Tag Archives: undergrad

CollegeQandA asks: What should I do to get into graduate school?

What should I do to get into graduate school?

For a four year undergraduate program, asking this question in the fourth year is almost too late.  Getting in to a good graduate program (if that is the path you want to take) takes some planning.  Here are some basic ideas on grades, early, research and recommendation letters that may differentiate you for  graduate school admission.

Desk with person and many papers

Where to go is first

The reality is you need your reasons to go to graduate school.  In engineering, the typical Ph.D. reason is “I want to be a professor”.  In other fields, there might be other reasons, but you are going to want to go to the best school possible since the trickle down of academic pedigree will likely impact your future career options.

Grades aren’t the whole game, but they matter

Now that you have picked a top school to attend, you need to get accepted there.  The base bar to being admitted to the school is your grades and how you perform on any admittance tests.  For most US universities this test is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).  You need to do well on the test and have a high GPA.  However, this is only the base bar that you must meet.   The reality is that students across the country and throughout the world are meeting this base requirement.  How are you going to separate yourself from this large group?

Undergraduate research helps

If you can get an academic paper, presentation experience, and research training in your undergraduate time, then you are in a better spot than most.  This is why the fourth year is not a great time to get into research since the time it takes to complete research and submit work is not a short period such as a semester.  It can take a year or more to complete a worthy research project or even participate in a large research team.  However, the experience of performing research will not only improve your chances, but will show you some idea of what graduate school might be like.

Letter of recommendations

Probably, the biggest step to get into certain programs is the relationships between your recommending professors and your target schools.  If one of your recommendation letters comes from a tight relationship with your target school and the professor writing the letter, then there is a significantly greater chance of you being put to the top of the pile.

The reason for this is that all professors write letters of recommendation for their students.  If I know the person who is writing the letter when looking through graduate applications, then I know I can trust their opinion, and a strongly recommended student carries more weight from someone I know than a letter from a random professor.

In this light, I highly recommend looking at where your professors came from (in their graduate and post-graduate work) as this may help guide you on where to apply for your graduate future.

Credits: photo titled: E.D Morel, ca. 1900-1915 (IMP-CSCNWW33-OS10-23); by Ashley Van Haeften


CollegeQandA asks: What is the most important class to take in college?

What is the most important class to take in college?

Unique classroomWhat is the most important class to take in college? That’s an opinion question, so the following is my opinion.  Also, picking one aspect of your education as a single most important aspect really is a useless exercise.  However, it is fun so let’s get started.

The point of higher education

The point of it all is… well, that’s also not easy to define either.  Let me say that I would hope that the following goals are met in an undergrad:

  1. Student intellectual develops and progresses in self-authorship along the lines of Perry and Baxter-Magolda
  2. Student gains a better understanding of how the world works
  3. Student gains a deeper understanding of one small branch(es) of human knowledge that then can be used and communicated to others

With those goals in mind

The most important course is… well, it’s still hard to pick.  Based on goal 2 though, I really like Douglas Rushkoff’s view on the importance of understanding how modern technology works and can be used (programming).  The reason I pick “programming” as so important is because it’s the one that opens access computation, and computation is the tool that seems to have changed us so much, and yet, people are still scared of many aspects of that tool.

Conrad Wolfram has suggested computational thinking would help us teach math better.  The web is packed with campaigns and sites that are helping children learn to program.  The maker movement has democratized electronics, programming, aspects of manufacturing, and creativity.  Still, only a small population of us has an understanding of what computation is and how it works, and to satisfy the 2nd goal of higher education people need to at least have opened the hood once or twice to get a feel for the technology, tools, and simplicity of our machines.

Is programming the most important skill?

No, not for everyone.  I would consider communication skills (writing, reading, speaking, and listening) to be the most important skills for almost everyone, and these skills should be a focus skill set for any undergraduate education.  Programming and technology are an extension of these skills in the modern world format.

Credits: Photo titled: Le salon de lecture Jacques Kerchache (musée du Quai Branly) by: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra


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