1. Education

Reader Question: I'm preparing to apply to graduate school and searching for information on how to get into the nation's best graduate schools. How can I make myself irresistible to graduate admissions departments?

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic formula or easy answer on how to gain admittance to the any grad program. Competition is fierce and you can't predict a graduate program's exact needs, the number of available slots, or the number of qualified applicants. Bolster your odds of admission by preparing early and well. Savvy applicants know that getting into graduate school requires more than just good grades. Try these tips:

1. Get to know your professors. They can write your recommendation letters and are a source of opportunities.

2. Get involved in research with a professor. If it goes well, you might present a paper at a conference or even get a journal article out of it. Research experience, presentations, and publications are the keys to graduate school.

3. Most obviously, excel in your courses.

4. If you are interested in the sciences, take plenty of science and math, but also liberal arts courses (English, writing, communications) to develop a well-rounded background and demonstrate your oral and written communication skills. The reverse is true for humanities students -- science classes show that you can think logically. Demonstrate flexible thinking.

5. Plan ahead and prepare well for the Graduate Record Exam. Consider a GRE prep course.

6. Volunteer and participate in campus organizations that relate to your discipline (e.g., math club if you're a student, or volunteer at a social service agency if you're a psychology or social work major). However, remember that admissions committees want applicants who are dedicated to their careers -- which means that they are not interested in your non-career-related extracurricular activities.

7. Tailor your applications to particular programs. In other words, research your programs to determine your "fit" to each. Each application should demonstrate that you're an excellent fit to each program in terms of your interests, career goals, and abilities.

Virtually no applicant gets in everywhere they apply. It's simply part of the process of graduate admissions. Understand this and prepare accordingly and you'll increase your odds of getting accepted to graduate school.

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