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How is applying to graduate school different from applying to undergrad?

How is applying to graduate school different from applying to undergrad?

Summary:

“Applying 411” is a special blog series about applying to graduate school in chemistry–at Emory and in general. The goal of this series is to demystify the process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies.

Applying at the graduate school level can be confusing for applicants because of some key differences between graduate and undergraduate programs.

Specifically, most undergraduate programs have a central admissions process that reviews all applicants for admission into the school. The admissions committee might consider the student’s preparation for a specific major, but students are admitted into the college and then choose a course of study for themselves. We trust the Emory College admissions team to bring in great students–but it’s the student’s who decide to come through the Department of Chemistry’s doors.

For graduate schools, the application system is still often managed at the school level. However, the specific application you see is more than likely tailored to the individual program to which you are applying and the majority of the review process is also likely to be handled directly by that program. At Emory, you apply to the chemistry graduate program using CollegeNET, the Laney Graduate School’s online application system. Laney immediately forwards those applications to chemistry—there is no additional screening at the school level. Department of Chemistry faculty, led by a graduate committee, then conduct a whole file review of each application.

Some specifics in our application:

How does this play out in the application process?

Most of your questions about applying will be answered by the program directly rather than a central admissions office. For our chemistry program at Emory, your most direct line to admissions officers is to email gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu. That mailbox is shared by all key admissions administrators and we can respond quickly to your questions from a central location, conferring with multiple people, if needed. There is also a lot of good information on our website, including frequently asked questions. If you make a mistake on your application or need to make a change, gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu is also the right contact.

It still makes sense to become familiar with the graduate school that houses the program to which you are applying. (Note: Some institutions do not have a central graduate school even if they host graduate programs.) Emory’s Laney Graduate School website describes many school-level policies and programs in which the Department of Chemistry participates.

Prospective students might be particularly interested in the Professional Development Support (PDS) program that offers students up to $7,500 over the course of their graduate career for conferences, research travel, and training outside Emory. The IMSD program in which chemistry participates is also administered at the school level.

How do I know if graduate school is right for me if it’s different than what I experienced in college?

Hopefully you’ve had opportunities at the undergraduate level to take on responsibilities in your chosen field of study. Getting a glimpse of how a lab works through undergraduate research can be a great indicator of wether you will thrive in a graduate program environment. If you come from a PUI, you may not be as familiar with how graduate scholars work, in particular. Many of our graduate scholars find that their research experiences are still excellent preperation. Work as a student T.A. or tutor can also be applicable both for graduate T.A. assignments and in regard to mentoring opportunities that arise in graduate school.

Another major difference between grad and undergrad is a more personal one—college students can get a lot out of the experience of attending college even if they have no idea what they want to do. Graduate school is more suited to students who feel ready to devote themselves to intensive study in a discipline. If you are accepted into the chemistry program at Emory, you cannot apply this acceptance to a degree in physics or biology (although you can apply to up to two Emory programs with one application). Graduate school requires students to be committed to a particular course of study. There are opportunities to customize, but also an expectation that students will specialize. That doesn’t mean the program won’t help you or that you won’t get to explore–it does mean that graduate school in general, and our program in particular, is probably not right for you if it’s just the “next step”.

What about visits and tours?

It’s very common for students to visit campuses before applying to undergrad. Many campuses, including Emory, offer regular tours with student guides for college-level applicants. Some graduate schools may offer tours, but this is somewhat less common. Graduate students tend to spend most of their time in their home department and many departments do not have a dedicated office or person whose work allows for them to offer tours.

At Emory, we have made the decision not to offer tours to prospective applicants. This is not a reflection of our enthusiasm for prospective students! This decision allows faculty to focus on their commitment to current students and research and accepted students can expect the same level of focus.

The other reason we do not offer tours is that Emory, like many graduate schools, offers a visit weekend for accepted students. Expenses, including travel and lodging, are covered for this visit and it occurs well in advance of the admissions decision deadline. We are able to offer this resource because it allows faculty to dedicate a focused amount of time to admitted students in lieu of ad hoc visits. Offering a paid visit weekend (with virtual visits for international students) helps to level the playing field between students who can afford the time and monetary costs of a campus visit prior to applying and those who cannot.

However, if you happen to be in the Atlanta area, we do have public events, including our weekly seminars and you are welcome to walk through our public campus buildings. Most universities will be the same. For information on the possibility of tours at schools other than Emory, check the program website or contact the program administrator.

We will cover the topic of recruitment weekend preparation in a future Applying 411!

What else is different?

It would be impossible to cover everything. However, another major difference for many students is the funding situation in graduate school versus in college. Many college students pay tuition as well as room and board, sometimes with the aid of scholarships, fellowships, or loans.

By contrast, many graduate programs pay scholars to pursue the PhD degree as long as they remain in good standing with the program. This means receiving tuition coverage as well as a stipend that is intended to be used for housing and personal expenses. Emory’s current base stipend for the chemistry PhD program is $31,000. This means that all students receive at least this much stipend support if they are accepted.

Stipends are less common at the Master’s level. Emory does not currently offer an M.S. in chemistry, paid or otherwise.

Next in Applying 411: Requesting reference letters


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