Even before you decide on an area of graduate study, there are things you can do during your undergraduate studies to become a more successful, competitive candidate for any graduate program. In general, graduate programs look at the following factors when making decisions between candidates:
• Undergraduate grade point average (GPA)
• Research experience
• Experience in the field (internships, practica, volunteer and work experience)
• Test scores on graduate entrance exams, e.g., GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.
• Extra- or Co-curricular experiences, e.g., study abroad, leadership in student organizations, athletics, etc.
• Letters of recommendation
• Appropriate coursework
Undergraduate grade point average: Programs in some areas of study, such as medical fields, are very competitive, while others are not as competitive. Obviously, making sure that your GPA is high enough to make you attractive to many programs is important. If you are experiencing difficulty in any course, make sure to talk with the professor and seek out resources such as tutoring or group study as early in the course as possible. (See the Academic Success page on our web site for more resources.)
Research Experience: Some graduate programs, especially Ph.D. programs, place considerable emphasis on research experience. GVSU offers many ways to become involved with research. Depending on the field you decide to pursue, volunteering to work with a faculty member on a research project, becoming involved in a 499 Independent Research course, presenting your research at regional or national professional conferences, and having research published in a peer-reviewed journal may all be possibilities. You can check on the department web site to find out the research interests of individual faculty members to see who you might want to work with. Student Research
Experience in the Field: Graduate programs in some areas such as Physical Therapy, Medicine and Social Work want to know that you understand what the field is really like, to see that you are interested enough in the field to dedicate time to that field, and to know that you can handle a schedule that includes job-shadowing, volunteering, internships or practica, as well as your academic studies.
Test Scores on Graduate Entrance Exams: Not all graduate programs require entrance examinations. Others place such significant value on entrance exams scores that they establish firm cut-off values and will not even look at your other application materials if the minimum score is not met. Also, to do well on some tests, students will need to invest time to prepare effectively.
Graduate and Professional School Exams
Getting Ready for the GRE
Extra - or Co-curricular Experiences: Well-rounded people who have knowledge of the world around them, an understanding of many different cultural perspectives, and have taken on leadership roles in organizations are prized by many types of graduate programs. Besides, becoming involved in on- and off-campus activities during college enriches your college experience and is a good thing to do whether or not you pursue a graduate degree. Letters of Recommendation: Every graduate program application requires letters of recommendation. You'll also need letters of recommendation if you decide to seek employment after completing your bachelor's degree. So, no matter what your future plans are, cultivating relationships with faculty members is beneficial. To write an effective recommendation, faculty members need to know you as a person, not just as a student. Take time to talk with your faculty advisor and your instructors outside of class. Share your interests and goals with them. Being able to share ideas with faculty can be one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences during college, for both you and the faculty member.
Appropriate Coursework: There are two things to keep in mind about coursework when you want a graduate degree. One, some graduate programs require specific courses as prerequisites, or a certain amount of credit hours within an academic field. Two, even when specific courses are not required, graduate schools look for a pattern of taking meaningful and increasingly more challenging coursework. It can be a mistake to take "easy" or "fluff" courses during your senior year. Once you have decided on a field of study: A particular graduate field or program may not place the same emphasis on each of the above factors, or may not find all of these factors important. For example, Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology do not tend to value field experience as highly as masters of social work programs do. Because of this, it is crucial to work closely with a faculty member from your field of interest as soon as you have begun to consider graduate study.
Writing Tips The GVSU Fred Meijer Center for Writing offers many services that can assist you in the graduate school process. Writing Center Services Email Etiquette Proofreading
Graduate School Preparation Guide A list of things you can do throughout your undergraduate program to help you decide about graduate study and to become a competitive applicant.
Graduate School Preparation Time Line Suggestions for each year of your undergraduate program.
Graduate School Resources Web and print resources for undergraduate research, choosing programs, writing personal statements, interviewing, etc.
The CLAS Academic Advising Center can provide information regarding the requirements of a wide range of graduate programs as well as, in many cases, a list of resources that will inform and guide you in your preparation.