How to Prepare for Graduate School

Four Parts:Choosing the Right ProgramTailoring the Program to Suit Your NeedsFinancesYour Health

Though every graduate program differs, there are certain commonalities that can be examined when preparing for a transition into graduate school. It is important to consider the basics, as it is easy to overlook common steps when one feels overwhelmed. This article will examine multiple assets and resources available for graduate school and will focus on thesis-based programs.

Part 1
Choosing the Right Program

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    Examine your qualifications and your reasoning. Once you have completed a bachelor's degree, it is important to take a step back and assess your skill set. All graduate schools require that you can demonstrate your capacity for excelling in their specific program. Your qualifications may come in the form of: achieving stellar grades in relevant courses, publishing papers, experience doing a similar type of research, working in an industry similar to the program or obtaining awards in the field. Highlight your achievements and assess yourself to see what it is that sets you apart from other candidates to the graduate schools you have in mind.
    • Remember that a thesis based degree vastly differs from a course based degree. Both degrees require their own qualifications and will lead you down slightly different paths. It is important to study which programs you qualify for and which benefit you more wholesomely in the long term.
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    Examine your long term goals. Your career path may not require a graduate degree and so it is important to truly assess if graduate school is an appropriate next-step for you. Obtaining a graduate degree requires substantial investment of both time and money which could potentially be more of use elsewhere.
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    Contact professors in the department that you are interested in. Their guidance may lead you to reflect on your own life goals and it may improve your reasoning for obtaining a graduate degree in their field. It will also give you an idea of what is required of students in your chosen field.
    • For thesis-based programs, a supervisor is required and so this can be a good exercise in improving your personal network in your field. Don't be afraid of emailing professors or going to functions such as mixers or open houses to speak to them. Most professors are kind, professional and helpful people and they will respect your drive in achieving your goals.
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    Tailor your application. Every program will demand a slightly different skill set and it is important to highlight their requirements. If you are unsure of how to do so, speak to a friend in your field, a mentor or a professor who will be able to provide you with insight and feedback on your applications.
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    Read about new concepts within your field. While applying to your program, it is important to demonstrate that you are deeply involved with current research in your field. While this is not necessarily a requirement, it will improve your communication skills during interviews, conferences and meetings prior to being admit to your program of choice.

Part 2
Tailoring the Program to Suit Your Needs

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    Research ways in which you can make the program suit you. Once admitted to the graduate program, it is important to finesse the program in a way that will suit your needs. This may entail choosing a professor whose research lines up with your dreams, picking the courses best suited for you or making a schedule that reflects your habits and skills. In some cases, it may also be the difference between choosing to obtain a master's or working towards obtaining a PhD instead. It is very important to study just how much wiggle room you have within your program as this could be the deciding factor between a mediocre experience and a fantastic experience.
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    Choose the right professor (for thesis-based programs). If you are part of a thesis based degree, it is important to examine the different professors available for you. While assessing them, consider:
    • Their type of research. There are multiple models used in research; from theoretical, to cell based to human and each one requires a different set of demands. Speak to the different professors and ask them for the pros and cons of working with their models. It is very possible that different methods will pique your interest. Examine what you would like to continue with during your graduate studies. Keep in mind that this may not necessarily be a model you are already trained to work with.
    • Their mentorship capabilities. Since professors are human, each one will behave in their own unique way. This is very often overlooked by students. Some professors are extremely hands-on in their approach and will guide you every step of the way, other professors take a hands-off approach and challenge you to overcome obstacles on your own. Both methods have their merits and it is very important to see what is the style of research that will best suit you. Examine your study habits in undergrad and high school: were you more likely to discuss problems with teachers and classmates or did you prefer to learn using books and published resources? While this may not necessarily predict your habits in graduate school, it can give you powerful insight on what you are most comfortable with.
    • Their history of publications. If you are interested in becoming a prominent researcher, examine their history of publication by checking online search engines such as NCBI and PubMed. While this does not perfectly predict their habit, it can give you insight on where they stand in their career. Is this professor a prominent figure? Is this professor finishing up their career or just starting out?
    • Other factors including their funding, their reputation, and their work.

Part 3

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    Check to see if there is a stipend for graduate students in your program. While this is not always the case, it will certainly help understanding your financial situation.
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    Apply for any scholarship or fellowship that you hear of. A lot of the committees which distribute scholarships can overlook certain aspects of your application if they like something else. For example: if you barely meet the grades cut-off, but your project is excellent, you may have more of a chance than somebody who has amazing grades and a mediocre project.
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    Apply for any teaching assistant positions that you are qualified for. It is not necessary, but doing so will increase your experience working with students and it will also help you consolidate your knowledge of the program.
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    Consider getting a part time job. This scenario may not be ideal for work heavy disciplines, but it is doable especially if you have excellent time management skills.
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    Check to see if you have any untapped resources. Do you have family members willing to help you pay for your schooling? Do you have unused trinkets that you could sell? Do you have any money that is lying around?

Part 4
Your Health

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    Keep your stress under control. Mental health is a serious concern for graduate students as it is common for students to negatively react to very stressful situations. Always make sure that your mood is in check and seek help immediately if you feel that there is something wrong.
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    Pay attention to your physical health as you want to ensure that your graduate studies do not negatively impact you in a long term fashion. Check to see if there is a gym available to students at your school. Consider walking a little bit to your place of work by getting off of transit a few stops early, parking further away than the allocated spot or adding frequent work out sessions during the week.
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    Always make sure that you factor in time to feed yourself nutritious and filling meals. Your work is not more important than your health as a sick person cannot operate optimally.
    • Consider downloading an app to catalogue your meals
    • Consider planning your meals during the weekend so you always know what to eat
    • Keep healthy snacks by your place of work so you can always manage to curb cravings
    • Drink plenty of water and avoid over-consumption of sugared beverages


  • Contact graduate students that are in the program that you wish to go into
  • Go to your school registrar and ask them about aids and services available to students
  • Always be conscious of your spending and the timeline for your schooling
  • Be reasonable with your expectations of yourself as you start out your schooling
  • Keep a calendar and schedule. Organization is a small thing that goes a long way
  • Label and date everything as soon as you begin. Graduate school can take quite a while and you never know when you may need to go back to check something old


  • Even when you control for everything possible, your professor may turn out to be awful. Never assume that you have to put up with things just because you started committing. If you find a problem, confront it as early as possible
  • Depression is very common with students who make a big transition in their life. if you feel you are becoming lethargic, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, feeling prolonged bouts of sadness longer than usual or unexplained anxiety, seek help
  • There will be times when your performance is not as great as you wish it were, this is normal. Do not get disappointed with yourself or discouraged

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