In college, students pursue an undergraduate degree, typically either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). For those pursuing an academic career, it will be necessary to go on to obtain a graduate degree (such as a master’s degree or, more commonly, a doctorate). Just as what you were supposed to do in high school was determined by the requirements for getting in to college, so the requirements for getting in to a good graduate program should help you determine your goals in college.
What are graduate programs looking for? Generally they consider:
- Where you went to college
- Publication/writing samples
- Research experience (if applicable)
- Letters of recommendation
- Graduate Record Exams (GREs)
- Statement-of-purpose essay
It is crucial to maintain a strong GPA in college. Many PhD programs require, at a minimum, that students have a GPA of 3.5 or higher to be accepted. (As with high school, not all grades are made equal. A more advanced class will usually be weighted more heavily than a less advanced class, or a class that is outside your field of study.)
To consistently achieve high grades in college you will need to develop good study habits (if you haven’t already). You will usually be taking four to seven classes at a time, with significant amounts of reading, writing, homework, projects and research required for each. You must set aside enough time to complete all these tasks—and make good use of the time you do set aside. The Ayn Rand Bookstore sells a useful guide by Dr. Edwin A. Locke for developing good study habits.
As you take more classes in your field of study, try to develop strong relationships with your professors. While good references were important for getting in to college, they are absolutely critical for getting in to graduate school. You have to make the effort to get to know your professors and allow them to get to know you.
If you are thinking about pursuing a degree in the sciences or in certain social sciences, you will also need to gain research experience. If your field does not require research experience, you should focus on developing examples of academic writing. Do this in consultation with a professor you respect and/or your OAC adviser.
More generally, as an undergraduate, you should become familiar with your field by reading the academic journals and important books in that field. You need to know what scholars in that field are doing. What sorts of issues are they concerned with? What is the context of knowledge they take for granted? What kind of jargon do they use?
Many college students interested in Objectivism want to engage in intellectual activism to promote Ayn Rand’s ideas on campus. This may include joining (or starting) a campus club, writing for your school’s newspaper, blogging, etc. If you are pursuing an academic career, however, you should give careful thought to whether and under what conditions you will engage in these kinds of activities. You should expect that all of them will be reviewed by future admissions boards and hiring committees. You must ask yourself: Do I think this will help or harm me in the future, and if I think it will harm me, is it worth it? Many students have engaged in activism without encountering any barriers, but you must decide for yourself. Your OAC adviser can help you answer those questions, though.
Some students wonder under what circumstances they should express Objectivist views in class. This depends greatly on the subject, the professor and the manner in which you present your view. It is rare that a student will be graded down for defending Objectivism, though you should gauge how open the teacher is to students expressing opposing views in general. The important question is: What is your goal? There is no obligation to defend your ideas in class when you are a student; your silence does not imply agreement with your professor’s ideas. Your aim should not be to change your professor’s mind (you won’t). But if you wish to speak out for the sake of whichever rational minds there are in the class, the essential requirement is that you do so in an appropriate, respectful manner.
Applying for Graduate School
Applying to graduate schools is very different, and much more complex, than applying for college. OAC students are assigned advisers—professional Objectivist intellectuals familiar with the student’s field—who can help guide them through this process. You should also consult your department’s graduate adviser.
Start thinking about applying to graduate school early, usually during your junior year of college. You should become familiar with potential programs, their strengths, the faculty and the requirements for being admitted. You should start working on your graduate school applications in earnest around September of your senior year, as they are typically due in December or January.
During the application process you will need to:
- Determine which graduate programs to apply to
- Forward transcripts
- Choose writing samples (if applicable)
- Compile a resume that includes publication/research experience (if applicable)
- Compile letters of recommendation
- Take GREs (if applicable)
- Write a statement of purpose(s)
- Complete the applications
Let’s consider each of these in more detail.
Determine which graduate programs to apply to. Graduate programs are extremely competitive, so you will want to find as many suitable programs as possible—it is not uncommon for a student to submit ten or more graduate applications.
What makes a program suitable? You will want to find a program that is strong, not only in your field of study, but also in your focus within that field. For instance, it will not be very helpful to get into a program that specializes in modern philosophy if you’re interested in ancient philosophy.
Similarly, it is vital to be familiar with the faculty at the programs to which you apply, as you will be working much more closely with them than the faculty at your undergraduate institution.
Once you decide which programs to apply to, spend time familiarizing yourself with each program’s admission requirements and deadlines.
Forward transcripts. You will need to request that your college transcripts be forwarded to the graduate programs to which you are applying. Be aware of each program’s application deadline, and ensure that your transcripts arrive well before then.
Choose writing samples. Some programs will request that you provide academic writing samples, which you should have developed as an undergraduate. It’s a good idea to consult a professor you respect and/or your OAC adviser concerning which samples to include.
Compile a resume that includes publication/research experience (if applicable). If you have relevant publications, research experience or work experience in your field of study, many programs will request a resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV) listing it.
Compile letters of recommendation. Most graduate programs request three or four letters of recommendation. These should usually come from undergraduate professors in your department (e.g., philosophy professors, if you are a philosophy student). Again, these should be professors you have developed relationships with as an undergraduate. If you have research experience not affiliated with your school, a letter from one of the supervisors of that research is appropriate.
When requesting a letter of recommendation, ask early (at least three to four weeks in advance). Take some time to discuss with the referee what your plans are for and after graduate school, as well as what the referee will say about you. Don’t be afraid to look for a different referee if you aren’t confident you will receive a strong and unqualified recommendation.
You should provide each referee with the following:
Your full name
Which classes you have taken in (or relevant to) your field of study, including the grade you earned (specify which classes were taken with the referee)
A statement of your career goals and interests
Extracurricular activities relevant to your field
Anything else that highlights your strengths and achievements
A stamped envelope addressed either to you or directly to the program(s) you are applying to, as required
Follow up after a week to ensure the letters are sent before the deadline. Check to make sure the schools received them as well. (Some schools have online tracking for application status.)
Take GREs (if applicable). Many graduate programs require applicants to submit their Graduate Record Exam scores. The GRE is a standardized test, similar to the SATs. There is a GRE General Test that measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills, as well as GRE Subject Tests, which measure uundergraduate achievement in specific fields of study. Find out which you will be required to take for each graduate program you intend to apply to.
You can take the test multiple times, so it is often a good idea to take it early the first time, giving you time to retake it if you are unsatisfied with your score. Before taking it, however, prepare for the test and become familiar with its format. You can take practice tests online, purchase test preparation guides at your local bookstore or even take classes that will help prepare you for the GRE. Most important, take the test early enough to ensure your test scores get to the programs you’re applying to well before the deadlines.
Write a statement of purpose(s). Your statement of purpose (sometimes called a letter of intent, a statement of interest, etc.) will typically address your interest and experience in your field of study, what your long-term goals in that field are and how the graduate program you’re applying to can help you achieve your goals. Like any piece of good writing, your statement of purpose should express a single, clear theme. It should demonstrate to the admissions board that you have the knowledge, skills, commitment and ambition to succeed in your field of study. Be sure to have a professor or your OAC adviser critique your statement.
Complete the applications. Fill out the application for each program carefully, neatly and submit it on time. Follow up with the school to ensure they’ve received everything.
The Ayn Rand Institute offers a number of resources for college students interested in Ayn Rand’s ideas and considering an academic career.
- Essay contests—Earn substantial cash prizes that can be used to help pay for college.
- Summer internships at ARI—Work and study with professional Objectivist intellectuals.
- The Objectivist Academic Center [OAC] Core Program—ARI offers a one-of-a-kind educational institution for the study of Objectivism.
- Anti-servitude campaign—Fulfill high school volunteer work requirements by volunteering at ARI.
- ARI Video & Audio Page—Our Web site contains hundreds of hours of audio-visual material by and about Ayn Rand.
- Campus clubs—ARI supports campus clubs in a variety of ways, such as providing recordings of lectures, live speakers, as well as fliers and brochures.
- Grants and scholarships—OAC students are eligible to receive a variety of grants and scholarships, including scholarships to attend Objectivist conferences, including our annual summer conference.
Specifically for applying to graduate school:
- Adviser program—OAC students receive formal and informal advice from professional Objectivist intellectuals, including assistance for applying to graduate school.
- Application grants—OAC students are eligible to receive grants to partially cover the often substantial costs of graduate school application fees.