Preparing for Graduate School
Looking Like a Graduate Student while an Undergraduate
Admission to grad school is often highly competitive. Review committees reduce the risk of making bad choices by selecting students who already look like grad students. Here's what that might mean:
Develop a Good Academic Reputation
Do well in classes: speak up, demonstrate commitment
Keep a clean, orderly transcript. Nothing will make your final transcript shinier and more saleable than that "Graduated with Honors" designation and all those H's. This is especially true in this age of grade inflation where a 3.75+ GPA doesn't put you in very exclusive company. Obviously low grades aren't really attractive but don't stress out too much over the occasional A- or B, especially if they're earned in tough classes . Both are probably preferable to a 'P' (Pass). You can pick up the odd B and still maintain a high GPA but a 'P' says that you're overly cautious and lack self-confidence. It could mean your work was at the C- level. Other blemishes are 'W' ( W ithdrawal) and 'I' ( I ncomplete) grades. Pay very close attention to the rules so that you avoid these at all cost. Research your prospective classes thoroughly. All faculty are supposed to leave a syllabus on file with the department secretary . Many include the syllabi for their classes on departmental or personal web pages. Do your homework before the semester starts. Likewise, it's not smart to repeat a course as both the old and new grades are shown on the permanent transcript. Changing majors reflects indecision or that you couldn't hack it in your first choice. Defer declaring a major if you're uncertain. Talk to seniors who're well along in the program. Sample courses (and/or review syllabi) in your prospective major(s) without declaring until you're confident the major will work for you.
Go beyond the required readings and make connections among classes and disciplines
Behave with integrity
Develop fluency in a foreign language, spend a semester studying abroad www.usu.edu/studyabroad/
Participate in the Honors Program at University and/or Department Levels
Plan to do a senior thesis/project
Seek awards, enter contests such as writing or design competitions.
Engage in Undergraduate Research or Creative Activity
Apply for an URCO Grant; see or pick up a hard copy at the Provost's Office www.usu.edu/research/undergrad/urco/
Work with a faculty mentor on a project or in a lab
Present your work to the public:
- at Utah State's 'Posters on the Hill' www.usu.edu/vpr/recognition/poth/
- at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research http://conferences.utah.edu/ncur2003/index.html
- or participate in Student Showcase: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research, http://www.usu.edu/research/undergrad/showcase/
Become familiar with the professional organizations in your field; know the leading authorities and know which universities are ranked highly in the area.
Work in a job on campus related to your field or that nurtures valuable skills. Visit the Honors Program to learn more. http://www.usu.edu/honors
Seek an Internship Experience related to your major.
Join the Honorary Society for your major -- ask the Department Head for info.
Ensure that faculty will compose excellent letters of recommendation
Establish a connection with at least one faculty member each semester
Work one-on-one with at least one faculty member over the course of your undergraduate experience
Get to know the Department Head and the Department Honors Advisor.
Participate in the Honors Program; get to know its Director and faculty through small classes
Develop excellent communication (writing and speaking) skills, computer skills, problem-solving skills, and teamwork skills.
Write frequently; seek feedback
Read, read, read
After you develop a broad base of knowledge of the discipline, seek an area to concentrate in. In grad school you will not study "Physics", you will study "Sub-atomic structures."
Take interest in others and be interesting
Annually, draft a statement of purpose: background, experiences in field, educational goals, career ambitions. This self-assessment will provide the basis for an application.
Be a Good Citizen
Serve in an elected office
Volunteer to serve on committees
Engage in service learning and outreach
Exemplify the land-grant tradition of learning, discovery, and outreach
Financing Grad School
Seek fellowships & awards as an undergraduate
Not only will these fellowships obviate the need for loans, winning one virtually guarantees you a Fellowship in Grad School. Most departments/colleges offer both scholarships and awards for merit. Investigate those in your discipline. Here are two prominent national awards:
The $7,500 awards will be made on the basis of merit to two groups of students -- those who will be college juniors and those who will be college seniors -- who have outstanding potential and intend to pursue [research] careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. Max 4/campus, 300 awarded nationally. Estimate USU's potential @ 1-2 / year. Goldwater scholars won their Science Fair competitions in grade school and have continued to put in "overtime" engaged in research throughout their academic career. Should be evidence of increased "ownership" of the topic, greater originality, involvement with the professional side of the discipline. http://www.usu.edu/honors/fellowships_grants/goldwater.htm
Morris K. Udall Scholarships
Foundation awards scholarships to undergraduate students who intend to pursue careers related to environmental public policy and to Native American and Alaska Native undergraduate students who intend to pursue careers in health care and tribal public policy. Fifty-five $5,000 awards/ year. We have not had any nominees nor is the Foundation itself forthcoming with a profile of the successful candidate. At a guess, we'd say a strong academic record, an intellectual interest in some aspect of the environment and a record of accomplishment as a steward of the earth's resources would be prerequisites. Foundation also awards 2 Ph.D. Fellowships/year. http://www.usu.edu/honors/fellowships_grants/udall.htm
Market aspects of graduate finance
Consider the likelihood of financial support in Med School, MBA, Law School vs Physics, English, Political Science. Generally speaking, the more money you can expect to make after an advanced degree, the more expensive will be your graduate education. In fields like Physics, they pay you to pursue a Ph.D. In Medicine or Law, expect to run up big debts. In English, scholarships are scarce but most grad students can expect to be employed as instructors
Relationship between tuition, prestige and fellowship opportunities
Sometimes the net cost of attending a prestigious private school is less than it would be at a public institution. While the tuition is higher at the private school, they will also have far more fellowship $$ available.
Applying to graduate school while seeking employment
One of the most likely sources of finance is employment -- as an instructor, a computer geek, webdesigner, research assistant -- in the department you're applying to. Make sure your CV lists practical skills like these.
In general, federal loans for graduate study are easier to obtain than for undergraduate study. For example, $5k max/year vs $8.5k and you don't use your parent's income as a criterion for eligibility. Also the "full-time" requirements are lighter.
Many graduate programs in business, technology, the helping professions and other applied fields cater to working adults. They offer classes in the evening, weekends and over the internet. So, you put off buying a home or having children and your "savings" is invested in paying for grad school.
Seeking National Fellowships
Setting your sights on a prestigious national fellowship is a surefire method of paying for your education and giving your career a rocket start. Here's a listing of some programs that are very well known:
The Rotary Centers for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution offer individuals committed to peace and cooperation the opportunity to pursue a two-year master's-level degree in international studies, peace studies, and conflict resolution at one of the seven Rotary Centers. Academic-Year Ambassadorial Scholarships provide funding for one academic year of study in another country. This award is intended to help cover round-trip transportation, tuition, fees, room and board expenses, and some educational supplies up to US$25,000 or its equivalent. Academic-Year Scholarships are the most common type of scholarship offered; nearly 1,000 were awarded for study in 2000-01. Apply to home town Rotary Club, deadlines vary widely. http://www.rotary.org/foundation/educational
College seniors and college graduates without teaching experience qualify as Junior Fellows; must agree to teach in a secondary school for no less than one year for each full year of study (of the roots, principles, framing and development of the United States Constitution.) under a fellowship; qualify for study toward one of the appropriate master's degrees. Applicants are strongly encouraged to pursue degrees in history or political science. Senior Fellowships are awarded to experienced teachers who wish to undertake work for a graduate degree on a part-time basis; they have up to five years to complete their degree. 1/state/year. Send directly to Foundation by 3/1/02. Local representative: Prof. McNamara [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Fulbright Student Program
Annual competition for awards to graduating seniors, young professionals, artists and graduate students to over 140 countries. Awards vary somewhat but typically involve 100% of expenses. USU has about 1-2/year.
Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
Awards merit-based $30,000 ($3k=senior year, $27k=grad school) scholarships to college juniors who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service, and wish to attend graduate or professional school to help prepare for their careers. Truman Scholars participate in leadership development programs and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government. Mary Tolar, a member of our "Board of Visitors," is a staff member at the Foundation. The typical awardee, aside from impeccable academic credentials at a small selective institution, shows a sustained, focused record of social/political activism. State of Utah has had about 1/year.
A Rhodes Scholarship is tenable at the University of Oxford. It may be held for a minimum of two years, the duration of certain courses, or for a maximum of three years. The future Rhodes scholar has managed to achieve great distinction in their discipline while also practicing a sport or some other pursuit that demonstrates physical rigor. And they have dedicated a significant part of their life to a project or projects that directly benefits others. In short the future Rhodes scholar looks, on paper, like 3 individuals. The Rhodes is a crowning achievement for students who've already been awarded fellowships such as the Truman and Goldwater.
British Marshall Scholarships
Marshall Scholarships finance young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. The (40/year) Scholarships are tenable at any British university and cover two years of study in any discipline, at either undergraduate or graduate level, leading to the award of a British University degree. Compared to Rhodes, there is a greater emphasis on the "fit" between a student's preparation and goals and a specific university/academic program in England. Application procedure similar to the Rhodes with similar dates.
The George J. Mitchell Scholarships
Aimed at grad students or those eligible for grad study. Twelve Scholars are eligible to attend institutions of higher learning in Ireland, including the seven universities in the Republic of Ireland and the two universities in Northern Ireland, for one academic year of graduate study. Very similar to the Marshall
General advice given to all fellowship applicants:
- Show a clear trajectory. Refer to pre-college experiences that forecast future direction. Identify projects, courses, professors in college that sharpened focus, deepened interest, advanced understanding. Project future study and career plans. Show how fellowship provides the bridge from where you are now to where you're headed.
- Show not tell. Describe accomplishments/plans rather than feelings, hopes, philosophy. A student completing a demanding course of study with a high GPA (all evident from application packet) will be assumed to be hard-working and of strong character. These traits and their genesis need not be documented.
- Be careful in recounting details of your personal life. In Utah, a college junior who's married and has started a family is lauded. In most of the rest of the US (where the award judges come from), such behavior would be considered immature and irresponsible. Do indicate if you have served a mission, that accounts for the break in your college career, but lengthy treatment of your devotion to religion and family will not help you in this arena. Finally, for a female fellowship applicant to identify motherhood and care of husband/household as a significant career ambition would be the kiss of death.
- Guide referees. Each should focus on a different aspect of application: e.g. applicant's public service (if appropriate); academic prowess; independent research; arrangements made with institution abroad. Each referee should have copies of fellowship program philosophy as well as applicant's essay beforehand.
- Prepare essay well enough ahead of deadline to solicit feedback from referees and Honors Director.