When should I begin studying for the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, etc.? You should begin studying when you have a period of two to three months (sometimes more, rarely less) when circumstances in your life are manageable enough to allow for a solid two to three hours a day – that’s about the limit! – for test preparation. Most test scores are good for up to five years, so most people have a relatively large window to work within.
What do I do if I’ve been out of school and can’t get an academic reference? All schools want and need some evidence of your academic ability from other people. Consider signing up for graduate school or post-bac courses. Get to know one or two professors who might write recommendations for you. If you’ve been out of school for a while, it would be wise to seek out people in the workplace, or colleagues in volunteer organizations for whom you’ve done quasi-academic work.
I graduated with a bad GPA, now what? Get a great test score on your admissions exam, because in the sorting process your GPA and your test score tend to be used in tandem. And don’t be discouraged – while a low GPA might keep you out of the top 10 schools, you can almost certainly gain admission someplace. Schools look for a variety and range of qualifications, so there is more than likely a school for you even if your undergraduate performance was spotty or downright dismal.
Graduate School Myths
Myth: Admission is all a numbers game. The principal role of the numbers is to sort people out – to determine who is an almost certain accept, who seems to have what the school wants, and who just seems to be out of it. But once they’ve assessed you in that broad way, the numbers take on much less importance. That’s where the personal statement, and the recommendations, and the overall look and feel of the application make such a difference. You have to present yourself as an interesting and promising person.
Myth: Grad school admissions is just like undergrad admissions. Virtually all colleges and universities are accepting generalists; they know that their students will gradually find their way over four years. But applying to graduate school is applying to be a specialist, and you have to impress them with your intellect, ambition, focus and passion.
Myth: You’re applying to a graduate school. No! You’re applying to the people who represent that graduate school. Remember that there are people reading your applications – people who can be charmed or bored, turned on or turned off, exasperated or thrilled. So do not write a generic personal statement that anybody could write.