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How to Prepare for Grad School Application

  1. Jul 31, 2008 #1
    I'm starting my undergrad in electrical engineering at McGill University this fall, and while I know that it's still years ahead of me, I want to know how I can best secure my chances into whatever grad school I want down the road.

    I plan on doing their honours EE course, as well as a minor in physics, so I'll be writing an honours thesis as well as being able to take some grad courses during my final year of study. What I really want to do, right now anyway, is to work in the field of nanotech, but not necessarily from a pure physics perspective, more of an engineer's perspective. I guess an example would be using carbon nanotubes in a certain application vs studying the physics behind a carbon nanotube (I hope that I'm making myself clear).

    So while I enjoy my 4 years of undergrad, I just want to know what sort of opportunities I should look out for in order to increase my odds of going wherever it is that I choose down the road. Obviously getting good grades is one thing, but I'm sure there has to be something else. Do grad school care about volunteering or anything of that nature? I know that my school does some nano-tech work with the grad students, is there usually something that I can do to get involved as an undergrad? I really don't know what to start looking for, and I want to get going on the right foot.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2008 #2
    I think the one thing about grad school is that they don't care if you volunteered at a library, they care if you did good research, if you have the ability to hard work and have shown that in your undergrad years. I would say letters of recommendation (and kind of related to this, research) is most important. Grades are important, but there is a pdf document by a guy who was on the admissions committee for compsci phd programs (like MIT, CMU, the best of the best) and he said generally 3.5 gpa is what they are looking for. It doesn't make a huge difference to have a 3.8 or a 3.9. But he said he really wants to see GOOD LETTERS.

    A letter that says, this kid got an A in my class means nothing. The transcript tells them that already. A letter that says this kid did a paper with me, showed a lot of effort, worked really hard and we pumped out a quality paper will probably get you into a good school.

    Now volunteering in a lab is much different than volunteering in a library. My advice is to get involved. See if this is something you really want to do, and the best way is to get involved. This also helps since you get to know faculty and you can maybe network into some research opportunities in your 3rd or 4th year, maybe your 2nd year even.
  4. Aug 1, 2008 #3


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    Keeping your marks up is the main thing. Something else you can do is to get involved with student engineering/physics groups - both the social groups and the ones oriented around extra-cirricular competitions such as a solar car or robotics team.
  5. Aug 1, 2008 #4
    I forgot about extra-curricular competitions, I most certainly plan on entering those as I always find them a blast. There have been a few at my last school, and though I've never won anything, I've always had a good time with them.

    As for a 3.5 gpa being enough, I'll keep that in mind, but obviously I'm going to try for the 4.0. I'll be sure to talk to my teachers often, and ask if I can do any work with them.

    As far as volunteering in labs, I'll see how long I have to be there for that to happen. Because I live in Quebec, I went through the Cegep system before getting into university, so it's as if I've already done a good chunk of my first year courses. Maybe that means that I can get started on working in the lab even earlier?

    So in conclusion, I guess the general consensus is to get involved with extra-curricular science/engineering related activities, as well as getting involved with the professors.
  6. Aug 1, 2008 #5
    Yeap that sounds like a great plan.

    I would say the ideal grad applicant is someone with good grades, good lab/research experience and good letters of recommendation. If you can get those things, then you have nothing left to question when grad school acceptance letters roll in. There isn't much more you can do besides what you mentioned.
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