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So, you want to go to graduate school? Start here

Text on image: Applying to grad school? 6 tips to get you started.

These tips based on firsthand experience will help you make a decision and get ready to apply

By Monique Lanier

If anyone asks me if they should go to graduate school, I mostly always say, “Yes! If you can, go to graduate school!”

If you’re sure you don’t want to go to graduate school or grad school isn’t the right path for you, stop reading. Just close this tab and step away slowly. I am a huge champion of grad school — all education, to be honest. Even if I tried, I would not be able to conceal my enthusiasm for furthering one’s education.

I believe in education and the power it has to elevate a person’s potential; their earning potential, intellectual potential, social potential and endless potential as a person.

Once you decide graduate school is right for you, there will be many questions about what to do next. Here are a few steps to get you started.

Which school is the right fit for you?

A small school or a large school? Ask yourself if a small-scale, close cohort of peers is an important part of your learning experience. Do you value friendly, attentive relationships with professors and fellow students in an environment where everyone knows and supports each other? Or are you more independent, wanting a program focused on degree completion rather than personal interaction? In what environment do you thrive? What do you want from a graduate school?

Most importantly, be honest with yourself.

What about those “top” schools? Is a prestigious school important to your future, or does another program better suit your goals? If you’ve had your heart set on enrolling at a “top school” but find a program you hadn’t previously considered or a professor that excites you and speaks to your academic pursuits, maybe reconsider. There are geniuses everywhere.

Conversely, if you’ve always wanted to apply to one of those top schools, but believe you aren’t good enough, talk to your academic advisor and your professors and let them know you want to apply. They can help you. They can show you how.

I would have never dreamed of applying to Harvard. I didn’t think I was smart enough but my professors suggested I apply. Don’t underestimate yourself! Oregon State University has friendly and helpful enrollment services specialists who can walk you through the process and suggest programs you might not know about.

Check out the school’s website: You’ll learn a lot from a school’s website. You’ll be able to see a list of the faculty and check out their faculty bio pages. Their academic work will be listed on their bio page where you’ll learn even more about the school’s atmosphere and priorities.

Again, be honest with yourself. Is this the school that will teach you what you need to know so you can achieve what you want to achieve? Does this school have the faculty that are doing the things you want to do? Does it have the resources — or access to the resources — you’ll need for a successful degree?

Getting ready to apply to graduate school

Once you’ve found the right school, you’ll be ready to apply. Applying to grad school is a lot of work; the sooner you start, the better!

Start in the summer: I suggest starting during the summer before applications are due. Yes, plural! Apply to more than one! Even though most applications won’t be due until mid-December, completing the bulk of your applications in the summer is the best plan. You’ll most likely be in school the fall before applications are due, and you don’t want to be juggling schoolwork, finals and grad school applications.

Even when you think you have them all finished, there will be many last-minute edits and alterations you’ll be working on, so get them done in the summer. (Most schools have application fee waivers for students who meet financial requirements.)

Plan enough time for letters of recommendation: Most schools ask for three letters of recommendation. Ask your letter writers at least six weeks before the applications are due to give them enough time. The six-week time frame is a general recommendation; some professors have different preferences. Most professors will want to see your statement of purpose and the materials you’re submitting. This way they will know how best to support you in their letters.

Consider the finances involved: Many graduate programs fund their students with tuition remission and a stipend. Many do not. Make sure to research the financial aid packages of the programs you are applying to! Then meet with the school’s financial advisor and plan out your budget so you know what your financial situation will look like.

Finally, keep up to date with emails from the programs you’ve applied to. They will often hold information sessions for prospective students in which you can ask questions and learn even more about their programs.

Best of luck to you all! I’m so excited for you and wish you all the greatest success.


Monique Lanier is a freelancer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and is pursuing a master’s degree at Harvard University. Read more about her educational journey.

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