So, you want to apply to grad school?

With the fall semester wrapping up, many of us are looking ahead to the spring semester and what may lie beyond. And, for those graduating at the end of the fall semester or in the spring, the “what comes next” part is the most daunting right now. Over the summer, I had to sit down and critically think about what I wanted my next steps to look like. 

My future plans always involved pursuing a Ph.D. at some point. The original plan was to get a job at an academic library where I could eventually work towards a Ph.D. However, as with most things, everything changed when the pandemic hit. I decided that, rather than entering the job market after graduation in May, I would pursue a doctorate right away. Flash forward a few months, and I submitted my final (for now) application for a Ph.D. program last week. 

I’m sure I am not the only person with this idea: there are probably plenty of folks graduating in the spring who are looking to pursue (further) graduate education instead of entering an unpredictable job market. So, with two rounds of graduate school applications under my belt, here is some advice for people who want to apply to MLIS programs, or graduate school in general.

Program Format

Most of us have experienced remote learning at this point, and you may have strong feelings one way or another about the online learning experience. One of the first things you should consider is the format of the programs you are interested in. Is the program in person? Online? A mixture of both? Think about what your preferences are, but also take the pandemic into consideration. While many are hopeful for a relatively normal Fall 2021, there is no guarantee that things will be fully back in-person for face-to-face programs, so an online fall semester might still be a possibility and you should be prepared for that.

Degree requirements

Take a look at the required courses for the programs you’re interested in. Are there core classes? Do the core classes align with the skills and/or concepts you want to learn? Is there flexibility in which electives you can take? What type of capstone is there, if any? If you can, make sure that you pick a program that will work for your interests and preferences in coursework and capstone projects.

Pay attention to deadlines

This is one that almost bit me in the butt a few times during my application process. If you are considering applying to a graduate program, look up the application due date and make a note of it. You want to leave yourself plenty of time to contact recommenders (and give your recommenders time to write the letters), write any personal essays that may be required, request transcripts if you need them, take the GRE (though many programs are no longer requiring it), etc. I made the decision to pursue further graduate education over the summer, and began to gather the application deadlines around then. Unfortunately, I did not work ahead as much as I would have liked and got many of my applications in just in time. I also had to account for the holiday season and office closures as well. If you decide to apply to grad school this time next year, do not make the same mistakes I did! Get your applications in early to avoid last-minute stress and holiday closures.

Talk to students

The best people to talk to about a program are the students currently going through the program. If you have the opportunity to, take some time to talk to current students about their experiences. That will tell you a lot about the program and may help you make a decision about where to apply and, ultimately, where to attend.

There is plenty of advice and information about the grad school application process that I didn’t mention, but I hope some of this helps anyone who is also going through the process. Do you have any advice for students applying to grad school? Put them in the comments below!


Jane Behre is a second-year MLIS student at the University of Maryland. At UMD, she is the coordinator for the First Year Book Program and a Research & Teaching Fellow. Her academic and professional interests include information literacy instruction and health literacy.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

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