UBC dean offers advice on getting in to grad school and whether you should go at all
Marks really are as important as they say, but don't waste time with irrelevant volunteer work
Macleans.ca staff | May 9, 2007 | 21:11:18
Are you thinking about making the jump from your undergrad program to a graduate school? Wondering if all the hype about high marks is for real? How to beef up your application? How much work it's going to be anyways? Maclean's chatted with Jennifer M. Phelps, assistant dean and director of graduate enrolment services in the faculty of graduate studies at the University of British Columbia, to find out.
Are top-notch marks really the most important qualification for getting into grad school?
I think top-notch marks are really important in most graduate programs.
A thing that I would preface this whole talk with is that not all graduate programs are the same. And so, the answers to these questions are going to depend on the specific graduate program.
In general, even though we know that marks aren’t the only thing that reflect a student’s ability, they are the easiest way to compare one student to another when you have many, many applications and not very many spots to offer. So excellent marks are very important.
That said, someone without excellent marks can also be a great graduate student and can be convincing in their application that they would be a great graduate student. But if you don’t have good marks, you are going to have a harder path ahead to convince the program that you are ready to perform well.
How can students with less than stellar marks beef up their applications?
Again, it depends on the type of program that they are going into. But something that we hear from professors a lot is that students who want to go into research oriented graduate programs, its really great if they can get some research experience first either as an undergraduate or even volunteering after their undergraduate degree.
Another way is to, even after your degree, take some additional course work. Something that would be typical if a student decides they want to go to grad school in microbiology but their grads are not quite high enough, they can confer with the department at the university they are interested in and ask what sort of courses could they take to show that they are up to the task.
In some programs, some additional professional training might be a benefit.
Try to get to know professors in the department that they are interested in applying to.
Should undergraduate students be communicating with their faculty ahead of time?
Absolutely. Something a lot of undergrads don’t realize is, if they are going into an MA or a MSC program, which are normally research programs, it’s crucial that the students area of interest links up well with the interests of at least one faculty member in the department.
It’s not enough to be an undergrad and say “I want to go to graduate school in political science and I’m just interested in political science.” That person wants to be able o write an application that says, “I’m really interested in, for example, voting patterns for young Canadians aged 18 to 22 and I know there is a professor in your department that does work on that and I’m really interested in working with that person.” Get enough specificity about what their interested in studying to be able to communicate to the grad program that they would be a good match for the interests of the faculty members and the department.
What volunteer opportunities would you recommend to strengthen your application?
The only volunteer opportunities that make a difference at all to strengthen the application are ones that have a very strong connection to the area that they want to study. In contrast to undergrad, grad schools are not necessarily looking for well-rounded people. They are looking for focused people. If a person volunteers for something that is totally outside the area that they want to study in, that says something positive about that person, but it is not going to be a compelling factor in admitting the student.
But if the student has experience volunteering on research projects related to the graduate program. Or, for example, say they want to get a master’s of social work, doing volunteer opportunities that have some relevance to social work would be positive.
Do you think that graduate school is for everyone? Would some students be better off going straight into the workforce?