5 Simple Steps for Top Graduate School Admissions

1. Research, research, research

This is the most important part of getting into grad school. Starting in the summer of first year, find a good lab that does interesting research, and email the professor to be an undergraduate research student. Make sure you send a professional resume, and show that you’ve read a few articles and can understand the research that the professor is doing. Once you are accepted, try to see if you can get paid (something like $10-11 an hour for 35 hours a week was what I was getting). Work hard and carefully, and don’t be opposed to coming in on weekends every once in a while. This will get you a good reference letter.

2. More research

Staying in the same lab is good if your project is making progress, and if you can see yourself getting your name on an upcoming paper- this is probably ideal. Many labs will employ research students in part-time positions over the school year, or as part of a research project course. Don’t be afraid to change labs as well, more experience is always a benefit. In my 3 years in Toronto I worked in 3 different labs in quite different fields. Many grad applications require 3 reference letters, so keep that in mind.

3. Grades

Research comes first, but try to be one of the top in your class. Maintaining a 4.0 GPA is nice, but not essential. I had something like a 3.9 but many people I knew had lower GPAs.

4. GRE

Make sure you get perfect on the math section (easy), and something like 600+ on the verbal as it shows you have reasonable language skills.

5. Applications

As a rule of thumb, I would apply to at least six different grad schools. Pick three top-tier schools and three safe schools. I applied to Caltech, MIT, Berkeley, University of Toronto, Cambridge, and EMBL. Consider not only the school itself, but also the program and faculty (especially for small schools like Caltech). Make sure your statement of purpose reads well, and clearly summarizes your research and educational experience. Make sure you state what you are broadly interested in doing at the university you are applying to (ie. synthetic biology, drug discovery, etc). This is extremely important, since the admission committee has to see you being a fit for at least one research group at the university.