Even if you don’t have the credentials to be accepted directly into your desired graduate program, there is almost always another way in. Perhaps your GPA is not quite up to snuff but you scored well on your entrance exams. Or vice versa. Don’t give up hope. If you really want to get into a top graduate school, you can make it happen.
The first step is to do your homework. Educate yourself about the grad program. Visit the website and read the brochures cover to cover. Do background checks on faculty and get familiar with their work, projects, and publications. Google them! You want to prepared and armed with as much information as possible for when you make first contact.
Your next step should be to to speak to someone high up in the food chain. If the dean is too busy to speak with, the assistant dean of the graduate program is usually available. Ask the following question: “What do I have to do to get into this program.” No matter your situation, you’ll usually get the specifics of what you need to do to be accepted. If you can, get an official letter that states your particular entrance requirements. If you are applying to a school with a strong reputation, the administrators want to have a high assurance that you will be successful and will be able to handle the work load. They understand that though there are many people smart enough for grad school, students also need to be resilient enough to handle the work load and the stress.
You may be asked to retake tests, take prerequisites, or even audit a class. In the case of auditing, you may even be allowed to take an actual class in the graduate program, if not for credit. If you pass the class with high enough grades, they will give you credit once you’ve been accepted into the program. Almost all universities (even Ivy League) have schools of general studies or continuing learning departments through which you can register for courses. That’s right – Yale, Stanford. Anyone can pay to take classes through these programs. Universities want your money.
Speaking of money, if you need to up your test scores on the GRE or LSAT, it pays to spend on test improvement services such as Stanley Kaplan and Princeton Review. More than teaching you new information, these classes will give you much needed subject review so you are not surprised or phased by the exams. They will also help you raise your scores by teaching you how to take the particular tests. You’ll learn techniques to improve your test taking efficiency, which questions are important to answer, and which questions squander valuable time. When you know how tests are tabulated and scored you will feel more confident. Some services even guarantee improved scores or your money back.
Finally, hang around a lot at the department offices. Put in face time. Try to get as much information as you can in person. Try to talk to professors in your field of interest. By doing this you make it known that you are serious. Don’t go overboard, but be aware that usually the more communication the better. Many graduate programs even have a weekly cocktail hour, which is a good time to get to know some of the students and pick their brains. If you stop in often enough people may even begin to think you are a student already. This is a good sign. You’re halfway there.
And remember, when it comes to getting into the graduate program you want, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Note: the author of this article was accepted into Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs (with a college GPA below 3.O) and earned a master’s degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Environmental Policy.
More Helpful Graduate School Application Info:
Graduate School Application Help: Tips, Tricks and Statements of Purpose That Got Me Accepted.
-Caleb John Clark