Letter to the Editor: University leaders say graduate school might be for you, provide tips

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A graduate exits Ohio Stadium following Spring Commencement at The Ohio State University. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Photo Editor

Hello, Buckeyes!

Are you an undergraduate student thinking about next steps in your academic journey? Or someone with an undergraduate degree who’s been in the workforce and wants to expand knowledge and competency skills for a promotion or career change? If so, graduate school may be for you!

There are many reasons to consider graduate school — whether for personal and professional growth, to follow your intellectual passion, achieve a major accomplishment, increase your financial security and to expand career opportunities through the credential a graduate degree provides. Whatever your reason may be, we hope this letter inspires you with our eight helpful tips on applying to graduate school.

Tip No. 1 . Identify your area of interest and begin your academic preparations for graduate school. Invest time getting to know faculty, professionals and alumni in the areas you want to explore. They can help you understand their disciplines and careers, what advanced study will be like in different specialties and how to prepare a successful application. Coaches within the Buckeye Careers are another great resource!

Be sure that you investigate and complete any prerequisite courses or observation hours required, especially if you plan to apply to a clinical program. If you are applying to an arts program, you will want to spend time now developing a body of work that will highlight your skills in a future portfolio. Do the best you can in your undergraduate coursework! Most graduate schools require a 3.0 minimum GPA, but many have averages above this. Additional co-curricular experiences will help you stand out in an applicant pool and allow you to explore your interests in advance of applying. Activities like undergraduate research, service learning, internships or study abroad can help you build the skills and cultural competencies needed to be successful.

Tip No. 2 . Explore graduate programs. While our hope is that Ohio State will be your only or top choice, it’s always good to have a backup plan. Research the reputation of programs, faculty and universities in your area of interest. Find out the success rates of graduate students in each program, including average graduation rate and time to graduation. Consider other factors that will contribute to your wellbeing — including the geographical location, size and community of each university, as well as each university’s support services and commitment to equity, inclusion and social justice.

Tip No. 3. Talk with the faculty and graduate students in your programs of interest. Faculty love to hear from prospective students who share similar research and scholarly interests. You can start the conversation with a brief and sincere email in which you introduce yourself and explain your interest in pursuing a graduate degree in the faculty’s program. You should briefly summarize your qualifications and explain why you are interested in joining that faculty member’s program. Close the message by asking for a follow-up phone call or virtual meeting to learn more about the faculty person’s work and share more about yourself.

It is also important to contact graduate students in your programs of interest, to learn firsthand what it’s like to be a graduate student in that program, with a particular faculty member. Email students individually and ask to set up a phone call or virtual meeting. It’s important to get honest feedback on the faculty person as an advisor and learn how successful their students are.

Tip No. 4 . Explore funding and financial aid. Contact your programs of interest and talk with the program director about what may be available to support you financially throughout your graduate career. There are a variety of funding options available to graduate students at Ohio State — including associateships, fellowships and scholarships. Visit the graduate school to learn how graduate funding works at Ohio State.

Tip No. 5 . Review the application deadlines, requirements and prepare to apply. Graduate school applications typically require personal and demographic information, official transcripts from all undergraduate institutions you’ve attended, letters of recommendation and a personal statement or statement of purpose. Programs sometimes require standardized exam scores ( GRE , GMAT , TOEFL , etc.), and it’s important to schedule study time and the exam itself well before the application deadline.

Tip No. 6 . Contact faculty from your undergraduate program and employers to write letters of recommendation. Most graduate programs will require at least three letters of recommendation, and the best letters come from faculty members who know your academic, research and scholarly strengths. Don’t underestimate how long it will take faculty to write letters of recommendation. You should identify and ask faculty several months before the application deadline and send several reminders. Provide faculty and employers with your curriculum vitae, information about the program you are applying to, application deadline and instructions on letter submission. Make sure letter writers understand your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school and how the program aligns with your career aspirations.

Tip No. 7 . Speak with professionals about financial education: The Ohio State Student Wellness Center offers financial coaching that covers areas, such as financial goal setting, banking basics, budgeting, credit education, debt repayment and saving for retirement. This program can assist you with developing a strategy to support your long-term financial goals while you are in graduate school.

Tip No. 8 . Apply! This likely means crafting a personal statement or statement of purpose. At the graduate level, your coursework will be highly focused, and it will be important for you to clearly describe your academic interests in your statement of purpose. A well-written statement will describe your background, your academic interests and your ultimate goals. It is a great opportunity to communicate the unique experiences you will bring to a program and to customize your statement to explain why that institution is a good match for your interests. This shows that you have researched a program meaningfully and are making an informed decision.

We hope these tips are helpful to you as you apply for graduate school. We understand that the process may seem daunting. However, know that the Ohio State Graduate School and Office of Graduate and Professional Admissions are here to support you as you explore and apply to graduate school. Please check out our helpful resources and contact us anytime if you have questions or would like a consultation to discuss your application. We are happy to help!

Go Grad Buckeyes!

Mary Stromberger, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School

Rachel Nash, Director, Graduate and Professional Admissions

James Orr, Vice Provost, Strategic Enrollment Management

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