As long as post-industrial societies continue to experience an increase in jobs in the tertiary job sector and a decrease in jobs in the primary or secondary job sectors, higher education will be advantageous for anyone willing to invest the time, money, and effort. Having a masters degree or a PhD is not just to say you have it. More and more jobs are requiring a minimum of a masters. In certain professions,it is necessary that you hold the terminal degree in your field. For some disciplines the terminal degree is a masters; for other disciplines it is a PhD.
Graduate school is nothing like an undergraduate program. Particularly for graduate studies, the student must be prepared to make sacrifices and to endure psychological and physical (e.g. tiredness) stress. With that said, if you are ready for the challenges it will undoubtedly present, there are some practical suggestions I can give for the admissions process.
1. Prepare Early! Find out what you need to submit to the particular department in which your discipline is located. For example, some departments expect you to submit a sample of your academic work that is relevant to the discipline you wish to pursue. If you don’t keep copies of your undergraduate work, you may find yourself writing a new paper just for this purpose. Make sure you give yourself enough time to write something of merit. Along with this, give people plenty of time to write you letters of recommendation if you are going to need them.
2. If your field of study requires it, don’t wait until the last minute to take the GRE. The preparation course is very expensive, but many people say it is worth it. Likewise, if you need to take the LSAT or another entrance exam, take the time to study for it. If the prep class is not an option for financial reasons, many other resources exist such as CDs or books with practice test questions. Do not underestimate the power of these scores to determine your future. It is likely that you will need them again if you pursue a higher degree.
3. Meet the people in the department for your academic discipline, but don’t forget about the people who work in the Office of Graduate Studies. In terms of your admission, these are the people with whom you frequently need to communicate. A real-life example: when I applied to my master’s program, I was talking with the graduate adviser within the department and didn’t find out until later that he never had my file in front of him. Items I submitted directly to him never made it into my file, which was in the possession of another adviser located in the Office of Graduate Studies. I finally got in touch with this adviser and everything worked out fine, but it taught me to be aware of who is in charge of what in a large bureaucracy like a university.
4. Many times I have heard people complain of difficulties they have experienced dealing with financial aid. In my experience, the best way to get things accomplished with the Financial Aid Office is to physically go there and wait until you can speak with someone face-to-face. Ask a lot of questions and never assume that the money will be there until you have proof that it is.
5. My last suggestion has less to do with getting into the program, but is important in terms of preparing for graduate school: if you have a spouse, children, best friends, or a significant other you need to sit down with them before you even start the program and explain the commitment you are making to your education. They need to get on board before you begin or you could experience role conflict because the people close to you may not have the same expectations for you as graduate school will. As I mentioned earlier, graduate school requires sacrifice. That doesn’t mean you love anyone any less and they need to know this. They also need to know if you have expectations of them, such as giving you quiet time or watching the kids while you are at class.