Preparing for Graduate School

Faculty members can be an invaluable resource about graduate school. They can advise you about the specialties of different schools, which schools are most likely to admit you, what you can do with the graduate education you are considering, etc. Remember, it is never too early to get to know professors who teach classes you enjoy!

Graduate School Prerequisites

Prerequisites for admission to graduate school in the political science or public policy fields will vary, but many schools require students to have taken college courses in calculus, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and advanced level foreign language before attending. Please note that some schools will not accept AP credit for these prerequisites. Students are strongly encouraged to begin researching graduate schools of interest early on, and most of this information can be found on individual school websites.

Note: Students may not earn duplicate credit for the same course; if students opt to take a course for which they previously earned AP/IB credit, they will be required to forfeit the AP/IB credit. 

The GRE Exam

The Graduate Record Examination is the entrance exam for graduate school. "The GRE is to graduate school what the SAT is to college." The exams are formatted similarly; both have a verbal, math, and writing section.  In some cases, schools you are applying to will require you to take the subject part of the GRE in addition to the rest of the exam. The scores needed will depend on both the school and your area of interest (i.e. International Relations, Public Policy, etc.). You should also note that certain programs do not require you to take the GRE for entry, although most do. Therefore, it is in your best interest to take the test regardless.

If you plan on attending graduate school the fall semester following your May graduation, take the test no later than December of your senior year. Tests taken after that date will not be scored in time for your applications to be processed by the universities to which you’ve applied.

If you take the test more than once, most universities will look at your best scores in deciding upon your admission. Some schools will look at your scores from all three sections, and some will focus on just two of the three; however, the scores for ALL sections will be sent to the universities you specify.

For more information on the GRE and how to register for a test date, you should visit their website.

Application Process

The most important thing to consider before applying to graduate school is whether or not pursuing an advanced degree is the best personal decision for you. Professional and graduate degree programs are an investment of time and money and are usually used as stepping stone for a specific academic or professional goal.  In choosing colleges, you should be looking primarily at schools with strong programs that are a good fit for you both academically and financially. You may also want to take a look at the faculty members who are a part of the department, as you will more than likely be working closely with them in classes and in research. Graduate students have very close contact with their professors, and often publish articles or books with them.

Once you have decided to attend graduate school you should plan to take the GRE and/or any other required tests. Meanwhile, send your applications out; the GRE scores will automatically be sent to the universities you specify on the GRE application form. Be sure your applications are complete before mailing, and will be received by your prospective school in a timely manner. Your graduate school application is evaluated on many factors. Undergraduate G.P.A. and GRE scores are important, but your recommendations are also very important in determining your admission, as is your personal statement.

The average student applying for graduate admission to the Government and Politics Department of the University of Maryland at College Park, for example, has an undergraduate G.P.A. of 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale) and average GRE scores (all three sections) above 1800. Those competitive for assistantships average 1900-2000 on the GRE's, and their G.P.A.'s are usually a bit higher as well.

Based on the merits of your application, many schools may offer you an assistantship or fellowship. It is in your best interest, if planning to be a full-time graduate student that you check the box on your application which asks if you want to be considered for these awards. There are two kinds of assistantships--one is research (helping a particular professor whose interests you share in conducting research for one of their projects), the other is teaching (in which you would be a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class, which usually entails leading a discussion section once a week, and grading all papers for students in that section). Both assistantships require you to work approximately 20 hours per week. A fellowship involves no work commitment. Both assistantships and fellowships usually come with tuition remission as well as some type of salary for the 20 hour/week work commitment. This may vary from school to school, so you should take this into consideration when searching out programs.

Once you have narrowed down your list of programs to the ones to which you wish to attend, the application process is next.   You will need to consider several factors when applying to programs, and one is the application fee.  Many of the Minority Identification Project core schools may consider waiving the application fee if requested by the student. Take advantage of this opportunity as application fees can begin to add up to a large cost.   You should consider applying to different tier programs as well as multiple programs.

Graduate School Experience

What should you expect from graduate school? Graduate classes are small, seminar-style courses, much like the upper-level seminars in this department, only smaller. The professors do not really lecture. Instead they present ideas from the assigned readings for the students to discuss. There is a large amount of reading required, anywhere from 200-500 pages per class. A full course load is usually 3 courses.  What your courses will require of you will vary from program to program.

There are often opportunities where professors will publish or present articles with their students; this is a great way to get your name out by latching onto a more well-known scholar in the field. Graduate students are usually encouraged to get involved with research and publishing.

If you have any additional questions about the requirements of a specific graduate school, you should visit that school’s website or contact the graduate program’s admissions office. If you have more general questions about graduate school, feel free to ask your teaching assistant, a faculty member, the Director of Undergraduate or Graduate Studies in the department, or your GVPT advisor.

Links for Pre-Law Advising

University of Maryland Pre-Law Advising Office

University of Maryland MLAW Programs

Statement of Purpose

Admissions Essays

Writing a Personal Statement