Applying to graduate school and taking the Graduate Record Exam
seem like really scary things. They definitely take a lot of preparation. As a
self-proclaimed over-achiever, I don’t understand why students don’t begin
preparing for these as soon as possible. I’ve known, probably since my
sophomore year of college, that I needed and wanted to go to graduate school. I
feel there are students who can’t seem to make the first, but very vital,
decision. Then, once that decision is made, they wait to prepare.
When I was a junior, I went to the Career Services to ask a few
questions about the GRE. I knew I had to take it but wasn’t sure when. I told
the counselor my year and asked when I should begin preparing. Her immediate
response was, “Now.” I set right to it. What program was most appealing to me?
What schools was I willing to consider? For me, I had to be sure the schools I
was looking into had at least one of the graduate programs my husband
was looking into. And the most important question: when were deadlines? Those
deadlines determined when I would take my GRE.
The study book my mom got me suggested giving yourself a three
month period to prepare, so that is what I did—registered for an exam date
three months from the time I began preparing. This gave me time to figure out
where I felt most confident and where I felt I needed work.
A few people I have chatted with have said they’re not sure they
want to pursue graduate school or that they’re not really thinking about it
right now, so why should they take the GRE?
My first answer to this is to take it because the scores are good
for five years. If you do well the first time you take it, you don’t need to
take it again. However, if you do not do as well as you hoped, you can take the
exam “once every 21 days, up to five times” within one year, according to
ets.org, the GRE testing website. You can also select which scores the schools
you are applying to have access to—this means they do not need to see the exam
where you didn’t do your absolute best, but rather the best score you choose.
Another question is why study? By studying, you can prepare
yourself the way the test is set up, and with some online practice tests, you
can even test yourself using the actual timing requirements. This helps you get
used to the exam and understand how to take it. The main thing is learning how
to take the exam. Once you figure that out, take a deep breath and go for it.
Once you receive your scores (if you take the computer-based test,
it’s usually within 2 weeks), begin applying to graduate programs, even if it’s
a while out from deadline. This gives you time to think about your personal
statement, write your resume, order your transcripts, and get your letters of
recommendation. Think about the schools you want to go to, the programs you’re
interested in, and any outlying factors that would affect your decision, such
as location. Then, just apply. After that, it’s a waiting game.
Don’t wait until the last minute to apply because your completed
application packet (letters, scores, transcripts, etc.) may not get to the
program in time, which could make your application late.
If you’re entertaining the idea of graduate school, begin
preparing. If you’re coming to the end of your sophomore year, start thinking
about what programs interest you. If you’re a junior, narrow down the schools
and programs you want to apply to, grab a GRE study book, and register to take
your first GRE at the end of the academic or very early the following academic
year. If you’re a senior: take the GRE at the beginning of the academic year
and begin working on your application packets.
those who, like myself, have already applied, I wish you the best of luck. All
we can do now is wait.