How to Boost your GRE Application?

The recent recession in the US and worldwide has made competition in the job market fiercer than ever. If you are an upcoming senior, whether of a liberal arts college or a large state university, whether you major in economics and finance or, worse off, the humanities, chances are you are having a tough time preparing for the job search ahead. Many choose to go to graduate school instead, where competition is rising too as undergraduate degrees are not just enough to give more advanced jobs with better salary. This is a quick guide to a successful graduate school application.

1. The big picture

Here are the factors of an application, in order of relative importance:

1. Letters of Recommendation (LoR)
2. Statement of Purpose (SoP)
3. Research Experience
4. GRE Score

What this kind of list obscures is that the first three factors Letters, Statement, and Research are closely related, and thus similarly valued. (GRE score is only a distant runner-up.) Thus, one should not prepare those as three separate things. All three have a mutual origin, as explained below.

The best way to become a grad student is to act like one

Indeed, this principle holds true for anything in life. The admission committee is most interested in knowing whether you do well what a grad student does, which is research. Therefore, to convince them of your potential, simply do one thing very well: research. There is no shortcut to a good LoR. It will come naturally as a result of your research experience. Interaction with professors during research is the best way to let them know of your ability and ethics.

Similarly, your SoP will most likely grow from your research. A SoP is not a declaration of what you will do. Rather, it is to show that you understand the field and what doing research actually means, and that you are able to conceive of and present scholarly ideas. Doing research is the best way to learn all these things.

Preparing for graduate school application, therefore, is a very holistic process. Start as early as possible, approach professors whose class or research provokes you, ask to join a project or to create your own. While doing research you will familiarize yourself with certain topics, identify flaws in existing literature, come up with ideas of your own, which will serve as your future SoP material. In the mean time, you will also learn how to handle large amount of writing and, earning the good graces (and good letters) of your professors. Keep doing this until your senior year, and by the time you need to ask for LoR and to write SoP, it will become so much simpler.

2. Letter of Recommendation

Quick answers to some FAQs on LoR

a) {How many?} Most schools ask for three academic letters, so have in mind three professors and try to write research paper with them. Discuss ideas with them frequently and drop hints at your plan for graduate school.

b) {Who should I ask?} The ones that know you best, which means the ones you have done research with. Ones whose class you aced is okay, but if the class is merely of the lecture and exam format, the professor will not be able to comment on your research ability. A good class taker is not necessary a good researcher, and adcom (admissions committee) cares only about the latter.

c) {How early should I ask?} As referred to above, let them know of your plan some time in your junior year. Then by senior's fall, it would no longer be a surprise and they can be ready to write for you.

3. Statement of Purpose

There is so much to say about this topic that it is hard to know where to begin. First off, really dig into yourself, until it's painful and you don't know how to even phrase what you want to say. It should not be easy. If it is easy to write, then it is also easy to forget. Grad schools will often ask several questions. Never address them in the same order listed. Rearrange them to suit you, do whatever you need to do to show your creativity and imagination. This is important even when you are applying to highly technical programs. Always have a clear outline with priorities; it is never a good idea to squeeze everything in. Pick and choose, write only about things that matter to you, and them.

4. GRE

How important is it?

Although I can ensure you that the score is not relevant whatsoever to your ability to succeed in graduate school, it does matter in the admission process. Some adcoms (admissions committee) claim that they use GRE mostly to weed out the shockingly bad cases and to evaluate international students. Therefore, anything above 650 for the old GRE and 163 for the new one is good enough. Beyond that, it does not make much difference whether you score a 170 over 166, or 800 over 700.

How to study?

It is not any different to any other test in the world the best way to prepare for one is to have a lot of practice with it. Keep it in mind, though, that your goal is to get the highest score, period. Don't ever waste time criticizing the logic of the answers, as that would do you no good. Your job is not to defend logic, but to internalize their logic.

Written By: Liz Vu, United States (A Vietnamese)

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice