Applying for Grad School: Tips?

posted 3 years ago in College
Post # 2
878 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: April 2016

I’m med school bee! My advice is, don’t get your heart set on any one school. its good to dream but all schools have their pros and cons! Talk to lots of students in the program to find out their opinions!


As far as balance, it’s nearly impossible to have a job in medical school, I study hours on end every day. But I set limits for my SO and keep them. If I say I’m done working at 7, that’s a promise

Post # 3
2264 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: June 2015

MrsHalpert:  I’m currently a grad student (and have been for a very, very, very long time!)

To answer question one, your statement of purpose varies not only by school but also by major. I’m in the humanities. It was enormously important to be able to convey something about yourself on paper. Don’t start with any sort of corny “hook” but do express your interest in the program. It might be helpful to discuss particular professors you would like to work with and what your common interests are. 

I prepared for the GRE with Kaplan. I have to admit, the GRE is not very important in my field other than the writing section (at least not in comparison to my FI–he’s in the sciences and it was tremendously important for him!) 

I worked while going for my master’s full time. It was okay. I was most overwhelmed during our comprehensive exams, but I also wasn’t working full time. Working full time while doing a PhD would be near impossible…at least for me.

I have only ever taken classes on campus.

Post # 4
463 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: August 2013

MrsHalpert:  What type of grad school do you want to do?  Advice will differ if you are wanting to go into a professional program vs. a research based one!

Post # 5
6788 posts
Busy Beekeeper
  • Wedding: March 2014 - A castle!

MrsHalpert:   1) Statement of purpose: Should be 1 page long. I made mine 3 paragraphs.

  • Paragraph 1 = Your background. Talk about what makes you passionate about your field, what your bachelor’s and work experience include, what drives you, what are some of your strengths, and what has motivated you to pursue a higher degree.
  • Paragraph 2 = Tie in your previous experiences to how it would impact your performance in the school/program to which you are applying. What stands out about this school or program that speaks to you on a personal level and draws you to it? 
  • Paragraph 3 = ((this applies if you want to work with someone specific)) Talk about your skill set and the sponsor/lab you are applying to. Why does this lab and this advisor in particular fit your skill set and how will they help you accomplish your goal as a graduate student? What kind of research are you passionate about? Does this mentor support that type of research? 
  • Alt Paragraph 3 = Talk about your skill set and what you hope the program will help you gain in terms of achieving an overall life goal. And don’t forget to say that you would be privileged to join the program!

This is the first impression they will get of you. Try to make it personal and passionate. Maybe include an anecdote from your life or draw on personal experiences 🙂 Feel free to PM me if you need more advice 

2) I prepared for the GRE by buying a study guide and taking practice tests out of the back. If I performed poorly in one section then I would study up on it in the guide. It was extremely helpful! (780 math woooot! .. old test, 2010)

3) -For those of you that are currently in/have completed graduate studies: was it hard to balance school and a full time job, particularly once you’d graduated? 

I am in a PhD program that fully supports me (tuition + stipend). It is a requirement that I have no other outside positions. When I was getting my master’s I was a consultant for a small engineering firm and also a TA at the same time.. while starting my research career. It was hard to balance, but I did it.

4) -Did you take classes on campus, or online? 


4 -If there are any professor Bees here: what might you look for if serving on a graduate application committee?

I would look for someone with a multidisciplinary skill set. Someone that had time management skills (which I would see by looking at the number of activities you were involved with – don’t write about this in your statement). I would look for someone that was dedicated and passionate about their field and had real, attainable goals. It would be an added bonus if they had a research hypothesis or thesis that fell with in the regime of my research.<br /><br /><br />

Post # 6
2062 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: August 2012

-How to even start to write a statement of purpose (I know it’s different at every school, but did you use any particular resources, etc.) A statement of purpose should be direct and to the point. Explain your research interests. Explain why the program you’re applying for is academically a good fit. Avoid fluff. Avoid restating what’s in your resume. This is your chance to explain why you choose the program.

-How did you prepare for the GRE (if applicable)? I prepared by going to Barnes and Noble and studying for hours in Starbucks. I couldn’t afford the texts and the library didn’t have the updated versions of the prep books so I “looked them over” for a while…a long while. Prep for the GRE is essential. It’s all about how you take the test and understanding how they ask the questions. 

-For those of you that are currently in/have completed graduate studies: was it hard to balance school and a full time job, particularly once you’d graduated? I am currently finishing my PhD in Communication. My master’s was breeze as far as balance. However, my PhD has been much more demanding. 

-Did you take classes on campus, or online? For my MA, I took all online courses. My PhD has been all on-ground. I preferred online courses and learned more efficiently online.

-If there are any professor Bees here: what might you look for if serving on a graduate application committee? I’m a professor starting in August. I’d look for clear career plan and intent within the program (Do you want to publish? What do you want to study exactly?) Having a clear direction is incredibly important.

Post # 7
689 posts
Busy bee

For your statement of purpose, start off by just brainstorming. I wrote some 10 different drafts before I ended up with something I liked enough to edit into what I eventually turned in. Give yourself plenty of time to write and edit, and also have a few different pple read it thru for grammatical errors and such. That was key for me. 

Post # 8
228 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: July 2014 - Backyard

1. Depending on your field, the personal statement will be different. I was in the humanities and I basically had to nail the writing and had to convey a thought as clearly as possible.

2. I bought a GRE book and did practice tests. I was not dedicated AT ALL. I don’t even know if it is worth it. Bone up on analytic and logistic skills, and study word roots. I took a remedial math class, because, HUMANITIES.

3. Grad school is going to take over SO MUCH of your life. If you are not willing to make it a huge priority, and if those in your life are not on board with sharing a significant portion of your time and attention, it will be difficult. 

4. Mine was all on campus. It was heavy on the reading, discussing, theorizing, and writing. I don’t even know how we would do all taht online.

I am not a professor, but I had the absolute worst experience with my advisor. Probably more than anything on this list, I advise this: talk to current (and former, if possible!) grad students and see if they will speak honestly about how it is to work with each professor. I don’t care how dedicated you think you are to a particular research topic or slant, if the professor is a miserable advisor, you will be totally miserable. 

I would even advise working with a professor that puts their students first as a priority. If they are not working on something you think you want to be involved in, feel them out. You will likely change your focus as you learn (that is what this process is for!).

A slightly less sexy topic but a supportive advisor? PRICELESS.

Post # 9
8850 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2013 - Rocky Mountains USA

MrsHalpert:  I have an MS in biology.  It’s impossible to answer some of your questions because it REALLY varies depending on your field.  In the sciences, you basically need to find an advisor who will take you on, mentor your research, and usually provide funding.  So applying to the school is a total afterthought after the majorly pain in the ass process of finding an advisor.

But otherwise:

GRE: definitely get a prep book / DVD and study!  And remember that you can take it several times, but if I’m not mistaken, schools see all your results.  (Don’t quote me on that though.)

Job: heck no, at least not in my case.  Between classes and research, life was busy.  But, I was teaching half the semesters, the equivalent of 20 hours a week (including prep and grading time, etc).  That was doable but definitely busy.

My only other advice would be to make sure you know what your career goals post-grad school are and that getting a MS / PhD will be crucial.  In some cases, it won’t necessarily help your career prospects and can be a huge waste of time, money, and effort.  In others, it’s absolutely necessary (my field for example).  

Post # 11
24457 posts
Honey Beekeeper
  • Wedding: June 2009

It was so long ago that I applied that I don’t even remember my application 🙂

-How did you prepare for the GRE (if applicable)? I took the GMAT and I bought a test prep book and spent lunches studying it.  I did pretty well on the test even though members of the testing center were having a yelling match in the middle of my math section!

-For those of you that are currently in/have completed graduate studies: was it hard to balance school and a full time job, particularly once you’d graduated?  I didn’t go to school during the first part of my masters degree but I did during the second year.  It is pretty hard having to run from your job to class and then carving out time for homework or group projects.  We usually did projects after class was over since we all worked at different places.

-Did you take classes on campus, or online?  All of my courses were in person.  I think that is easier for me to pay attention and have a specific time to go to school.

Post # 13
2117 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: June 2015


I was recently admitted to a graduate school program under strange circumstances (I never finished my application, but they liked my resume so much they let me in anyway), but I’ll try and help – especially considering I’m getting my Master’s in Education (and worked as an ESL teacher in the past).

The statement of purpose at a lot of education schools follows specific questions. For me, I am interested in teaching history/social studies, but also working with ELL students and in low-income, urban schools. I focused on these attributes, because they are what education schools are looking for right now (wanting to teach ESL will help you a lot) – they’re the buzz words of the moment. Try and stick out and try and emphasize your interest in a field that really needs qualified teachers. I also tried to tie in my background as much as possible. For me, this was easy, as I’ve worked in education and in the non-profit fields (working with teenagers involved in the court system) since graduating college. Depending on what you’ve been up to for the past few years, that may be a little harder to spin, but do your best.

For the GRE, I took a practice test and did really well on the verbal portion of things. I am a very strong reader and writer, so I decided to focus almost solely on math. I bought a general GRE book for review, but I really spent most of my time studying the separate math GRE study guide I bought. I ended up not even taking the GRE (long story…I was going to wait a year to apply), but was doing well on my practice tests when I stopped.

I’m hoping the work/life balance won’t be too crazy, but I’m already realizing next year is going to be the busiest year of my life (school, part-time job, then student teaching…all while planning a wedding). I’m a good multi-tasker and prefer being really busy, so I think I can handle it, but it’s also important not to over exert yourself. Getting good grades should be priority #1. Jobs in education can be hard to come by, depending on where you live, so my focus will definitely be 100% on my classes and student teaching. Things like wedding planning will have to come second.

Good luck!

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