get in contact with the admissions department. This is important because they can assign someone to you, and you can have a personal contact person to ask questions whenever you have them. Also getting an admissions counselor assigned to you allows you to have a guide to that school’s particular admissions progress.
4. Organize all important information
After you have found the schools you are interested in, one helpful way to organize all the information is to create an Excel spreadsheet. Some of the important details you may want to write down are:
- Does the school require an online application or a paper one?
- What are the application materials needed: How long is the personal statement? Do they need transcripts from all schools attended or just the school you graduated from? How many recommendation letters? Does the school require the GRE scores? Does it also require GRE subject tests? Is there an average score they are looking for? Do they require any special projects?
- What is the application fee? Often if you contact the admissions department they will offer an application waiver if you ask!
- What courses are they requiring? Have you taken all the courses or do you need to take something beforehand? Or do they offer conditional acceptance and you can take required courses after being accepted?
- Do they require a resume? Are they looking for anything specific on the resume?
- Cost of tuition and do they offer scholarships or not.
- Lastly, when is the application due?
Please look out for Part 2, where the graduate application tips continue! The second part will conclude with tips on completing the application process, followed by suggestions for the interview process, and ending with making your final choice on which school to attend. Applying to graduate school is a very long process, but with God on your side, anything is possible; including successfully applying and attending graduate school!