What to do Before Going to Graduate School


Everyone (well, most people I know, technically) has a desire to go back to school to pursue further studies. Some of them want to change their major, meanwhile the rest of them want to stay on the same course as their previous academic background, like me. However, not many of them know the right steps to apply for graduate school, especially if they want to study abroad.

I’m gonna spill the beans: it’s not as easy as it sounds.

I know, it’s a universal truth. However, there are still many people out there who think that applying for grad school is easy peasy, and you can do it in one try. It’s not… you need perseverance, you need to allocate more time for research, and you need to study. Hard. In this article, I am going to write a guideline to prepare for graduate school, based on my experience.

1. Know yourself

What do you want to accomplish? What major do you want to choose? Do you want to try another major or do you have the need to stay in your previous major? Before choosing which university you want to apply to, you need to know what major you really want to study in, and your thesis topic. If you’re currently feeling dilemmatic about ‘what major should I be in’, now is the perfect time to make up your mind. How? I don’t know, maybe try a Buzzfeed quiz, meditate, brainstorm with your best friends or your family, or constantly ask yourself about what you want to do in life. In this phase, you can also dig more about your research interests and your education budget. If your family can afford your tuition fee as well as your living cost during your studies, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re a middle-class young girl who seeks an adventure abroad while studying, you can research for private or state funded scholarships.

2. Research your options

Now that you have your perfect major in mind, it’s time to work with 21st century magic: Google! Keyword: “universities with (your major) graduate school”. Where do you want to go study? The America? Europe? Asia? Australia? New Zealand? This is the perfect time to find out if your dream university has the major you actually want. I’m gonna tell you a story about a girl who nearly send her application to the wrong university. That girl was me.

A few months ago, I was super hyped about going to school to New Zealand. I chose University of Otago as my first choice, and from there I laid out plans about my research (I was going to go back to History major, FYI). Turned out that they didn’t have quite the subjects I wanted to take for my thesis, so I regretfully cancelled applying to Otago. After a more thorough consideration and research, I finally applied to Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands because they had the perfect major and the perfect studies for me in order to write my thesis. I’m currently in the process of gathering recommendation letters from my former professors and once it’s done, I’m going to secure my admission by paying a hefty admission fee (100 euros, equivalent to Rp 1,5 million rupiahs).

Don’t make the same mistake like I did back then. Another thing to put in mind is that you shouldn’t be too attracted by a university’s name. Say, you really want to go to one of those Ivy League universities in the USA just because they will sound cool on your resume. Not every university has the perfect major for you. Who knows Yale doesn’t have your major, or they have your major but you’re not that interested to the subjects they offer? Research is the ultimate thing, baby. Each university has their own uniqueness, they have their own strengths, even Ivy League universities.

3. Reach out to professors

This point is optional because not all universities demand you to get in touch with your future thesis advisor before applying. Leiden, for instance, doesn’t need you to write research plan before being admitted to the program (this doesn’t apply to every major in Universiteit Leiden, FYI), but they still ask you to write a letter of motivation. Most universities will ask you to write a 500-700 word research plan. In order to do this, you should contact one of the professors to help you writing your research plan. If they don’t respond, you can write the research plan by yourself. Remember, you should write the plan as clear as possible so whoever that reads your plan will be convinced that you are one of the people they are looking for.

4. Seek out for scholarships

This point is intended for you who can’t afford studying abroad with your own money. This is the 21st century and there are a lot of scholarships being offered to people who actually want to work hard on reaching it. Try the newest Indonesian LPDP scholarship, Presidential scholarship, Beasiswa Afirmasi, Beasiswa DIKTI, or find informations about scholarship your future university can offer you.

I think that’s all what it takes. Remember, perseverance and activeness is needed. Efforts won’t betray. Good luck! (and pray for me so I can go to Universiteit Leiden next year!)

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