Kaplan (2011) identifies four core requirements considered universal to gaining entrance into graduate school including:
- High grades
- Relevant research experience
- Strong letters of recommendation
- A letter of intent
Master of Arts programs in Sociology, for example, typically necessitate an overall grade point average of 80% or more based on all previous courses taken or, in fewer instances, grades from the last two years (Duffy & Symbaluk, 2019). If possible, consider enrolling in an “honours” undergraduate program since this designation is preferred for subsequent entrance into a Master of Arts program and it provides you with opportunities to gain research experience.
Research-related experience is also a core component of graduate school admittance and the skills acquired through research or field-related experiences can sometimes help to mitigate for less than stellar grades (Kaplan, 2011; Mumby, 2012; Niemeyer & Stevenson, 2008). Speak with your instructors about the potential for serving as a teaching assistant (e.g., tutoring students who need assistance or proctoring exams), a research assistant (e.g., conducting database searches or assisting with data analyses), and/or inquire about the possibility of taking an individual study course (wherein you might conduct research under the supervision of an instructor). Students also gain valuable experience through the dissemination of course-based research in the form of a poster presentation, conference talk or even a publication in an undergraduate journal. These activities can be described more fully for the admissions committee in letters of recommendation provided by former instructors or research supervisors and in your letter of intent.
You will need at least two letters of support from previous instructors or field-supervisors (Kaplan, 2011; Mumby, 2012). To obtain the strongest possible recommendations, it is essential that you do well ideally in more than one of their courses and that you develop rapport with these instructors, so you can share ideas and information that would be relevant to include in the letters about your academic interests and related skills. When seeking approval from an instructor to write a letter of recommendation, supply that individual with a reminder of which courses you took and when you took them, note how you did in the courses and provide additional information that would help inform an academic impression of you (e.g., your academic transcript, letter of intent, Curriculum Vitae). Letters of recommendation are highly subjective and detailed in a manner that can prove to be more important than prior grades for helping the selection committee understand how and how well you are suited to the preferred program of study (Mumby, 2012; Neimeyer & Stevenson, 2008).
To gain entrance into graduate school you will also need to write a letter of intent (also called a letter of purpose or personal statement) that details why you are seeking entrance into that program and provides additional information on your relevant attributes such as grades, research-experience and/or research interests that may be of assistance to the selection committee for determining your overall suitability for the proposed program (Asher, 2008). Carefully proofread your letter of intent as errors and omissions will provide a less than favourable impression of your writing ability and academic preparedness. Note that uniqueness is viewed as an asset, so it is acceptable to elaborate on how your prior life experiences have helped to shape your current interests in the program. Finally, graduate schools also sometimes ask applicants to submit a sample of their prior work (e.g., an essay or research report) and like prospective employers, many schools now require applicants to enclose a Curriculum Vitae (Duffy & Symbaluk, 2019).