Question: Within the next year, I will be
preparing for graduate school, and I am searching for information on how to get
into the nation's best graduate schools. I am looking for a way to be
irresistible to the admissions department at the top graduate schools. The
career path that I dream of is an intensely competitive one, as I dream of being
a professor, and I have realized that it would be a great help to graduate from
one of the top schools.
Unfortunately, there isn't a magic formula or
easy answer on how to gain admittance to the best grad programs in the nation.
Because competition is intense, you must focus on preparing the best application
possible, which entails much more than application materials. Begin early, while
in college, and try to do as much of the following as possible:
- Get to know your professors.
- Get involved in research with a professor.
If it goes well, you might present a paper at a conference or even get a
journal article out of it. Research experience, presentations, and
publications are the keys to graduate school.
- Excel in your courses.
- Take plenty of science and math, but also
liberal arts courses (English, writing, communications) to develop a
well-rounded background and demonstrate your oral and written communication
- Take a GRE prep course to prepare for the
Graduate Record Exam.
- Volunteer and participate in campus
organizations that relate to your discipline (e.g., math club if you're a
student, or volunteer at a social service agency if you're a psychology or
social work major).
- Tailor your applications to particular
programs. In other words, research your programs to determine your "fit" to
each. Each application should demonstrate that you're an excellent fit to
each program in terms of your interests, career goals, and abilities.
Finally, you mentioned that your ultimate
career goal is to become a college professor. I'm sure that you're aware of the
great paucity of academic positions. Hundreds of applicants may compete for one
position. While graduating from an excellent program will certainly help, what
you do in graduate school is much more important. So what should you do in
graduate school to make yourself competitive for academic positions?
- Publish, publish, publish
- Get some teaching experience, but wait
until later in your program, after you've completed coursework and have
some research, presentations, and perhaps publications under your belt.