7 Ways to Prepare for Grad School While in College or University
Check out these tips for how you can take the next steps towards grad school while you complete your undergrad.
Have you been thinking about what’s next for you after your undergrad? How about grad school? Grad school is higher education that you can pursue after your undergrad to increase your salary potential and become an expert in your field. Grad school typically includes master’s degrees, PhDs, or post-graduate certificates. What’s the difference between a master’s and post-grad certificate? A master’s is a longer qualification — typically one to two years — that results in a degree, whereas a post-grad certificate is shorter — typically a few months — and results in a certificate credential.
If continuing your education sounds like the right path for you, check out these tips on how you can prepare for grad school while you complete your undergraduate education.
1. Talk to your profs
Your current professors are great resources to help you prepare for grad school. Not only will they make excellent references for your application, but they can also provide valuable insight on where you excel, potential programs, and how to nail your application.
The best place to start when asking professors to be your reference is to create a relationship with them first. Say hi to them when you see them on campus or before class, or even better, go visit them in their office hours! Office hours are a great opportunity to get some one-on-one face time with a professor. Office hours aren’t just for answering questions you have about the course content. It’s also the perfect time to chat with your profs, get to know them, and connect on a more personal note.
You could also chat with your prof’s teaching assistants. They often also hold office hours also, and they may have great insight into grad school as they’re most likely a grad student themselves!
2. Reflect on what you like/dislike about your undergrad program
Do you enjoy what you’re studying? Grad school gives you the opportunity to dive deeper into topics that you’ve enjoyed or found interesting. Or, if you didn’t like what you studied, you can always explore different topics or fields of study. Did you study history, but want to know more about business? Find a grad program in business that you’d like! Use grad school as your chance to further develop your interests.
Your grad school program doesn’t need to perfectly match what you studied in your undergrad in many cases. However, this could depend on your field of study. You may need to meet specific course prerequisites to be eligible for the grad program, something that you may only be able to do if you’ve taken that same field of study in your undergrad.
3. What kind of grad program is right for you?
Did you know there are different kinds of master’s programs? You can either pursue a course-based or a thesis-based master’s program. A course-based, or taught, program is similar to your undergrad where you’ll take courses and continue learning in a classroom environment while being graded by exams, essays, or seminar presentations. A thesis-based, or research, program is what people typically imagine when picturing a master’s degree. For thesis-based programs, you’ll do independent, extensive research under the guidance of a supervisor on a topic and present your findings. Thesis-based programs can also require completing courses, but there will be fewer than a course-based program.
So, if you know that research isn’t your specialty and you don’t enjoy it, then find a course-based program that will allow you to explore your favourite topics even deeper. Keep in mind that course-based programs are typically shorter than thesis-based programs.
There are also PhD programs which typically take four to six years to complete, and are usually pursued after a master’s program. PhDs require you to do in-depth research, working towards a thesis, which you’ll have to present to a panel of judges to earn your degree.
4. Find out what you need to apply
Now that you’ve narrowed down your grad program choices, you’ve got to find out what you need to apply. Here are common grad school requirements you may need:
- Personal essay
- Reference letters (typically from undergraduate professors)
- Resumé or curriculum vitae
- Prerequisite courses
- Admissions test (GMAT, GRE, etc.)
Make sure you give yourself enough time to get all of your application requirements sorted. If you’re super organized, the third year of your four-year degree is a great time to look into these requirements so you can foster those connections with your profs, prepare for any admissions exams, and boost your grades.
5. What are you looking for in a supervisor?
Some graduate programs may require you to find a supervisor to oversee your research and develop your thesis. Typically, only research-based master’s programs will require a supervisor, where it’s not necessary for course-based programs. Their role is to mentor you and provide support throughout this process. Depending on the program, you may need a supervisor before you apply, or you may be assigned one after applying. Exploring your supervisor options before applying is a good way to find the right supervisor for you.
Look up your potential supervisors online. Check out what kind of research they do, what they’ve published, and any ongoing projects they may be working on. Reach out to these potential supervisors and introduce yourself and provide your resumé, your transcripts, what you’re interested in, and suggest a follow-up meeting to get to know each other. You could also reach out to other students in the supervisor’s lab to get a sense as to what their role entails and their thoughts of the program.
The supervisor’s work isn’t the only important factor to consider. You want a supervisor whose personality and work habits compliment yours to ensure a smooth relationship.
6. Research your funding options
When comparing your grad school options, make sure you check out what kinds of funding opportunities are available at each school. Some of the types of funding you should keep an eye out for are tutorial or research assistant positions, grants for research in certain areas, fellowships, scholarships, and whether or not the school will provide funding for students attending or presenting at conferences.
Make sure you also explore your funding options that aren’t offered by the school specifically. This could be government and provincial grants and scholarships, like the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), or you could find more scholarships from companies and other organizations on sites like ScholarshipsCanada.com.
7. Chat with current grad students
The best way to get to know what a grad program is like as a student is by talking to students currently in that program. You’ll get more info on what it takes to apply, the kinds of opportunities the students have been offered, what support services they have, what they’ve learned, and how their experience has been so far.
Some schools will have some of their grad students act as ambassadors for their program where their role is to answer all the questions you may have. You can find some of these ambassadors using UniBuddy, a platform where applicants can connect with students from different programs. These ambassadors are great sources of information, but try to reach out to students who aren’t dedicated ambassadors of the program. This way you’ll get a broader perspective of the program.
You’ve made the choice to continue your studies in a grad program — and it’s a great choice! Did you know that grad degrees help you set yourself apart from other applicants in your career, and you’ll likely earn a higher salary? If you’re not quite sure what kind of grad program you’d like to take, try out our new program quiz to help narrow down your options. Good luck with your grad degree hunt!
Explore your graduate program options