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When Should You Apply to Grad School?

Enrolling in a graduate school program is becoming more popular, and even more recommended in some fields. While a college education is a great start in finding a career, a graduate degree can advance and set you apart from others. Whether you are continuing your education in the same field as your undergrad or potentially pursuing a degree in a subject that differs from your previous study, knowing when to apply is vital.

Now, on to the big question: Just when is it time for you to apply to grad school?

Starting grad school while still in undergrad

Depending on the school and program you are interested in, you may be able to begin grad school classes while you are finishing your undergrad degree. This is a great way to consolidate the time it takes to receive both degrees, which means you will be heading into your field of study earlier. Not only does it save time, it often also saves money. Another benefit is that your graduate and undergraduate classes will be further integrated and you will have the benefit of a continuous track of study.

There are disadvantages to this process as well, however. Often, the course load is a lot heavier with this expedited track, which means you will likely be putting in more hours than your peers who are in more standard programs. It may also mean you won’t have as much time for an outside job or internship that could give you additional valuable experience.

If you are wanting to take this track, you will need to start applying early in your undergrad career. Typically, you apply to these programs after you have been accepted and admitted to a college, but these programs may come with further requirements. Each program and each university is different, so if this is a track you are interested in, you will need to begin to research and apply while you are applying to colleges or very shortly after.  

Going to grad school directly after completing undergrad

For some, making the decision to go straight to grad school after they receive their undergraduate degree is the most beneficial for their goals. One benefit of going straight into grad school is you may end up with your graduate degree more efficiently and be able to get a head-start into the competitive job market over some of your peers. You also will not have much of a break in your schooling, which means your college studying skills may be more fresh in your mind, ultimately leaving you better prepared for the class load.

Some disadvantages include the cost of these programs, which can be prohibitive in some circumstances for those who have not yet held a full-time job. You are also potentially putting off getting real-world experience in your field, which can be just as important as a higher degree.

If you decide you would like to go to grad school right after graduating from undergrad, you should begin your search and application process the summer before your final year of undergrad at the latest. Just like a college application, graduate school applications require a lot of materials that will take time to collect, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores. You will likely also need to invest time in prepping for grad school entrance exams, such as the GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, or GRE. Ensure you are aware of the varying deadlines for these exams’ registrations, as well as your prospective schools’ deadlines for accepting these test scores.

Entering grad school after starting your career

Some prospective grad students take a few years (or even several years) off before they apply to go back to school. There are several advantages to this way of thinking. It allows you to get some work experience, save up money for tuition, and overall strengthen your grad school application. It also allows you to see if you really are passionate about your field of study outside the classroom. Moreover, some employers will pay for their employees to attend grad school, which can be a huge advantage.

A disadvantage is the difficulty of going back to school after a long break. Working and being in school are very different, and it can be a challenging adjustment to go back. It also may be difficult for some to put their career on hold.

If you are applying to grad school after a break in schooling, you should begin preparing at least a year before applications are due. With a major lifestyle change from work to school, there are several preparations that need to be made, such as working with your current employer to inform them of your plans. It also may be a bit more difficult to track down old school records, test scores, and letters of recommendation, so allow ample time to complete these tasks.

Like any process, applying to grad school takes time and effort to impress. Whenever you do decide to apply, keep these factors in mind.
Brittany Phillips is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.