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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:

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

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.

Part-time study

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.