Graduate student

Expert interview: how to prepare for grad school now

By: Tylie DiBene, a senior majoring in justice studies, an Adulting Ambassador and First-Year Success coach 

As a justice studies major with dreams of becoming a defense attorney, I have been planning to apply to and attend a graduate program (law school) for the past few years. There’s a lot of information out there about how to apply, what you need to do as an undergraduate and which courses you should take, but it’s hard to know what’s really important and what might not make much of a difference in the long run. I reached out to a current graduate student and second-year transfer coach with the First-Year Success Center, Amber Layne. She shared her experience of planning ahead, applying and getting accepted into graduate school. 

What should undergrads do now that will prepare them for grad school? 

There are a few things you should be doing now, no matter what year you’re in, that will help you get accepted to and thrive in grad school:

  • Research the minimum requirements of the program(s) you plan to apply to. Find the required GPA, course requirements and exam scores that meet the minimum requirements to apply.  

  • Think about your personal story. You’ll be writing personal statements when applying for grad programs, and thinking about what makes you different, what you’re passionate about, and who you want to be outside of your GPA will help you lay the groundwork. When you start applying for programs and writing personal statements, I recommend using ASU’s Writing Center to ensure you’re submitting your best work and that your essay is error-free.

  • Learn to manage your time. In my experience, grad school professors don’t chase you down to get your work done, they expect you to know what is due and when. It’s very important to be able to manage your time in grad school because there is a lot of reading, so get started now and be grad school-ready. 

  • Start making connections. Look into joining student chapters of professional organizations. And find out who the prominent academics are in your field (by researching professors in relevant programs, searching for authors of studies or research projects you’re interested in or asking others in professional organizations) and find them on Twitter. This is an unreal opportunity, because this is often where you will hear about job postings, hot topics being discussed or debated in the field, and it is a great way to open doors for those mentor/mentee relationships. Just remember to always be professional and respectful.

Even if you haven't even thought about grad school until now and you're starting to feel stressed, don’t worry. You still have plenty of time to find a program and apply, you may not have the same amount of time as others, but you can do it. Come in and meet with a success coach at the First-Year Success Center if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Your coach will break down what to do each week moving forward.

What are good resources for exploring different programs? 

Your advisor (find yours in the academic support team box in My ASU) is an incredible resource if you’re open and transparent with them. Go in and tell them, “I’m not sure what I want to do. I’m thinking of grad school, but I don’t know what I love enough to go to grad school for.” You can even ask if they can suggest some elective courses you may find interesting.  

How do you decide if a program is right for you?

To determine if a program is a good fit, look at the school’s website and dive into what they’re offering. I recommend looking into:

  • What the campus culture is like.

  • Who’s in the administrative leadership positions.

  • What the required coursework looks like and if that will work for you. 

  • What your experience might look like.

  • If the professors are doing research you’re interested in. 

Use your LinkedIn account to connect with current students in the programs you're interested in. Find students who share a similar identity as you and check in to ensure that you are not entering a program that goes against your views and identities.          

One more great resource is from ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services. They offer a grad school and test prep resource, with free and discounted grad school entrance exam test prep and helpful handouts. Finally, don’t forget to check out the graduate programs available at Arizona State University.

The last thing I want to add is to believe in yourself and don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back. You have value, and you’ll need to learn to be kind to yourself, how to practice self care, and how to manage your time and energy while in grad school.

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