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Are you eager to go to graduate school after finishing your undergraduate degree? If you’re hoping to enter graduate school, it is imperative to start planning early so you can attain all the experiences, skills, requirements and self-awareness necessary to be a competitive applicant.

Here are five things you can be working on now to prepare for the graduate admissions process.

Identify your subject area and degree program
You must first start by doing some research on the different types of programs in which you’re interested. Start narrowing your program lists down by identifying professors who are researching subjects that interest you. It is also a good idea to reach out to professors at this time to demonstrate your interest and set up a visit in the future, if possible.

Meet the minimum requirements of the program
Many graduate programs expect students to possess certain skills such as specific coursework, work experience or writing samples before entering their graduate program. Make sure that you will be able to meet the minimum requirements by the time you enter the program. Certain requirements take a lot of planning so it is imperative to know what those application requirements are before the application season begins.

Standardized tests
After narrowing down your list of programs, find out which exam your program requires (the GRE or the GMAT) and the range of scores that the various programs expect from their applicants. Decide when you’re going to take the exam and how long you need to study for it, then start studying and complete your testing.

Letters of recommendation
Start identifying who your letter of recommendation writers will be. Strong letters come from those who know you best and will be comfortable and confident when writing about your abilities. The letter writer should be able to write about about your academic performance, skills and character. Use your time in college to develop relationships with professors so that the chosen faculty members are able to write letters that best reflect you as a potential candidate. Choose letter writers who can highlight a different side of you, for example, one from an internship and one from a course for your major. Provide letter writers with ample time, a résumé, an application timeline and a description of the programs to which you’re applying.

Personal statement and essays
A personal statement is an essay that explains your interest in the field, how you can contribute to and what you can gain from the program. It is not an autobiography or essay version of a résumé. Think of your personal statement as a cover letter for each proposed graduate program. Begin by writing your personal statement during senior year or, if you are taking time off before graduate school, several months prior to the deadline. Each program has different guidelines so it’s important to tailor your personal statement for each program. Take advantage of your career center, workshops, faculty advisors and a graduate admissions counselor to improve and polish your personal statement.

If you are thinking about graduate school, you should make a list of each prospective graduate program’s requirements. Start taking advantage of opportunities now to fulfill graduate school expectations, determine a schedule and get started early!

About the author
Stephen Friedfeld

Stephen is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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