May 082011
Authors: Andrew Carrera

Thought the undergraduate experience was tough? Try getting and staying in graduate school.

“You’re up against people who are much smarter than you,” said David Fox, a graduate student in the Master of Accountancy program at CSU.

But Fox wasn’t alone in applying for graduate school. There are currently more than 1,000 students in master’s programs spanning 56 departments at CSU, all of whom have had to answer the question of how to not only get into graduate school but also survive.

How to get in

1. Stay on top of deadlines

Putting together an application package in a timely manner is among the most basic things to do, according to Pamela O’Grady, associate director of employment counseling at CSU’s Career Center. O’Grady is also applying for grad school.

“You don’t miss deadlines,” she said. “Otherwise you just won’t get in,” adding that the immediate step after deciding to apply for a program is figuring out what its application requires and the dates on which parts of it are due.

Test scores, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements and taking required graduate school tests are all parts of the package and each have individual due dates.

2. Get good test scores

Graduate schools require applicants to take certain SAT-like standardized tests, depending on what the admissions board is looking for. Performance on the Graduate Record Examinations, Graduate Management Admissions Test and the Law School Admissions Test largely determines which schools are willing to look at applications, according to O’Grady.

“You need to score a 700/800 or higher on the GMAT to get into the top business schools,” she said.

How to survive

1. Be more disciplined

“Managing your time is huge. You have to prioritize a lot more than when you were an undergrad,” Fox said. “You have a lot more going on in your life then. Now you have to balance three, four or five schedules at once, especially if you’re working.”

O’Grady agrees. As an undergraduate, she said, onetakes general courses that are harder to be interested in. But in graduate school, while there’s more work and higher standards, students are generally more interested in what they’re doing.

“It evens out,” she said.

2. Learn to deal with a shrunken social life.

The increased workload that comes with pursuing advanced degrees leads to less time spent with friends. But, all is not lost, Fox said. A students study life and social life seem to become one.

“Your social life takes a hit for a while,” he said. “But the majority of people you end up hanging out with are people in the program.”

O’Grady said graduate students she speaks with “feel like they don’t have a life,” citing managing larger workloads as a part of pursuing an advanced degree.

“Of course you’re going to go out every now and then, but it’s much more planned,” she said. “Although you’re collaborating with your colleagues, you’re also working to keep up with them. Eventually, everyone’s going to compete for the same jobs.”

Senior reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at

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