This is going to be very much “do as I say, not as I… did.”
Though I’m a huge proponent of “you can do whatever you want” and “your past doesn’t define you,” it doesn’t change the fact that your GPA does impact whether or not the admissions committee is going to stamp your application for approval.
Here are my best pieces of advice:
- Apply to a lot of schools. Seriously. Like 10. Have schools that you’re pretty darn sure will take you, schools that may or may not, and then the schools that you’ll scream if you get into. Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of getting in if you apply to more schools.
- Have a plan. Know (or pretend to know) exactly what you want to do in grad school/with your degree before you ever apply. Having a plan will help convince the school to take a chance on you.
- Be flexible. While you may not want to go to the University of Iowa because Midwest winters are brutal, keep in mind that Iowa is one of the top schools for English in the country. Do your research.
To make it easy, lets make a list of Things You Can Fix Later in Life and Things You Need To Keep An Eye On Now. Let’s start with the hard stuff.
If you, at any point in your life, might like to go to graduate school, do
- Study hard and get good grades. I don’t mean you need to have a 4.0 or anything, but at least a 3.5, if you plan on attending college beyond the baccalaureate level
- Get to know your professors. These are going to be the people who write your letters of recommendation. Sometimes, a good letter can cancel out a low(er) GPA or test scores
- Have some sort of a plan. Nothing is worse than writing a statement of purpose (more on that later) that meanders aimlessly. Graduate programs want students who want to get in, finish their degrees, and get out
Now, on to the things that Can Be Fixed
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores
- Let’s say you are terrible at math (like I am), and you completely bombed that section of the test. You’ll have to pay a fee to take it again, but you don’t have to be married to your first score
- Your applications
- Seriously. Even if you don’t get in the first time around, it sucks. It really sucks. But you can always apply next year, I promise.
Ultimately, grad school is doable for a lot more people than you might think, and it takes a lot of work, but I’d argue that it’s worth it in the end.