Photo Credit: The College Solution
It’s harder than you think
Reem Baghdady, Associate Opinion Editor
Note: This article is written from the perspective of a student preparing to pursue a master’s degree in the social sciences.
After speaking to mentors, psychologists, professors, and admissions officers of several universities, I have recently come to learn a lot about graduate school and its competitive nature. Most universities require an A- in the final two years of one’s Bachelor’s degree just to be considered for a Master’s degree. How can you achieve this?
To get a good undergraduate GPA at UofT, you need to learn how to read and write. Firstly, graduate students are given a lot of readings, much more than at undergraduate level. This will require you to learn the art of skimming and reading efficiently. In my opinion, there’s a spectrum of reading techniques. At one end of the spectrum, you read by skimming and taking a small number of notes. At the other end, you engage with the readings in-depth and write notes summarizing paragraph by paragraph. I’ve found the most academic success with the latter method, but it’s also incredibly time-consuming. If you choose the former, you get your readings done quickly, but you’ll have to read certain sections in-depth once essay assignments are released. I like reading deeply in the beginning so I only have to scour my notes later on in the semester rather than having to read all over again. However, the truth is that alternating between these two techniques throughout the semester may be the way to go. When assignments are due, skim.
Go to the writing center. Please. The English Language Learning (ELL) program is also very helpful. They offer free courses and mini-courses such as Reading eWriting. Personally, I will be taking their mini-course called Intensive Academic English this summer. It’s highly popular, free of charge, and completely online.
To improve one’s GPA, I also highly recommend taking five years to finish your Bachelor’s degree and taking 4 credits a year. The other option is to take summer classes, which is what I did. Again: the best option may be alternating between these two. First-year tends to be easier than later years, and universities focus on your grades in the last two years. Therefore, if you take 5 credits in your first two years and take two summer courses after your first and second years, you can take 4 credits in your final two years. In this way, you have less burden in your final two years and can focus on mastering your 4 credits instead of drowning with 5 credits.
There are other ways of being strategic about your learning. If you find a professor in your first two years who you constantly do well with, take more classes with them. Try to find syllabi online. Ask people on Reddit their opinion about a course you plan on taking. Find the professor on Rate my Professor before you take their class and you’re surprised by harsh marking, heavy readings, or anything else. Save your 2.0 FCE CR/NCR for your final two years where grades matter the most.
Take advantage of the Career Centre. Polish your resumé and cover letters for applications to work-study positions or as a research assistant. Apply to these as soon as they open, and apply to a lot of them. I applied to many during the summer when I was taking a class and got a position. Getting my foot in the door allowed me to stay on with that team in an even better research position this academic year. If not jobs, consider the Research Opportunity Program, cold-emailing professors, and joining the psychologist listserv to receive emails for research volunteering opportunities. There are some summer research experiences. If none of these work, take research courses.
Letters and Personality
Finally, the letters: your personal statement and letters of reference. Getting into graduate school is a highly subjective process. Having strong letters of reference from psychologists, researchers, and well-known professors are paramount. To achieve this, I highly suggest attending office hours as a weekly exercise (which you should be doing anyway, for your GPA) and getting to know your professors. Genuinely ask smart and critical questions about the course content. Seminar courses are also a very efficient way of getting to know your professors, so make sure to plan ahead and reach out.