Getting into graduate school starts well before you decide to complete your application. Prior to even beginning the application process, you need to give yourself at least 1.5-2 years to “set the foundation” for which you will use to get into graduate school.
Here is all you need to do in Phase 1:
• Determine what it is you want to do. You need to be extremely clear about what you want your career and future to look like before considering a graduate school program. This is important because it will help you decide which program you need to pursue your goals and dreams. It will also help you determine if you even need to pursue graduate school in order to attain your career ambitions.
• Network and ask questions. Once you’ve decided that you do want to pursue graduate school, start networking and ask questions about graduate school and about the field you plan to pursue. This will further help guide you in ensuring that this is the right plan for you, and also will help to move you in the right direction when it is time to choose specific schools and degree programs. I suggest networking and asking questions with professors, advisors, graduate students you already may know, professionals who are already in the field, and even people on social media and the internet who do what you want to do (i.e. via their social media pages, their websites, blogs, podcasts, etc.). Learn as much as you can from all of these people and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most times, people are really happy to help.
• Build more intentional relationships with certain networking sources. After you have networked for a bit, you will likely start to notice that there are some people who you will continue to build a relationship with, and others not as much. Pay close attention to the people who you anticipate will continue to be good networking sources for you, because later down the line, you will need great letters of recommendations for your graduate school applications. This is NOT the time to ask for these letters, but rather this is the time to continue to nurture the relationships you are building in anticipation of one day asking them for a letter of recommendation. This is a good approach to take because at this point, this individual would be able to speak about the relationship they have built with you and also your passion about this field of study (which they have witnessed by your previous conversations with them about the field). Ways to continue the relationship beyond initial networking would be to meet weekly or monthly for chats or check-ins, periodic phone conversations, or even email check ins.
• Boost your GPA. One question I often get is “how much does GPA matter?” I answer this question more in depth in Grad School FAQs, but in short: it matters. So during this time period, do not forget that your GPA is a significant factor in your ability to get into graduate school. Your GPA for your major classes (or the classes most similar to the graduate field you want to pursue) especially matter. I recommend aiming for a 3.2 (or higher) cumulative GPA in preparation for applying to graduate school. This recommendation will change based on the specific graduate program you plan to pursue (i.e. for medical school, it needs to be higher), so be sure to get answers for this during your networking and relationship building process.
• Build your resume. Part of your application materials will include a resume of your work experience, volunteer experience, club or activity involvement, leadership experience, or other relevant markers in our undergraduate career. When it’s time to submit your application, you want to feel confident about your resume, so this is the perfect time to be sure you are involving yourself in the activities and experiences that will help build your resume and help you be a good candidate for graduate school. This is not something you want to rush and do the month before. It’s also not something you want to embellish or exaggerate. Therefore, taking the time to have these full experiences will be very beneficial.
• Start researching graduate programs. Lastly, Phase 1 should involve you spending some time researching possible graduate programs that you would like to attend. You do not need to make a final decision about applying just yet, but rather your focus will be to start building your list of potential possibilities. This will help give you some ideas about what is available to you in terms of graduate programs, and will also give you a better idea of what the program looks for in a potential applicant, and if you believe this will be a good fit.