In addition to getting good grades and taking the GRE, there’s tons of stuff that students who are considering going to graduate school should be doing during their undergraduate studies to improve their chances of having a competitive admissions profile.
Below, find ten things we think graduate school-bound undergrads should be trying to accomplish before applying to grad school and why.
#1: Project Poster
Whether it’s done for a course project, for a professor you’re working for, or for a conference, having that presentation experience communicates to adcoms that you know what’s expected of graduate researchers and that you won’t be starting from square one when you start that graduate research project.
Almost everyone will give some kind of a presentation during a class in their undergraduate studies. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Instead, you should be actively looking for opportunities to gain public speaking experience in a stressful situation. That could involve anything from speaking at a freshman welcome event to leading campus tours, as long as you’re able to refer back to the experience as one where you gained confidence in presenting to large, important groups of people.
No, we’re not talking about sports or quiz night at the local pub! Academic competitions are great ways to boost your admissions profile and add some differentiation to your academic accomplishments. There are a million different ways you can compete, including robotics competitions, entrepreneurship case competitions, poetry competitions, even culinary competitions. Having a solid top three placing in a competition on your resume also communicates to adcoms that you’re someone who is able to invest time and energy into projects outside of the normal course load.
Having tutoring or mentoring experience under your belt gives adcoms a sense of the kind of teaching assistant or discussion section leader you will be. If you’re going to reference this kind of experience in a statement of purpose or an admissions essay, be sure to focus on the impact you had on your mentees. Did scores improve? Did your mentee overcome a challenge or accomplish something? Show the adcoms that you’re not just a tutor, you’re an awesome one.
#5: Undergraduate Research
Undergraduate research will never be as in depth as graduate or postgraduate research, but even having dipped your toes into the research arena will be a differentiator in your admissions profile. Research is a big part of most graduate programs, and showing adcoms that you’ve already participated in the research process, even to a limited degree, will communicate that you’re ready to take the next step. Additionally, the professors you work for as an undergraduate researcher can be great resources for letters of recommendation.
Similar to research experience, the on-the-job training of a summer or part-time internship can be a valuable thing to have on your admissions profile. Be sure to make the most of the experience, volunteering for any extra projects you can be a part of, establishing networking relationships and recording any useful quantitative successes and accomplishments you helped create. All of these can be valuable additions to a statement of purpose or an admissions essay.
No one wants to come across as one-sided in their admissions essays, and maintaining a healthy dedication to a hobby is one way to diversify your admissions profile. Whether it’s ballet, singing in an a capella group, landscape painting, cooking, or even LARPing, an interesting hobby can add a human dimension to even the most hard-science-y of profiles.
This one is a little harder to accomplish, but with some work and creativity, it can be done. There are several journals of undergraduate research that are peer-reviewed, and while they’re not JAMA, being published as an undergrad will certainly be memorable to an adcom. Additionally, publishing work doesn’t necessarily mean submitting an article to an academic journal. Writing for your university’s newspaper or campus news program, or submitting to a poetry journal could also be great ways to demonstrate writing chops and an understanding of the level of work you’ll be doing as a graduate student.
#9: Undergraduate Thesis
Graduate students are expected to set and meet their own deadlines, and make time in a packed schedule to work on their graduate thesis. A great way to demonstrate to adcoms that you’re ready for this challenge is to complete an undergraduate thesis. Even more impressive would be submitting your undergraduate thesis to an undergraduate research journal and getting published! (see #8)
Similar to maintaining a hobby during your undergrad years, it’s also important to round out your admissions profile by giving back to your community through volunteer work. This can also coincide with your hobbies. For example, volunteering to do admin work for a Choir for people with Parkinson’s, teaching for a dance outreach program, or cooking for a local homeless shelter.
Competition for elite graduate programs is fierce, and having great grades and test scores is only the beginning of what it takes for your application to be given a serious look by these program’s adcoms. Accomplishing everything in this list might seem daunting, but from our experience, we’ve found that students that have an impressive, unique, and well-rounded admissions profile have a better chance of standing out from an already impressive crowd.
That’ll get you started. Still have questions? Reach out, and let’s gab.
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