Why Preparing for Graduate School Before Undergrad Is Essential
Students considering advanced programs like law school or MBA programs should start thinking about their options early.
For many, getting into college is all that’s important. But for those considering careers that require graduate or professional degrees, the process can begin as early as high school.
While students don’t need to know what school they want to attend for their advanced degree, keeping in mind a type of program can be essential to the college application process and beyond. Everything from GPA and major to extracurricular activities and internship experiences become big factors for graduate studies.
High school students interested in earning a juris doctor degree should consider a “3+3” law program. The idea is that a student is accepted into an undergraduate program where the fourth year of study becomes the first year of law school, saving students both time and an entire year of tuition. The program, which Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law has offered for about a decade, requires students to pass the LSAT before fully diving into advanced coursework. If, after the fourth year, students decide they don’t want to pursue a law degree, they can opt out. “The opportunity to take advantage of the 3+3 is something you scout out in high school,” says Dan Filler, dean of the Kline School of Law.
For those who don’t choose a 3+3 program, there’s still plenty to do to prepare for law school. Filler recommends taking as many writing-intensive courses as possible and engaging in critical reading. “I have a liberal arts way of thinking. I believe we develop so many of our thinking skills by reading things we’re passionate about and spending time pondering [them],” Filler says. “In law, it’s so much about reading texts with an open mind and seeing different possibilities of interpretation. The Constitution is so far from a fully defined text; it’s open to interpretation.”
Dr. Jack Baroudi, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business and Economics, agrees that writing skills are important, as well as communication skills. “If you can take communications courses, that will show you how to present in front of a group,” he says.
Taking courses that require some level of teamwork is also advantageous. “Anything involving teams goes a long way to show that you have what it takes to be an effective leader in a commercial or noncommercial organization,” Baroudi says.
Those skills are also important for future MBA students. “How do we learn how to make good decisions? How do you think critically? How do you learn to challenge your own assumptions?” Baroudi poses.
The same can be said for many graduate-degree programs. They require in-depth critical thinking, which is often necessary for admissions tests like the GMAT for MBA programs, the LSAT for law school, and the GRE for many other graduate programs.
Having a solid set of math skills is also imperative for MBA students. “We’re asking our students to have two advanced-level undergraduate math courses,” Baroudi says.
He recommends statistics and calculus, which are analytical in nature. Preparing for that can begin in high school by taking an advanced math track.
Outside of the classroom, developing both real-world experiences and leadership skills is important. That can come from taking up a leadership role in a club or participating in college athletics. “[Law] is a pretty social profession. College is a great time to hone those skills. If you are in an organization and leading, you can build muscles around connecting people,” says Filler.
Experience off campus is equally valuable, whether through a job or an internship. Many students pursuing graduate degrees take time off between undergraduate and graduate study to sharpen their skills. For those who prefer to head straight into a graduate program, internships become essential. “I want you having experience working with other people because then you understand the critical nature of learning, how to work with and manage people, and how that will require a great deal of understanding that’s not just about math or your discipline,” says Baroudi. “The courses come alive when you have an opportunity to see where you would actually apply this.”