Prepare for Graduate School

How to Best Prepare for Graduate School

It’s always early enough to start preparing for graduate school! Your undergraduate degree and coursework naturally translate to your graduate experience. If, for example, you plan to pursue medical or PA school, then your best bet is to major in biology or a related field. 

While a liberal arts major can apply to a science-based graduate program—and vice versa—you will likely have a long road ahead of you, as many programs require a strong background in the field of study to be considered for admission.  

Determine Your Career Goals 

“I always encourage undergraduates to begin exploring pathways based on their interests as early as their freshman year,” said Sofia Toro, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid for Keck Graduate Institute (KGI). 

Take a career assessment offered by companies such as Myers-Briggs or BrainManager to understand what career would best suit your interests, personality, and skills. Toro recommends taking an evaluation each year of college and noting any changes that may occur throughout your undergraduate experience. 

Any given field contains many options. For instance, you can pursue a wide range of careers within the healthcare industry, including doctor, physician assistant/associate (PA), pharmacist, genetic counselor, or occupational therapist.  

If you pursue healthcare, consider whether you prefer to work directly with patients in a clinical setting or industry, discovering and manufacturing drugs and therapies. Perhaps you would like to take on a leadership position. Could you see yourself overseeing a team of scientists to bring a drug to market or collaborating with policymakers to enact meaningful change in healthcare funding, policy, and advocacy? 

Shadowing a professional can help you understand whether you are well-suited for a particular career. Once you decide on a path, search for graduate programs that will best equip you with the skills needed to thrive in this career. 

Ensure the School is a Good Fit 

Consider the location after determining what type of graduate program you would like to attend. Do you want to stay close to where you currently live? Or would you rather attend school in another state or country?  

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, visiting the campus is essential. 

“This school is going to be your home for the next one to four years, so make sure you can actually envision yourself there,” Toro said. “Choose a place where you will receive the support and resources you need. Here at KGI, I deal with many parents, grandparents, and significant others. I love that because it means students include their loved ones in decision-making.” 

Build Connections with Students, Alumni, and Faculty 

Connecting your potential school’s students, alums, and faculty is critical. These individuals can answer any questions you may have about a particular program. Alums can guide you in tailoring your academic experience to best prepare for your chosen career path. 

The KGI Admissions Ambassador Program consists of current KGI students and alums who provide campus tours, share their experiences, and can connect with you personally via phone or email. 

“Students love it, and it’s a great resource,” Toro said. “Who better to talk about the school than the students?” 

Meet the Requirements for Your Graduate Program 

Ensure you’re up-to-date on deadlines for all the schools you’re applying to. 

“Everyone applies for grad school in their senior year of undergrad,” Toro said. “So as soon as you start your junior year, you should narrow down the schools you’re interested in and mark down all the important deadlines.” 

This includes application deadlines and deadlines to submit test scores and apply for financial aid and scholarships (paying for graduate school is a big topic, so the following article will focus exclusively on this). 

Toro recommends exploring prerequisites—courses you must take to be considered for admission into a program—as early as your freshman or sophomore year of college. For instance, if you plan to pursue PA school, note the required prerequisites (what courses and how many units) for your specific program. Also, consider how many clinical hours you will need. Every program has a unique set of requirements. 

 “Make sure you’re not at a deficit when your senior year arrives,” Toro said. “Otherwise, you may have to put off grad school for another year or more.” 

Set Yourself Apart From Other Candidates 

Throughout your undergraduate years, take the time to develop connections with your professors. Only ask someone for a letter of recommendation if you have gotten to know them on a deeper level. 

“I have read hundreds of thousands of letters of recommendation, and many of them are very vague,” Toro said. “They describe things like grades, which I can already see on the transcript. I want to know about your character. What differentiates you from every other applicant?” 

In the same way, your personal essay should tell a compelling story and give schools a clear picture of who you are. Such essays also provide an opportunity to account for any discrepancies in your transcript. 

“If, for instance, you had a difficult time during your second year of college—you had to take a leave of absence, or your grades went down—you should tell us about that,” Toro said. “How did you persevere? Please don’t leave it up to us to figure it out. Tell us your story.” 

Additionally, gaining research experience is essential if you apply to a science-based program. KGI’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program allows you to perform cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research in applied molecular and cellular biology, bioengineering, computational biology, and drug discovery and development. 

Finally, consider a postbac program such as KGI’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical or Pre-PA Certificate program to become a stronger candidate for medical school or PA school. Such programs will help differentiate you from other candidates by: 

  • Gaining clinical hours 
  • Developing teamwork and leadership skills 
  • Strengthening your application and personal statement 
  • Completing graduate-level science courses and advanced business studies  

You’re Accepted—Now What? 

So, you’ve been accepted to graduate school. Congratulations! Now, ensure you set yourself up for success during your graduate experience. Having a solid support system is vital. Such a system can include friends and family and staff, faculty, and classmates in your graduate program. 

At KGI, Student Affairs provides valuable resources and helps you stay engaged in campus life, where you will make lifelong connections and friendships while developing your professional skills. 

“We’ve also hired an occupational therapist who advises students on time management, study skills, mental wellness, and staying balanced,” Toro said.  

Pursuing a Career in Healthcare or Biotech? Consider KGI  

KGI is a true innovator in graduate school education and will prepare you for an exciting career in healthcare or biotech. Gain valuable hands-on experience collaborating with top players in the industry on real-world projects. Equip yourself with entrepreneurial, teamwork, and leadership skills and knowledge in emerging fields like genomics that will make you an asset to any company. Contact us today to get started.