Making yourself competitive

  1. OK, obviously, get good grades. Anything less than a B hurts your GPA. Also, the longer you have been in school (i.e., the more classes you've taken), the harder it is for an A to bring your GPA up. But, really bad grades have an immediate and noticeable BAD impact.

  2. Become involved in campus activities. The more relevant to your educational/career goals, the better.

  3. Get to know three or four professors in your major. Start making yourself look good in their eyes so that they will write GREAT letters of recommendation for you.

  4. Hook up with a professor who is doing some research. Get involved in that. You may get a conference presentation and/or publication out of it.

  5. If you did crappy in your Freshman year, keep getting better each semester. Your overall GPA might be relatively low when you graduate, but, you can point out that you were only foolish early on and steadily improved over the remainder of your undergraduate academic career. PLUS, many (not all) graduate schools only count the last three or so semesters when they calculate your GPA. Make those last few semesters really count!

  6. Write very good personal statements. Have others proofread them for content, style, grammar, and spelling. What and how you write could make the difference.

  7. If your grades are good enough, try to get into some of the honor societies. Yes, this can cost some cash, but you're paying for image.

  8. If you don't get right into graduate school, don't give up. Apply again next year. Consider broadening your geographic restrictions (be willing to go wherever you have to). Master's programs can be easier to get into than doctoral programs. If you do well in a master's program you are much more likely to get accepted into PhD programs that probably didn't look twice at your applications previously.

  9. Once you're IN a graduate program, don't relax. Do well. As an example to think about, if you were a graduate student in the master's program in our department, and you got two grades of C (or worse) in one semester, you'd be asked to leave. Your cumulative GPA can never drop below a 3.0.

  10. Bottom line: Don't look at your degree (diploma) as just a "ticket" into your dream job or a good salary. If you just go for the grade and put the actual learning aside, you will probably not survive in your job. Most likely you were hired based on your educational training. If you didn't retain those skills (i.e., you only crammed for exams), there's others out there who do.

    Consider: When I applied for a job back in 1996, I sent out nearly 75 applications. In the acknowledgement letters I received back, occasionally they mentioned how many applications for the job they had received. The numbers were around 260 or so. Now, keep in mind that I probably applied to some places that weren't quite the best match to my training (as did some of the 260 or so other applicants). Nonetheless, you have to figure that for each job out there that ultimately got filled, there were at least two other professionals without a job.

    Be a good student NOW. Don't plan to "figure it all out" when you get your job. Chances are that there are already people out there who can "hit the ground running." Make yourself competitive by being one of those who can run.