From the title of this post, you can guess what has been occupying my mind and time throughout my final year at IU. When I first started my graduate school application process, I had NO idea what I was doing. I didn't know which schools to apply to, where to take a GRE or even what it was, when applications were due, etc. So, I am here to tell you what I have learned so that your process is easier.
1. The first thing I did was Google "Graduate Schools for Advertising and Public Relations." Of course, you must replace "Advertising and Public Relations" with whatever field you are personally interested in. Google brought up several lists of graduate schools with Advertising, Public Relations, and Communications programs that other people had rated as good programs. A few lists to look at can be found on GradSchools.com and Study.com. Alternatively, professional associations may also compile lists of graduate schools. For example, the National Communication Association has a list of graduate programs relating to communication here.
2. While looking at these lists, I wrote down names of schools and programs that interested me. I paid attention to where the school was located, how much it costs to obtain a degree from there, the academic interests of the professors I would be working with, whether or not the school offers scholarships or AI positions, and whether or not the classes I would be taking matched with my future career goals. Some of this information can only be found by going to the actual website of the schools and programs. My final list consisted of around 10 schools.
3. From there, I talked with my friends, family, and professors in order to narrow the list. The ideal situation is to have four schools under final consideration. The GRE test service will only allow you to send your scores free of charge to four schools. Any additional sending of scores costs $25 per score recipient. What helped me narrow my search was the likelihood that I would get an AI position, which would then cover my cost of tuition. Some schools offer positions to all of their graduate students, others offer AI positions on a competitive basis, and still others offer none at all. I also based my final four on geographic location. Frankly, I have no desire to move out west right now, so the schools I selected were all in the Eastern or Midwestern United States. Make sure you also know the due dates for the applications of your final four schools!
4. Sign up for the GRE! The GRE is similar to the SAT, but you get to take it on the computer. They have very convenient testing locations. I took mine over the summer near my home in Fishers, Indiana. It is also available at IU on select days. It costs $185 to take it. Make sure you pick a testing date that is far enough in advance to allow adequate time for the scores to be sent to your school before the deadline. Most graduate schools do not have a set score you must obtain in order to be accepted. They use it as a marker of your mastery of basic knowledge and skills. Some schools don't even require you to take it. To register for the test, click here. Don't forget to bring an ID to the testing center on the day of the test!! After you check in, they will most likely have you place all of your belongings in a locker, pick a computer, and begin.
5. Start Preparing for the GRE. To be honest, I did not study or look over anything for the GRE until the night before. I wish I had looked at the math review sheet a little earlier. If it has been a while since you have taken calculus or algebra, you might want to start looking at it at least a week in advance. English and Writing questions are also available for practice. Test prep materials can be found here.
6. Ask people to write you letters of recommendation. Ask early!! Some professors might be too busy to write your letter before the due date. Other professors might have taken leave for the semester and are not on campus or able to be contacted. It is also polite to give your recommenders plenty of time to write the letter before the due date. Nobody likes being given last-minute tasks to do.
7. Start the Applications. The next step is to start the actual applications. Most applications can be completed online. You answer a few questions about your educational background, submit a C.V., write a personal statement, list professors you would like to work with, etc.
8. Get a Professor to Look Over your C.V. and Personal Statements. As an English - Public and Professional Writing major, I was confident that my Curriculum Vitae and personal statements were awesome. They weren’t. My professor showed me a different design for my C.V. that looked much sleeker and easier to read. He then went through my personal statements and pointed out areas that I could improve or that sounded too formulaic. The fact is that each graduate school has slightly different requirements for their personal statements. Some ask you to fully explain why you chose their school. Others ask for what your future career plans are. Yet others ask what you have done up to this point that has prepared you for graduate school. You have to answer all of this in 500 words or less. Words matter here. This statement is the only thing that lets you speak for yourself and tell the admissions staff why you, among the hundreds of applications they will read, are the best fit for their program. Let your voice be heard in your personal statement. Don’t let your accomplishments and abilities be drowned out by boring prose.
9. Finish the Applications. After you have carefully crafted your C.V. and personal statement, completed the online form, sent your GRE scores (or at least registered to take the test and have them sent before the due date), paid the application fee, and made sure your recommenders will have their letters in by the due date, you are ready to hit that “submit” button. Frankly, it’s scary. I felt like I was forgetting something. Make sure you double-check that you have all parts completed before you submit your application.
10. Wait. This is the worst part, and currently what I am doing right now. Most graduate programs do not release admission decisions and send out letters of acceptance until March. In fact, some of my programs’ due dates are not even until February or March. In the meantime, start researching possible housing options for the schools you have applied to.