Post-Graduate Series Part One: Things to Consider
By DANIELLE LORENZ, MACINSIDERS
For many of us, the school year is over and there are no thoughts about the upcoming school year (with the exception frustrations with MUGSI, [that little bitch]). That mind-set is unfortunately not
a good one to have. Even though our brains may be on vacation from school (not all of us of course; many of us are taking summer school classes), there are still lots of things to think about that involve school. The most important of these is what to do after
life at McMaster. Unfortunately, many individuals start thinking of their post-graduate options too late.
If you are planning on doing any sort of degree in a graduate or professional school, scrambling to meet all of your requirements in fourth year quite often will not pay off. You need to think ahead, if not for your third year but while in your second. Of course this is not to say if you don’t start planning in your third year that you are screwed, but it is advantageous to start planning sooner rather than later. Most of these programs are very competitive, and there are a few particular items of business that you should consider.
Do you have a good relationship with any of your professors? Many post-graduate programs require two or three letters of reference from professors that can comment on your academic performance. This is not someone who can simply say what grade you received in this class. The letters of reference are to remark all of your traits as a student, as well as your grades. Having a tenured professor write your letter is thought to be more beneficial, as they have an esteemed status at school in comparison to a sessional professor.
Some post-graduate programs require completion (and a good grade) on a standardized test. Many people spend months studying for them, often taking them towards the end of their summer. Some of these tests have prep courses you can take as well, but they are on the pricey side. You can also buy books that are supposed to help you achieve a better result. Are you willing to put in all of the time and effort to take these tests?
The application process can be very long. Not only do you need letters of reference and possibly a standardized test, but for many programs you need to fill out a supplementary application. This can consist of a statement of interest, a curriculum vitae, a resume, work experience and other components. All of these take time away from your studies, so it is good to start thinking about them in advance.
Many people are relieved to graduate, as they have been in school for the majority of their lives and are sick of it. Are you really willing to devote another one to three years at school? In addition, some post-graduate programs start as soon as the regular school year ends, so you may only have a few days off from when you finish your final exams as an undergrad to the first day of classes in your new program.
Another deciding factor is cost. Post-graduate programs are much (for the most part) more expensive. These programs often cost double the amount or more (most of them somewhere between four to ten times more) of undergraduate programs. This means adding to existing student loans, or having to find another method of payment, such as a loan from a bank. However, graduate scholarships tend to pay out a little bit better. But, like the programs themselves, they are also very competitive in nature.
Even though you may be applying to the same program at two different schools, oftentimes many of them require different things. Some of them just need a letter of reference and your transcript, while others need a lengthy supplementary application. Just because one school wants one thing doesn’t mean the rule applies to all of them. Read the applications for each school well in advance of the application deadline, if not a year before.
Lastly, you need to think of your grades. Some schools do not consider upgraded marks, while others do. Some schools need you to have a higher overall average in the program you’re applying to, while a lower overall average. Some schools only look at your overall average. Although the numbers for undergraduate enrolment are high, post-grad programs are not. For example, McMaster has about 19000 undergrads, while only 2800 graduate students (both Masters and PhD). Graduate programs want really strong grades, so you have to work really hard to achieve them. I have been told by two separate professors in two different disciplines to not even bother applying to grad school if your grades are below a B+ average. Grades that high (especially in fourth year) are difficult to come by.
This article is a general overview of what you need to consider for going on the post-graduate route. As this is a series, there will be more articles about the specific options you will have for life after McMaster. Keep checking back with us to see what we have developed.