So you want to go to grad school: Choosing the right university

Ok, so here is post number two for my series of going to grad school. Alright, so you have decided that you want to go to grad school, but now you need to figure out where you want to apply. Once again everything is going to be from a biology perspective since that is what I am most familiar with.

The first thing you want to do is consider what you want to focus your research on. You probably have some sort of idea based on undergraduate research that you have taken part in or papers you have read in class. Now, it’s time to do some research. You need to find labs at universities that are doing the research you are interested in. Now, read papers from those labs to get an idea of the research going on. Try to make sure the papers are recent. You don’t want to get all worked about about stuff that was going on five years ago since there is a good chance that they have moved on from that work.

Ok, now email those professors who run those labs. I can tell you that this is absolutely vital. Make sure the email is well written. Let them know that you have an interest in their lab, why you are interested, mention any background in research you may have, and then be sure to ask if they are interested in taking on more students. Some professors will tell you that they have no room for students currently. This is often because they are trying to fund the students they already have and are not financially able to take on any others. If they do say they have room, start a dialogue with them. Ask about current research going on in the lab, if there are any other papers that you can read, etc. You want to be sure they know your name, because further down the line if the university accepts you, the professor has to say they are willing to take you on as a student. They are much more likely to do this if they have some idea of who you are.

Once you have found a set of professors, you will need to start looking into the requirements for graduate school at the universities where those professors are located. Requirements might include GPA, GRE scores, and pre-requisites. If you feel your a deficient in any of those areas, feel free to email the graduate school coordinator or the professor you are interested in and see how much of a hindrance those issues might be. If you had a bad couple of first years but showed improvement later, they will probably take that into consideration.

Ok, so once you have figured out what universities you want to apply to, it’s time to prepare to apply. That means taking the GRE and getting your application in tip top shape. More on that in my next post in this series.

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