This is the fourth installment of our series on what you should be doing in advance of submitting your graduate school applications. Here are some suggestions on what to do nine months before your application deadlines.
1. Plan to visit campuses: It's one thing to review a website, read printed materials, and communicate with admissions staff on the phone or via E-mail. It is quite another thing to visit a campus in person. Most institutions offer a variety of campus visit programs, which they usually describe on their websites.
[Learn how to use social media to bypass grad admissions offices.]
If you can afford to visit an institution more than once, arrive unannounced the first time. Seeing how you are treated as a complete stranger can be very revealing about what the institution is really like. If you can't afford the time or funds to visit campuses multiple times, consider waiting until you have started the application process before visiting schools.
While on campus, make sure to do the following four things:
• Meet with an admissions staff member: Come prepared with a few questions to ask about the program and about the application process. Also ask if you can sit in on a class.
• Find the student lounge or café: Talk to a few students who are hanging out or studying in popular meeting areas and ask them some questions about the program. Take notes on what you learn.
[Find out when to contact the graduate admissions office.]
• Check out the career development office: When you visit this office, which might also go by "career services," see if you can obtain a list of the services available to students. That list will give you an idea of how helpful the staff is, and how much attention the institution pays to this important aspect of assisting students.
• Visit the alumni office: Ask officials in the alumni relations office if they have information about services offered to graduates of the program. In addition, ask if you can get the names and contact information for recent graduates who live in your geographic area. You will want to contact these individuals down the road to find out how they feel about their overall student experience while enrolled.
Once you have returned from your visit, make sure to jot down some notes for your spreadsheet, giving a grade for the overall visit, as well as a grade for each office and class that you visited.
2. Start preparing for standardized tests: Most grad school admissions committees require the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. In addition, if you enroll at an institution in another country, and the first language of the country is different from your own, you will most likely be required to take a test to demonstrate your level of proficiency in that primary language.
3. Seek materials to help with test prep: You will most likely learn about these resources from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). These organizations have preparation materials available on their websites.
Other companies, such as Barron's, Kaplan, Peterson's, and Princeton Review offer test-preparation classes. In addition, you can go to your local bookstore and find a host of printed materials and study guides.
Keep in mind that standardized tests bring varying degrees of stress for prospective students. Obviously, some individuals do better on these tests than others. While test scores measure a certain level of academic ability, they by no means cover the entire academic arena.
Most admissions committees do not have a cutoff requirement for test scores, but some do. It is a good idea to find out what each of your options looks for and requires.