3 Questions To Answer Before Applying To Grad School

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GMAT book on table in coffee shop.

And, you know, try not to stress out too much while studying.

Going to grad school was one of my better life decisions. As an undergrad, I went from a fashion design major … to a business major … to a degree in international affairs (I wasn’t exactly the most focused student).  For me, capping off a liberal arts education with an MBA was a good investment—and it definitely helped me land a great job.

However, grad school isn’t for everyone. Before you apply to any schools, consider the following three questions. With many schools’ application deadlines looming in December or January, now is the perfect time to answer them.

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1. Do You Know How Much It Will Cost You?

Let’s be frank: The cost of grad school is a major concern. Not only from a tuition standpoint, but also from a lost-salary standpoint (especially if you leave a job to go back to school).

You might want to consider a part-time or weekend graduate program, so you can earn money while in school. And, if you can, consider living with mom and dad to save on living expenses.

Now, there are many loans out there, including Grad PLUS loans. However, before you take those on, check into scholarships or fellowships related to your field and keep in mind how much you’ve already borrowed to date.

2. Can You Wait?

When jobs are tight for recent college grads, graduate school enrollment goes up. But going to grad school is an expensive way to fill time while waiting for the economy to get better.

If you can hold off on applying for a few years after getting your undergraduate degree—no matter what job you initially land—that experience will help you select a program that best fits your interests and skills. (Not to mention that the salary will come in handy paying for it too.)

And some admissions officers  prefer applicants that have work experience. So, working a few years, even at a minimum wage job, may help get you admitted.

3. Have You Completed Everything You Need To?

With application deadlines coming up, staying on top of your application details this fall is key.

  • Transcript: This month, request your official transcripts from your undergraduate institution.
  • Recommendations: Check that the professors writing recommendations for you have everything they need, such as your résumé. This will help them write a great letter on your behalf.
  • Testing: You may have already taken your entrance exam a few times (GRE, GMAT, etc.). But if you need to retake it, sign up now. Not all tests are offered all the time. And you may need some time for more test prep (I know I did). Decide whether you want the scores sent directly to the schools or plan to send them later.
  • Personal statement: Keep working on drafting your personal statement, and have someone proof it. Typos can be a real destraction …
  • Hit send early: Many grad programs offer rolling admissions. So, if you are first in the gate, you have a better shot at getting admitted. Get your full package together—and double-check that your professors submitted their recommendations. Once your application is complete, getting it out early will help.

Waiting It Out

After your applications are out the door, hopefully you can celebrate! The results can take several weeks, so enjoy the “no news is good news” stage.

For me, I only applied to one school, so it’s a really good thing I fit the profile. Who knows how different my life would be if I hadn’t gotten my MBA? And by waiting a few years between undergrad and grad, I was totally ready to head back to the classroom by the time I got there.

What did you consider before applying to grad school? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

(Photo: bitslice cipher)

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