Grad Expectations

View All Tips »
Sponsored by Kaplan

According to recent surveys, Americans with a graduate degree earn an average of 35 to 50 percent more than those with only a bachelor's degree. That's certainly one reason there are more people than ever applying to graduate school. Here are some tips for how to prepare - along with some advice from a few fellow Bruins.

16-18 Months Before Start Date

To Go or Not To Go

  • Decide if you have the time, personal commitment and funds.
  • Assess the actual and hidden costs.
  • Research the benefits of pursuing this degree. Will you be better off and more marketable?

Decide Where You're Going

  • Research schools and programs via books, the Internet, conversations with graduates of the program and UCLA professors.

Prepare

  • Decide if you'll be attending full time or part time.
  • Make and prioritize your list of target schools.
  • Spend time with people in your ideal field and ask questions.
  • Start scheduling campus visits for the following summer.
  • Order your transcripts.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

  • Check out specific graduate program timelines because different programs have different deadlines.
  • Know when to take a diagnostic exam to determine your strong areas and the areas on which you need more work.
  • Know when to register for the exam.
  • Decide whether a test prep course is right for you.
  • Graduate school admissions is competitive. Not everyone will get in. Anything you can do to give yourself a leg up on the competition may be worth it. Thousands of students prepare every year for tests like the GRE, GMAT and LSAT.

"I had taken the GRE as a senior at UCLA and done all right, but after taking a prep course, my score went up 200 points in the verbal section," says Jessamyn Jones '02, who plans on attending grad school this fall to study modern Irish history.


14-15 Months Before Start Date

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

  • Make a list of potential references. Choose people who like you, and who think you're good at what you do. Choose good writers who can express their opinions clearly.
  • If you don't remember any of your professors' names and weren't close with any of them, go to the head of your department and ask for suggestions.

The Write Stuff

  • Begin drafting your application essay or personal statement. Personal statements show whether or not you can write a clear, coherent essay that's logically and grammatically correct and provide you with the opportunity to present the admissions committee with a three-dimensional portrait of yourself.

Go on Tour

  • Visit campuses and meet with department members.
  • Contact your top-choice programs and order application.
  • Ask for financial aid applications on the institutional, state and federal levels.

One Year Before Start Date

Help Them Help You

  • Choose references and, if possible, arrange a meeting. Provide your references with all the information, transcripts, forms and stamped-and-addressed envelopes they'll need.
"It is extremely important to be courteous and respectful of your professor's time," says Kathryn Morgan, graduate advisor and professor in the Classics department at UCLA. "Be sure to give them at least a month to write your letter or recommendation so that they will have time to write you the best possible letter."


Get It Together

  • Ask others to read your application essay or personal statement. Finalize the drafts.
  • Speak with current students and recent alumni in your top-choice programs.
  • Prepare for interviews, if necessary.

10 Months Before Start Date

Finishing Touches

  • Complete and mail applications. Your application is your marketing document. Sell yourself. Keep copies of everything you send.
  • Complete the FAFSA no earlier than Jan. 1; but no later than the campus or state deadline. This form must be filed by any student who wishes to be considered for the federal financial-aid programs.
  • Submit any forms required by the schools' financial aid offices. To avoid bankrupting yourself in the first year, you should work out a sound financial plan from the beginning.

Five Months Before Start Date

The Final Countdown

  • Await decision from the admissions committees.
  • Receive financial aid award notices from schools. Project your resources and costs.
  • Consider educational loans to bridge any gap between financial aid and total expenses.
  • Receive response letters from schools.
  • Decide which offer to accept. Some aspects to consider are culture, rankings, average starting salary, placement rate, campus, cost, class profile, class size, grading policy, specialized versus general curriculum and location.
  • send in acceptance of admission and financial aid.

Two Months Before Start Date

Grad School, Here You Come!

  • Congratulate yourself. Throw a party.
  • Prepare yourself financially, reducing credit card debt and paying off bills.
  • Establish a financial management plan for your time in school.
  • Take a vacation. The road ahead is going to be tough.

"I spent the first few weeks of my first graduate classes convinced that everyone else knew way more than I did and that I was an idiot and wouldn't make it. Of course, everyone else is thinking the same thing, but it was really hard at first," says Jay Fahlen '01, graduate student researcher and M.S./Ph.D. student in the electrical engineering department at UCLA.

  • Start preparing yourself mentally for the start of classes.
"The biggest surprise for first-year graduate students who have just come from earning their undergraduate degree is the lack of structure. You must be active in your own education. No one is going to tell you what books to read and when to have the first drafts of your papers done unless you ask. You must be proactive and figure out where your weaknesses lie, and work toward strengthening those weaknesses both on your own and by asking your professors for help and suggestions," says Professor Morgan.

Copyright © 2014 UCLA Alumni