Grad School Q and A with Sam Gust

With a fresh new semester in the fresh new year, now’s the time to get ready for the applications coming your way. This week, we’re focusing on graduate program applications. For those of you looking to continue your education on to graduate school, keep reading.

Sam Gust from the Career Development Center here at MSUM answered our questions about graduate school applications so you could read them here. 

Before we get into it, Sam wanted to make sure that we were aware that every application will be different depending on the program and school, so she couldn’t give a firm answer with everything.

Question: What are some tips for applying to grad school?

Sam Gust: First and foremost, do your research. Some students get set on a school without looking into whether or not they have the program they’re going into. Then they look into it and realize that their program was never offered and have to find a new school. You also need to make sure you have a good understanding of the application process, since they’re all unique.

Q: When is the best time to apply?

SG: It really depends on the program. Most programs will have application deadlines, although some will be rolling. So you really have to figure out when is the best time for applying. If you are interested at all in graduate school, I would start looking the end of your sophomore year/start of your junior year and then start researching what programs you want to go to and what deadlines you might have. You might be submitting applications the fall of your senior year and there’s a lot of work that goes into it before you get an acceptance letter.

Q: Is it okay to wait a few years after you graduate before going to grad school? Does it affect your chances at all?

SG: No it doesn’t affect your chances at all. In fact, some programs think it’s a good thing. Especially if you’re going to be going into a business school. Not every business school is like this, but if you’re going for something like business administration a lot of times they’re looking for people who have a certain level of experience because it is such a real world thing. It’s not like if you go to med school where you’ll have to train stitches over and over again, but if you get a less technical degree that is broad there’s going to be no way you can practice leadership. You can be a leader, but no assignment will teach you to be one, so it really depends on what you’re going into. Waiting is not looked down on at all, in fact sometimes businesses will pay for their employees to go to grad school, so if you wait it might mean getting it paid for.

Q: What do graduate programs look at when they get applications?

SG: First, they’re going to look at your transcript. Many of them will have a minimum GPA and that is completely dependent on the program. They’re also more than likely going to look at a resume. They want to see what you’ve done outside the classroom and know that you’re a whole person, not just a student. They’ll also probably have a personal statement or letter of intent. Some are basic and just want to know why you want to go into the program while others have more specific questions they want you to answer. They’ll also more than likely want letters of recommendation. 

The one thing that is really dependent on every school/program is if they want any exam scores. The basic exam is going to be the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). Many institutions will require students to take that. They may or may not have a minimum score, some schools just want to see if you can take it. And, of course, if you’re looking into business, law, or medical schools there’ll be different exams for those as well.

Q: Is there anything NOT to do when applying to grad school?

SG: You really have to think of it like a job. Maybe you are a lost soul and you have no idea what you want to do as a professional so you think, well I’m just going to go and continue my education. Especially with graduate programs, they really want to make sure that the people who are there really want to be there. They want to make sure the people there not only want to gain information and experience before their professional lives but also so that the people in their cohort will have a positive experience as well with them. I think that they’re looking for people that may not be passionate, but know that they’re in the right place.

One thing I want to mention is that maybe you didn’t have a great undergraduate experience: Your grades weren’t great, you weren’t that involved. Waiting a little bit and getting some professional years under your belt can actually play in your favor. 

Q: How does the CDC help students with their applications?

SG: The CDC can help with the resumes, the writing, and building your portfolio. MSUM also has other great resources outside of our office. I would encourage students to go to the University Writing Center when they’re submitting their personal statements. We can help with the content and framing your story/narrative, but when it comes to all of it, you want to make sure it’s on par. You can use the University Writing Center. Also the library has some great resources on campus for graduate school as well. It’s called libguides and they have test preparations for students who want to go to graduate school. Currently, we have test prep for the GRE and the GMAT. This is free for students, so utilize the resources we have. 

Q: What are some assumptions/questions people come to you with?

SG: That you need to take the GRE. Students say that they hear they need to take the GRE so they ask how to go about it and then when we research the schools and programs they want to go into they don’t actually need to take it.

Another assumption is that if you don’t have that 4.0 that you won’t be able to get in. That’s not necessarily true. There are some programs that are competitive and that might be the case, but there’s a place for everybody if they want to go to graduate school.