GRE and Graduate School Application Prep
Updated: Jul 10, 2019
Before I get right into this topic, I would like to say a few things first. I do not plan on using any type of writing format because I want to be as raw and as realistic as I can with everyone reading this. I do not want it to have a boring essay format and I want everyone to connect to this easily. I had no idea this was a serious challenge for a lot of people, and I felt like I struggled alone until social media and discussions with other successful grad school peers proved otherwise. This is why I decided to write this. Congratulations on getting to this point and making the decision to write the GRE and pursue graduate school degrees! I want to say it gets easier, but I would be lying. You will face more challenges, but I can assure you that the reward is so satisfying.
What to expect from this document? This will be a step-by-step guide to assist with your GRE and Graduate School preparation. I will also be adding links and possibly pdfs to help with studying for the GRE. In addition to this, I plan to discuss other aspects such as the financial burden and how to overcome, or at least ease this burden during applications and after (Free money is the best money). I am apologizing for the length of this doc. I tend to write a lot sometimes.
Note: This document is based solely on my experience and other successful graduate school students, whose names and graduate schools I will mention later. Also, I have many hyperlinks in this document to assist with more information. Watch out for them!
For lack of more words or a better document title, buckle your seatbelts!
HAVE A TIMELINE
I started studying for the GRE as early as June 2018. I did not know when I would take the GRE but I had so much time with barely anything to do, hence I started studying. I took a diagnostic test and well, let’s just say if I had taken it at that point, I would not be in graduate school now. It was really bad, and I remember crying out of frustration. I love making lists and planning everything, so I created a timeline listing what I wanted to do and when. This kept me in check, and I tried to follow it as much as I could. The key is to know yourself, be disciplined and set realistic and detailed goals and deadlines. Also, please start saving up because these expenses are no joke (thanks to Capitalism).
START STUDYING NOW
I had a tiny pocket GRE guidebook and I downloaded an app called GRE Flashcards by Kaplan. I would blackmail myself emotionally and say things like “Anjola, you know twitter will not help you to pass the GRE, open your flashcards”. Of course, this did not work every time but many times I would read new words and practice them with my friends. Take every opportunity you have to study, even if you do not know when you will take the test or not. I finally took the test in November, but I know studying as early as June helped. In addition to this, the ETS GRE website has materials available to help you with preparation and give you strategies and tips. I can also send an extra practice problems pdf, so reach out to me if you are interested. I used Kaplan prep because a program in my Undergrad funded it and paid for my books and online lessons. I cannot emphasize the importance of taking every opportunity you have. Khan Academy is another amazing way to prepare for the GRE. Even though there isn’t an exact GRE page, ETS has prepared a list of videos that could help. I will list the hyperlinks:
REGISTER FOR THE GRE
Based on your studying and practice tests (or if you are like me, your anxiety and readiness to be done with the process), you would know when it is time to take the test. Go on the ETS GRE page by clicking on the hyperlink, click on register and search for a date and location. You would have to create an ETS account as well. The general test fees are different, depending on what country you are currently in. You can find out by clicking on the hyperlink. I remember closing my eyes when I pressed that “confirm order” button and paid $205.00. It really hurt but the good news is there are ways to reduce this cost through the GRE Fee Reduction Program. There are requirements to be eligible for this program, hopefully most of you are eligible.
PROGRAM AND SCHOOLS OF INTEREST
At this point, you should start noting down the programs you are interested in and what schools have these programs. I made a list of things that were important in making this decision such as reputation, scholarship opportunities, success rate of graduates, support, and diversity. These might not be deal breakers to you so note the things you want in a program.
I am aware that I am super extra, so if you do not want to do this, you do not have to. After selecting five schools of my choice, I searched for faculty information, chose one or two people I liked and read their research and works (For Georgia Tech, I read the research work of about 7 professors). Afterwards, I wrote cover letters to the Professors I chose in my top two schools. This cover letter contained information about me, my interests, and the research they conducted which I found interesting. I ended the cover letters asking for an opportunity to speak to them or meet in person. They both responded and I met with them through Grad school visit programs. Many times grad school visits also mean application fee waivers so take advantage of the opportunity!
I visited five schools during my undergrad (all expenses covered) and these visits assisted with making my decision. I will post the links to some of the programs I know (I did not visit all of these schools and I found more resources, thanks to Emma). Also, some of the applications are not open yet, hence you would have to look out for application deadlines.
Emma also created a document to list graduate school visit programs and the deadlines so check as frequently as you can! If you do not see the school you are interested in, my advice would be to contact the faculty and ask about any visitation programs available.
TAKE THE GRE
Go ahead and take the exam! You get to see your score the same day you finish, and if you are sure that you are okay with the score and will not be taking the GRE again, then please save yourself some money by submitting your scores to the schools you have chosen. Once you leave your test location, you have to pay $27 per school to send your official GRE Scores (I also wish I knew this earlier).
PERSONAL STATEMENT AND RECOMMENDATION LETTERS
These are so important for your application. Find and speak to professors/ work supervisors that you think would write really good letters for you and give an informal interview to know what they think about you. This way, you know you are not setting yourself up because some recommendation letters are awful and would discredit you.
I started writing my personal statement rough draft in October, and It was about 2400 words long when I finished it. I used this as a template for all my grad school applications and extracted only what I felt was useful and would increase my chances at a particular school. This was my “tailor your personal statement according to the program” technique. This way, I did not have to write a new personal statement every time. I also had an amazing mentor and support system who volunteered to read and correct my personal statements. Role play with your friends- ask them to read your personal statement and give you honest feedback. One of my friends read one of my personal statements and said, “I can see that you are a great student but everyone else is, so what makes you stand out?”. That was one of the best feedback I ever got and as much as I did not want to work on my personal statement anymore, I fixed it and made it better.
I have heard from different faculty members and program coordinators that the personal statements and recommendation letters carry more weight than the GRE score, so focus on this and make sure you submit your best work.
FIX THAT RESUME
Depending on what program or degree you are applying for, try to make sure your resume highlights work experiences or research that would help your application. For instance: as a Ph.D. program applicant, mention research works and teaching experiences you have.
This is a lot of work and it gets stressful and depressing, so go ahead and watch that show, travel, reward yourself. Not taking breaks would really have you burned out early with no motivation. Rest, you deserve it.
APPLICATION DEADLINES AND INFORMATION
It is important to note application deadlines and set personal deadlines for yourself. I am aware that applications have badges, and those that apply early have more scholarship opportunities, so you want to be part of that badge. Also, note the application fee for the schools you are applying to (if you do not have a waiver for that application). Here’s a link that might help with application fee waivers to some schools. Your resume, personal statement, transcripts and recommendation letters are the biggest parts of your application; hence it should be easy to apply.
START APPLYING AND GOODLUCK!
Thank you for reading this and I really hope this is helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had amazing grad students help me with this document:
Perewari Pere- Bentley University
Charles Van-Hein Sackey- Carnegie Mellon University
Aliyah Mcilwain- Michigan State University