1. Learn as much as you can about the graduate and professional programs you are considering. What are the specific requirements for admission? What are the deadlines for application? How many references are required? Will the department or college allow you to take any courses as a postbaccalaureate student prior to admission to the graduate program?
2. If you already know which type of program you want to enter, you should do some research to learn which universities offer that program, and which of those will suit you best. For example, the University of Houston does not offer a master's degree in library science. If your ambition is to be a librarian, you must investigate programs offered by other schools, such as the University of North Texas in Denton. (Some UNT courses toward the M.L.S. are offered locally.) Criminal justice programs, also unavailable at UH, are offered by the University of Houston-Downtown and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.
3. Some graduate programs are exceedingly demanding and competitive, while others are more laid-back in atmosphere. Try to match yourself up with a program that suits your needs, abilities, and disposition. (Warning: a mistake in this area can be catastrophic.)
4. Take as many writing courses as you can as an undergraduate. Use paper requirements in other courses as an opportunity to improve your writing. You will need this preparation when you reach graduate school: All graduate students must be able to write a coherent presentation that expresses an argument or research results clearly and effectively. Graduate students in the humanities are faced with heavy and continual writing demands, and students in the sciences, social sciences, and engineering must be able to write up their results in a lucid and convincing manner.
5. If, during your undergraduate years, you suspect that you will want to pursue graduate study, you should be planning to ask at least 3 or 4 professors for letters of recommendation. If you find a professor you like and for whom you work well, try to take a second course from that person. If you get to know your professors and do excellent work besides, you will be able to ask for (and receive) recommendation letters that are informed and enthusiastic about your interests, goals, and abilities. Be proactive: sit on or near the front article; take part in class discussions; don't hang back in the back of the room.
The more research and planning you do ahead of time, the greater the likelihood that you will find a graduate program that suits your talents, aspirations, and personal circumstances. Finally, don't worry too much if you're convinced that all the other students in the program will be smarter than you. All graduate students worry about that, usually unnecessarily. Most graduate or professional programs will not admit you if they have serious reason to believe you can't handle the work.
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