Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How to Find a Grad School #2: What to do before applying

Juniors and underclassmen keep asking me, "When should I apply to grad school?" The short answer is that the deadlines for grad school are around December of senior year. But the real answer is that the process could start at the end of Junior year. So assuming you want to apply to grad school in 9 months, here's my advice for you.

  1. Figure out where you don't want to go / live, as I wrote in #1. 
  2. This might be point 0, but figure out what sort of field you want to go into...kinda important. 
  3. Make a huge list of places from point 2. 
  4. Sign up to take the GRE in the summer (you really don't want to take this during school).
  5. Download the practice test software from ETS to study for the GRE. Study...a little bit. Focus on quant, and especially not running out of time on quant.  Worst case scenario, if you fail the GRE, you could still apply to schools outside the US (you won't fail though, right?). Uh, but take the GRE seriously. It's too expensive to retake, let's be honest. 
  6. As the summer goes on, look at the departments and the research being done. Once settled on a subfield of research, read the prof's websites and look at the papers to see what kind of research they do. Can you imagine doing that sort of research? Good. 
  7. Add potential supervisors to a list. This should be a sort of short list (less than 10?)
  8. Update your CV. 
  9. Begin drafting and sending the Inquiry Email to these professors that you would like to work with. This is a very important part of the whole process! This should ideally happen late August to early October. In November, profs get a lot of these emails because students realize the deadline to apply is in Dec and they need to find a supervisor! (Some schools work differently, but for the most part, it's good to reach out to show interest, inquire about funding, and find out about the research opportunities).
    Here is a good resource on how to do this:
    Post 1
    Post 2
    Make sure your email seems like you are a focused individual. Avoid typos (don't be me). You can attach your CV. Or if that makes you feel weird, you can wait until they reply back and ask for your CV. So it's good that you have that ready. 
  10. Ask people for letters of rec in advance -- give them a heads-up and tell them when the deadline is, because some of them like to procrastinate like us. 
  11. Continue inquiry emails and the stuff that goes along with them. There are a few outcomes. Either they:
    -won't reply (*crickets*...don't feel bad though)
    -will reply saying that they can't take another student
    -will reply saying they might/will be taking a new student
    -will reply asking if you're available to talk on the phone or Skype. You're available, of course.
    There are a few variations, of course...sometimes students are the ones to initiate a Skype meeting, which is cool if the prof is not busy.   
  12. If you get a Skype meeting set up, treat it like an interview: but that you're interviewing them, too. Come prepared to talk about your experiences and prepared with a list of questions you have about research, the school, or application process. Don't ask all your questions during your Skype meeting though. It's good to save a question or two to send a month or so later to show that you're still intersted. Send a follow-up email a day after the meeting. 
  13. If you are still interested, get ready to actually apply to the school. Whoa. 
  14. But not without seeing how many windows per capita the department building has. 
There was only slight sarcasm in this post. It is mostly serious. Actually, all of it was serious except point 14.