Applying to Graduate School

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To Apply, Or Not to Apply

Before you start your applications or even researching programs that may be right for you, sit down and have a conversation with yourself, our staff, and your faculty.  Why do you want to go to graduate school?  What education is required or preferred in your field of choice?  What will you use your degree for, and what is your plan for after you receive your degree?  Is this degree necessary for the job you’re aiming for?  What would your investment be, in terms of both time and money, and are you prepared for this investment?  Think critically about these questions and your answers, and investigate the career options associated with intended graduate fields of study.  

In your chats, speak to faculty candidly about programs and your own work, and ask current graduate students on campus about their work and experiences.  We cannot stress enough how important conversations with your faculty are.  Check with your faculty office hours, and knock on their door.  Ask if they have a moment to discuss your plans and ideas for graduate work, and your academic/intellectual interests.  

Continue your conversations with them even after you graduate.  Send an update or a message about an article that reminded you about part of their class, etc.  Continue to ask them for their ideas and feedback.  Seek out alumni for similar conversations with those who have entered the field, or search for other people in or out of your network.  

Pre-professional degrees and other graduate degrees each have diverse timelines.  Students interested in medical school, for example, need to be aware of their timelines and requirements related to coursework much earlier than students interested in pursuing a PhD in English Literature.  Indeed, PhD programs are more flexible and diverse in what they require from applicants – do your research on programs and their admission requirements, and base your timeline and steps off this information.

General Timeline and Next Steps

Once you decide on attending graduate school, it’s important to check off a few things while you’re still on campus:  

Early On:

Your path towards graduate school actually begins early in your college years, even if you plan to apply later after graduation. Build faculty connections during your first years on campus to create relationships and identify letter writers.  Get to know them as mentors – approach them with questions about if you should apply and how/when.  Faculty in your field of interest are the most valuable resource to your search, and can provide accurate information on the best programs, and how to present your applications!  Utilize them as a resource.  Seek out smaller seminar courses as well, so that you can build intimate relationships.  

Familiarize yourself with required coursework early on as well.  This is particularly important for students who are going into professional programs, such as medical school.

Find listservs, lectures, colloquia, or organizations on campus that are related to your work.  Attend!  Did you enjoy a particular talk?  Approach the person afterward and request their contact information to continue the conversation.  You can set your own calendar to auto-update with Cornell’s calendar of events, and filter for certain types of events like colloquia or seminars.  We recommend doing this so that you can optimize your engagement on campus.  

Sophomore and Junior Years:

Often, it can be critical to get some kind of research experience under your belt to prepare for graduate school.  Sometimes your field prevents this – often it is difficult for English students to receive RA positions, for example.  Be sure to continue to work diligently and speak with folks who are familiar with the field to search for opportunities and to get a solid idea of what the expectations are for undergraduate work as preparation for your plans.  

Also, do your own research on admissions requirements in programs that might be of interest to you.  Have a thorough understanding of what you need to do while on campus to build your applications and credentials early on.  For example, comparative literature programs often require a third foreign language – build this into your schedule while at Cornell.  Also, remember that application requirements can be diverse, even within a particular field.  

Talk to Beth Fiori about fellowship opportunities as related to your interests.  Be sure to do this early on!

Junior Year:

Continue to familiarize yourself with the application requirements for your programs of choice.  At this point, we can start a planning sheet for your graduate school applications to go over various requirements, associated fees, faculty and courses of interest, and so on.  

If your field or programs of interest require an entry test, like the MCAT, GRE or LSAT, review the test timelines carefully.  How long are your test scores valid?  How much time do you need to study for this test?  By when are you hoping to have your applications completed?   When do test scores need to be submitted to be considered valid with your application?  Select a test date (or a general timeframe in which you should take your test) according to your answers to the above questions.  

Continue to build relationships with faculty, and begin to strategize on faculty you would like to serve as your letter writers.  We cannot stress enough the importance of your relationships with faculty!

If you haven't yet, speak with Beth Fiori about fellowships related to your interests.

Senior Year:

During the Fall semester, get in touch with Beth Fiori to review fellowship opportunities.  If you do not plan to take gap years, request letters of recommendation at least two months in advance of your application deadline.  Remain in frequent contact with your letter writers, and speak candidly about your application plans, programs of interest, and deadlines.  Remain courteous in all communications – remember that this is a professional correspondence, and should be treated with a great deal of respect.  

If you are not applying to attend directly after college, be sure to utilize interfolio to store your letters.  Request letters of recommendation from faculty while you are still on campus, so that they may simply update the letters at the time of application.  

It is also a thoughtful gesture to send thank you notes to your writers after you have submitted all applications.  You should certainly inform them of your application results afterwards as well.

Funding & Finances

Be aware early on of grant and scholarship opportunities to fund your study.  Check out the following resources, especially databases like Fastweb, FastAid, and ProFellow (which was founded by an A&S graduate!).  As always, be sure to speak with Beth Fiori about fellowship opportunities.  Connect with her early on, in your sophomore or junior year, and certainly during Fall of your senior year.