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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The Guilfordian’s guide to graduate school: choosing right and getting in

What image comes to mind when you think of graduate school?  Long hours, laboratory research, scientists in long, white lab coats?

While such images can certainly be true, not all graduate programs are similar.

“Graduate programs, especially Ph.D programs can be very different depending on the discipline,” said Rachel Riskind, assistant professor of psychology. “Oftentimes students don’t recognize the variety of experiences and tasks that distinguish graduate programs.”

Certainly, there are many misconceptions surrounding graduate school and rarely does one know how to go about applying. After much research, The Guilfordian has created its own Guide to Graduate School.


Evaluate why you want to attend. Graduate school is not for everybody. Make sure that it is the right choice for you.

“Know why you are going – graduate school is expensive and time consuming and so make sure that you have a genuine interest in your field,” said Amanda Fontenot, assistant director of the career center.

“Do not go to graduate school simply to find yourself or because you think it is needed for specific jobs,” continued Vivian Lutian, assistant director of the career center. “There are other venues for you to establish yourself in the field of your choice. Do your research.”

However, with so many different graduate programs around the country and world, students often have a difficult time even beginning their research.

“To begin, go to specific graduate program websites,” said Application Boot Camp Director and Former Admissions and Financial Aid Officer for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University Kristen Willmott in a phone interview. “Visit specific pages, go look into the coursework, CVs of professors, syllabuses, etc.”

Once you have finished researching, be sure that you are committed. As Willmott remarked, “Ideally, by your sophomore year, you should have an idea of what you want to do and where you want to go.”

Once you have made a decision, start preparing.


“It is tough to get in,” said Shapiro. “Prepare throughout your undergraduate experience. Pursue internships, NSF sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduate programs, etc.”

Certainly, preparation is key. While you do not have to spend every minute fretting over graduate school, you should be trying to take advantage of every opportunity to get involved around campus and learn new things.

“When you apply to graduate school, you must convince (and explain to) the admissions committee why you are applying to graduate school, what you plan to do after graduate school, and why you would be a good fit at their particular program,” said the staff of the Princeton Review in an interview with The Guilfordian.

To convince, you must demonstrate legitimate interest in your field and provide evidence that you have the skills needed to succeed in the field.

“Across all graduate fields, you need to be able to express yourself clearly and authoritatively, both in writing and in speaking,” said Anna Ivey, founder of Ivey Consulting, an admissions consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts,  in a phone interview with The Guilfordian. “Do whatever it takes to get rid of uptalk, vocal growl and other things you hear routinely on college campuses.”

In addition, one of the best ways to demonstrate ability is through academic research.

“Get involved with research early on,” said former Harvard University political science professor and current Google software engineer Matt Welsh in a phone interview with the Guilfordian. “It can be a daunting thing to go and talk to professors but everything starts with having that first conversation.”

“Go to and utilize office hours,” advised Willmott. “Use the time to try to connect with professors and really get to know them and have them get to know you. This will go a long ways in not only procuring good recommendation letters but also in helping you secure research opportunities.”


Many times, students assume that the graduate school application process is the same as the college application process. While certain aspects are the same, there are distinct differences.

“The biggest difference is that you actually have to know what you want to do with your life,” said the staff of the Princeton Review. “When you’re applying to college, you are asked to declare a major, but most people switch once they get there.  You cannot switch so easily once in graduate school.”

There are essentially two parts to the application process: the Graduate Record Examination and the application itself.

The GRE, much like the SAT, is designed to measure the skills and abilities that you should have honed during your undergraduate experience. While some programs require the GRE, others require different tests (the LSAT, MCAT, or GMAT, etc.). Make sure you know which one you need and prepare thoroughly.

“I advise people to invest in a good test prep course, and to start planning their test prep strategy and timeline about nine months before they plan to take the test,” said Ivey. “That gives you enough wiggle room to regroup and retake the test if the first attempt isn’t to your liking.”

There are also many online resources.

“Test takers can prepare for the GRE revised General Test using free tools available on the GRE website,” said Christine Betaneli, director of public relations for the Educational Testing Service in an email interview with The Guilfordian.

“Preparation tools include (the) POWERPREP® II software … ScoreItNow!™ Online Writing Practice, the GRE® Success Starter video series, The GRE® revised General Test Official Guide and the Official GRE® Guide mobile app.”

The application is also very similar to college applications.

As Lee Weiss, executive director of graduate programs for Kaplan Test Prep and a longtime GRE and GMAT instructor remarked, the most important thing about the application is to show the admissions committee who you are.

“The application is a marketing document, said Weiss. “Tell them a story of where you come from and what you will do.”

General Advice

Certainly applying and being accepted to graduate school is a daunting task requiring many years of consistent efforts. Good grades and stellar extracurricular activities certainly help but the most important part of the process is knowing how to distinguish yourself.

Talk to people who have succeeded in your field and learn from them. Establish relationships. Experiment a bit.

As Shapiro and Ivey remarked, graduate school is not going anywhere and you don’t necessarily have to go directly after college. Take some time to get to know yourself and cultivate your interests.

Then, in the end, as Natalya Shelkova, assistant professor of economics said,” Do your research of schools and faculty. Look for good fit.  Aim for the best, but include some safe choices.”

For more information and advice, visit the Career Development Center

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    Jazib ZaheerMar 12, 2014 at 8:23 am

    I think it is more about writing a great personal statement and doing well on the standardized tests such as the GRE and GMAT rather than getting any consulting – one can get all the university information readlly on the web so why go to consultants.