There's a lot of information grad school applicants should know or find out before they start the application process. Here are five points that you absolutely MUST know before you embark on your grad school application journey:
#1: You need to figure out what kind of degree you want.
Before you do anything else, determine the degree and specialization you want. Graduate degrees come in an almost mind-boggling variety, and not merely limited to the best-known MA or PhD. Figure out which degree will be of most use to you (the best way to do is to talk to people doing the job you would like to be doing or the research you'd like to undertake, and ask them what degree they have, or suggest that you get). Then, figure out your specialization. Although graduate degrees can come in more general terms (for example, an MA in Latin American Literature), you often have a specialization (for example, Magical Realism in 20th Century Central American Writers). Try to get as much information about your prospective degrees as you can; this will help you choose programs.
#2: You need to research programs.
Don't start doing things like taking the GRE, working on essays, or selecting cities you'd like to live in until you've done your research and determine which schools actually offer the degrees your interested in obtaining. Without knowing which schools you're considering, you won't know what your GRE score should be, what your essays should be about, or many other important aspects of the grad school selection and application process.
#3: Find out what your GRE score should be before taking the test.
The number of students who have contacted me asking if their GRE score is good enough for this school or that school astounds me. You should never take the GRE without first figuring out what your GRE score range should be. Studying without a set number goal in mind is like flying blind. Surprisingly, finding out what GRE score a school prefers is easy. The information is often right on each program's website, or is easily obtained by calling the school and asking. It's not a secret, and it's something you should know before you even start prepping. This is also a reason why you should know which degree(s) and school(s) you are considering before you do anything else.
#4: Your GRE matters. So does your GPA.
No matter how far removed from undergrad you are, your GPA will still matter. If you didn't do well in college, you will need to explain why grad school will be different. There's no sweeping your GPA under the rug. In addition, don't discount your GRE score. Even if your GPA is exceptional, it won't make up for a shoddy GPA. Both of these numbers matter. If you're aiming for an eventual graduate degree, don't slack off in college. And if you're applying to grad school, make sure your GRE is top-notch.
#5: Financial aid is important.
No one likes to think about how they'll pay for school, but it's something that you must consider before embarking on this journey. U.S. citizens will likely have an easier time paying for grad school, since they'll have federal loans and many scholarships and grant options available to them. The financial aid options for international student are much more narrow, and typically revolve around institutional (school-provided) aid. In some cases, there isn't any aid available for international students, which means you'll have to submit proof that you can pay for school when you apply.
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