Your imagination is yours. You can remember the past you choose, rehearse the future you want, and identify with the real and fictional heroes and events of your selection. ~John-Roger and Peter McWilliams
Question #91024 posted on 03/10/2018 10:08 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

This is for any writers who are planning on/currently attending grad school. At what point did you decide on doing so? What influenced your decision? How can you prepare as an undergrad?
Thanks,
-Considering

A:

Hello person,

I am a doctoral student. I decided I wanted to do grad school during the final year of my undergrad. I knew that in order to get the job I wanted I needed an advanced degree. Additionally, I was very interested in the material we were talking about in class that was relevant to what I wanted to do. I felt quite sad at graduation because I had to do a gap year before going back to school.

I would consult with someone in your desired field about how to best prepare for grad school as they will have the most specific knowledge about what you will need to do. That's the first thing. 

As far as general advice goes, it's best to have a well-rounded application with as few gaps as possible. You don't want to waste space in your statement of intent discussing why your application has a weakness (e.g., low GPA, no or limited research experience, etc.). 

Most graduate programs have a large research component because they are designed to prepare you for academia. If this is true of your target programs, getting involved in research is really important (preferably more than one lab, if possible). Then work hard be competent and independent (obviously you will need training but don't make anyone feel like they are babysitting you). Don't drag your feet on doing stuff. Also, getting any publications is a huge plus. 

On that note, getting involved with professors in other ways (such as by being a TA, for example) are important as well. Basically, find ways to work for professors. It's important to get letters of recommendation and letters from someone you have worked/volunteered for than someone whose class you got an A in. It may also be advantageous to do service out in the community, but that really depends on your field.

Often committees use GPA and standardized test scores to screen applications, so having a decent GPA and GRE/GMAT/MCAT/DAT/LSAT/whatever is helpful. At the very least, aim to get a few points above average for your field/desired school. If your GPA is not high because you struggle with school in general, reconsider whether you really want to go to graduate school. If you are good at school but not good at taking tests, prepare a lot for the standardized test you will be taking.

That's all I can think of for right now. Good luck.

-Sheebs

A:

Dear Considering,

I am also considering grad school. I'm pretty sure I'm going to go, but I'm not entirely sure whether or not I'm going to go/whether to work first and then go to grad school/where I would go. Even though it's not required for my field, but there's so much I want to learn that I'll probably go to grad school so I have another few years to learn cool engineering stuff. I'd say that for me the two biggest factors in deciding whether or not to go are whether or not you need it for your career, and personal fulfillment. 

There are a few different things to consider before going to grad school. The good news is that a lot of these things are useful whether or not you go to grad school in the end. Somethings you might want to consider are preparing yourself academically, preparing to get into the school of choice, and preparing to pay for grad school.

One thing I'm doing to prepare myself for grad school is getting involved in research. From what I hear, doing research is a pretty big part of grad school, so getting now will help me have the skills to succeed. Getting started early is exposing me to a lot of the different disciplines in my field so if I do go to grad school I'll at least have a general idea what to specialize in. All the grad students in my lab tell me that it will help me prepare for grad school so I'd recommend that. 

My next recommendation is to look into the specific requirements and expectations for your field of study as well as the individual programs you would like to apply to. Each school and field is different, so for one program you might not need research experience, but be expected to have profession experience, community service, or a portfolio of personal projects. I'd recommend talking to a professor that you think is cool about what they'd recommend, as well as the academic advisor/councilor for your major. They'd have good, specific, suggestions for you.

The last thing that I am doing is figuring out how I am going to pay for grad school. There is no way that I can afford grad school, so I have been looking at different options. Try to have a competitive GPA so you can get fellowships and grants to help pay for school. I know that in many fields, most graduate students are hired as researches and get their tuition payed as well as a stipend. Do research now and look for graduate programs with funded research openings so you don't have to pay for it. If you aren't sure about graduate school now, it might be worth trying to look for a job at a company that would help you pay for tuition. Grad school can be a huge expense and it can be hard to get funding quickly, so if you're considering it's never too early to look into.

Good luck on deciding on whether or not to go to grad school! I'm in the same boat so I feel your pain, but we've got this! I'm sure you'll be successful either way. Hope this helps.

Peace,

Tipperary

A:

Dear you,

At what point did you decide on doing so?

The hypothetical idea of law school existed for a while and gradually became more concrete as I approached the end of my undergrad and didn't have plans that I preferred to grad school. I took the LSAT, which I guess you could view as one of the early concrete preparation points, the summer between my Junior and Senior years.

What influenced your decision?

I thought it would be interesting/cool and I could be good at it, that it would keep me in the Provo dating scene, that it would prevent me from having to go immediately into the work force (I wasn't excited to immediately start working in my undergrad field). Additionally my circumstances were such that the financial opportunity cost was very low, even if I didn't plan on a long, lucrative legal career.

How can you prepare as an undergrad?

I'm sure this varies significantly by program, but here are some things that were helpful for me:

  • Took LSAT relatively early so I would have had time to re-take it and/or do a prep course if I'd felt it was necessary. This also allowed me to go into my decisionmaking process with a feeling for how competitive of an applicant I was. This is particularly important for law school, because there are law schools that will happily take your tuition money and admit you even if you do not have the skills/abilities necessary to ever pass the bar, so you end up with an expensive and not terribly useful degree. It's helpful to have an idea of what schools you're a viable candidate for and whether the financial aid/career prospects/etc. of those schools are actually interesting to you.
  • Did respectably well during undergrad so that I had a pretty good GPA and not a whole bunch of Ws.
  • I had an undergrad that could have stood on its own if it needed to. This was beneficial because I wasn't LOCKED into the decision to go to grad school. Some people know from early on that they want to do a graduate program and are comfortable doing an undergrad that's more difficult to get work with because they know they're getting an advanced degree, but that wasn't my plan.
  • Take advantage of relevant resources at BYU, including classes, grad fairs, grad advisement offices, etc. I attended the Law Fair, met with the pre-Law advisor multiple times, did an undergrad externship that placed me in a law firm, and took a formal logic class. None of these things locked me into law school, but all helped me become better informed or prepared for it.

Good luck! Grad school can be intense, but it can be awesome too.

~Anne, Certainly

A:

Dear Considering,

Currently my life plan is to go back to school and get an MBA, once I'm in a position to convince my employer to pay for it. I didn't figure out my employment goals until after finishing my undergrad, so I did essentially no preparation for it, which is less than ideal, because I imagine going back to school after a few years off will be really difficult.

So if at all possible, my advice would be to figure out specific career goals while you're still completing your Bachelor's, because balancing school and full time work isn't going to be the most fun thing I've ever done.

Love,

Luciana

A:

Dear Considering,

I officially decided to do it 4 weeks ago. I really should have decided earlier, since I only have a year until I graduate. I strongly suggest preparing for grad school now, even if you're not entirely certain you'll do it. You'll either gain a lot of experience and professor friends that will help you go to grad school, or you'll gain lot of experience and professor friends that will help you with whatever other plans you follow. 

What influenced my decision? Well, I think the largest influence was minnow. I had always assumed I would be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), like my mom. I do not want this to sound like I'm against SAHMs because I think they're amazing and it's a wonderful path to follow. However, like most things, it's not a path for all women. Even in high school I realized I wanted to have a career and be a mom, but family and mission experiences "convinced" me that I needed to be focused on having a family instead.

Enter minnow.

minnow let me dream again. He saw that I was interested in research and teaching, and encouraged me to look into grad schools. When my dad told me to "prioritize [minnow's] career," or that I would likely drop out of my PhD program once I had a kid, minnow told me to follow my heart and get into the best PhD program I possibly could, and that he was just as capable of taking care of a child as I was. When my family told me to spend all of summer with minnow, minnow supported me spending spring semester at BYU to focus on researching and boosting my grad school application. Having that support is really what encouraged me to do what I've always been interested in doing.

Another importance influence was my professors. I've been talking with a lot of professors since I started seriously contemplating getting a PhD, especially female professors, and they've shown me how wonderful and possible it is to go to grad school and become a professor, especially while balancing a family.

My coworkers (or, well, the people who work in my office) have been huge influences as well. Several of them are going to grad school—one is already getting all her acceptance letters—and they have answered all my questions and concerns about which grad school is best, how to get in, how to prepare, etc. They've helped me feel more confident about my chances of getting accepted. I know I wouldn't be talking to all the professors I am if not for their influence and nudges.

There's many ways you can prepare for grad school as an undergraduate. First, talk to professors, especially those in fields you're interested in. I was really nervous to do this at first, but seriously if you just walk into their office, say, "I'm thinking about grad school, what advice can you give me?" they will light up and give you more help than you need. Second, find what's most important for your program. If you're interested in getting a PhD in political science, you'll want to have lots of research experience, good scores on the GRE, good GPA, great letters of recommendation, etc. You might learn grad schools care more about research than good grades, so you can refocus your efforts. Find out what you need for your program. Don't be like that poor girl I heard about who spent months studying for the GRE before she realized her program didn't take that test. Finally, use all opportunities given you. You never know what doors it might open.

If you have any other questions, please email me at guppyofdoom@theboard.byu.edu! I know firsthand how much it can help talking with people who are also planning on graduate school, and I'd love to help out in any way I can!

-guppy of doom