Ready to immerse yourself into the academia world of grad school? Make sure you’re prepared to get in first. Photo courtesy of cheri lucas.. Licensed under CC BY-2.0.At the beginning of the summer, I wrote a short series about what college seniors should be doing to get ready for the real world after college. As I myself enter my senior year, I’m trying to keep all of those things in mind to make myself a more marketable choice for either employers or those in admissions offices. However, as I am leaning towards going to graduate school soon after graduating from my undergraduate program, I am realizing that there are more concrete things that I should be doing to prepare for the grad school process.

As I began to think about graduate school, I started to panic. Some of my friends have already set their date on their GRE, have narrowed down their grad school choices, and are already filling out applications. I mean, wow. I feel so far behind. I hope that those who are going through the same thing that I am can learn from what I’m doing to prepare myself and not feel so overwhelmed by the whole process, because it is extremely terrifying.

Narrow Down Your Interests

Clearly as a senior, you’ve already been immersed in your major for a few years. You’ve taken all the classes, met all the professors, and feel comfortable in your own field. However, when you apply for graduate school,  you’re usually applying for a very specific niche within that field. For instance, I’m not just going to go to grad school for Communication. I’ll be going to study something very specific, like media law or TV production or fan cultures. If you know what your specific niche is within your field, that is awesome. Some people (ahem, me) aren’t quite so sure yet.

Before you can go much further, you should start evaluating what your particular interests are in your major. What is it that really inspires you? What academic articles do you really love reading? Once you realize what that is, then you should start doing extracurricular work in that subsection. Start a blog about it, communicate with others who talk about. Start an independent research class with a professor about the subject. This is the route that I am taking. My independent study will be focused on something extremely specific within the field of Communication and will help narrow the kinds of programs I look for in graduate schools. Go all out in this specific area and become an undergraduate expert on it. It will make you really stand out to the programs you apply to.

Prepare for the GRE

If you have not already signed up for the GRE, do so immediately. I’m signed up to take the test in October, on a weekend that I don’t have anything major due. Check your calendar to make sure you can take the test on a date that you’re not too stressed out with school already.

It also helps to buy a preparation book or two. You can take a course if you wish, but I’m self-teaching myself the methods of how to answer GRE questions and don’t seem to be having much of a problem with it. Applications for grad schools are usually due between December and January, so make sure you take the test sooner rather than later so that your scores can be sent to your desired schools in time.

Start Researching Programs

Now that you’ve narrowed down what you want to focus on in grad school, you can use that to decide which program you’d like to actually study in. This itself is a daunting task because there are so many options. It’s like choosing a college all over again. There are two really great ways to start narrowing your focus if you literally have no idea where to start. First, think of the academic figures whom you admire. For me, it’s the “father of fandom” Henry Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins has taught at MIT and currently teaches at USC. Thus, my attention of graduate schools was immediately drawn there. Look back on articles you’ve read in the past and figure out who keeps recurring. Who is the current authority in your field of interest? Where do they teach?

A second way of choosing grad schools is to look at where your favorite professors went to school. Two of my favorite professors went to the University of Washington in Seattle, and so that immediately goes on my list of schools to check out. Clearly, you should also look at the schools that have the best programs that focus on what you’re interested in specifically, but if you have no idea where to start, those are good places to start.

Ask for Help

About three weeks ago, I felt completely overwhelmed to the point where I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. How am I even supposed to figure all this stuff out by myself? The answer is that you don’t have to. There are reasons we have professors and advisors at school; they’re here to help. Set up a meeting with your advisor or a professor you trust the most and who has known your work for quite sometime. Ask them questions– what do I need to be doing? Where should I apply? What do I need to do between now and the next three months? The next three months?

There’s no shame in asking for help, and having someone to help you guide you through the steps is incredibly helpful. It helps take a bit of the stress off so at least you have a general guideline of what you need to do instead of having absolutely nothing to go on. Applying for grad school is an extremely exhausting process, so make sure you’re prepared as we enter application season.

What are you doing to prepare for graduate school? Let us know in the comments!

[via USAToday College]