by Jake Harry
To refresh your memory my name is Jake and I am a senior this year in aerospace engineering. I have had a blast during my last four years, met a lot of incredible people, did some cool things, and, yes, learned a few things along the way.
After graduation there are two paths that people in STEM majors tend to choose from: getting a full-time job or going to graduate school. I’m going to talk about the latter.
There is debate amongst people as to the “right time” to go to graduate school. The truth is it depends on an individual’s situation and what the direction they want to pursue with their careers. Some people wait to go to graduate school until after they get a few years of work experience under their belts, others (like myself) intend just to power through and go straight to an advanced degree program.
My thought process was that I would use my current academic momentum to carry me into graduate school. It is often said that it’s difficult to come back to school after being away from it for a number of years. I personally believe that if you are truly motivated to getting the degree then factors like timing don’t matter. You just do it.
In any case, the path that I chose, and that many other students choose, requires an application process. I will briefly outline the process that I have come to know over the past several months. I will frame this outline with the fact that I am an engineering major applying to an engineering graduate program; the frame might be a slightly different shape/color for different majors.
1. Determine what you want to specialize in during Graduate School.
2. Determine the schools that are good at what you want to specialize in.
a. Try and cut the list to a reasonable number to which you could apply
b. You don’t want to play the numbers game and apply to as many as possible, this will undoubtedly hurt the quality of some of your essays (yes there are essays)
c. Rank said schools in the order you should apply to them
3. Take the GRE (or equivalent standardized exam)
a. It is your worst nightmare actualized in the form of a computer exam
b. Prepare for it
c. Fight through it
d. If possible, don’t take twice (it costs a pretty penny)
e. If impossible, iterate steps (b) and (c) until an acceptable score is achieved
4. Start an application – what do they entail?
a. A bunch of easy stuff (name, date of birth, favorite color . . . you get the idea)
b. Personal Statement – why do you want to go to their school and why should they accept you
c. Diversity Essay (or some version of it) – this essay can be used to help get you fellowships and other financial aid, so take it seriously
d. References – there are usually about 3 references asked for from a given school
I guess the purpose of me writing this post is to inform people to be prepared. If you are interested in applying to the graduate school, you might as well pencil it in on your class schedule. If you don’t, you may find yourself fighting to tread water, as if we don’t have enough problems with that anyway . . . college.