Higher Higher Education: Fulfilling Your Grad School Prerequisites

Finishing your bachelor's degree is just the first step in preparing for graduate school. Most programs have a long list of additional requirements. Get some tips on strengthening your application by fulfilling key prerequisites.

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Preparing Your Graduate Application

You have your bachelor's degree, your career goals and your top choice programs all lined up. Time to apply, right?

Wrong. Many graduate programs have a very specific list of additional requirements, and it's important that you're as strong as possible in all areas. If you can, go over your schools' application checklists at least a year in advance of the deadline just in case you need to do a little catching up.

Here are a few key things to look for:

Course Prerequisites

Not all grad programs require you to have a bachelor's degree in the same subject, but they almost certainly will have minimum requirements in your subject area. This typically includes a certain number of advanced courses as well as credit hours. Now's the time to look at your transcript and make sure that you can meet these prerequisites.

If you're still in college, try to adjust your senior year schedule to ensure that you're taking upper-division courses in both your core subject and anywhere you might have a deficiency. If you're out of school, look for a local community college or other low-cost institution that may offer post-baccalaureate courses in your area.

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Testing Requirements

The majority of graduate degree programs require that you also take a standardized test to demonstrate your preparation and readiness for a graduate-level program. One common test is the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). There is a general test as well as subject tests, so be sure to check with your particular graduate program requirements to see which you will need to take.

Other tests include the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) for business students, LSAT (Law School Admission Test) for those interested in attending law school, and the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) for those interested in going to medical school.

Students who are not native English speakers will often have to take an additional test to demonstrate their English proficiency in the form of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), the PTE (Pearson Test of English), or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System).

Graduate programs can have specific cut scores for applicants, so you'll want to be aware of that and study accordingly.

Special Requirements

Some degree programs have special requirements in addition to the academic prerequisites. For example, if you're applying to an art, writing or music program, you'll need to have a creative portfolio. Or if you're applying to a research-based program, whether it's in lab science or art history, you'll probably need to demonstrate that you have some research experience. Identify any special requirements and start preparing the materials you need to fulfill them right away.

Foreign Language

Many graduate programs, particularly in the humanities, require applicants to be able to demonstrate reading proficiency in at least one foreign language. (Doctoral programs typically require two.) And some programs even dictate which languages.

If you didn't study the right ones in college, now is the time to get started. However, most institutions advise against taking an introductory language course, because you'll spend too much precious study time focusing on speech. Remember, the school is only concerned with your ability to read and translate basic academic texts.

If you live in a town with a big university, you may be able to find reading and translation courses designed just for people like you. If not, look into private language tutoring or language books focused on 'reading knowledge.' You may be able to get additional advice by contacting one of the foreign language professors at your alma mater.

This is part two in a three-part series on applying to grad school. Previously we discussed how to choose the right graduate program.

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