Plan for Graduate Education

It's never too early to consider graduate school, even for freshmen. You don't need to have a solid plan mapped out at the beginning of freshman year, but you do need to be aware of the impact of your freshman-year decisions and to have a general goal in mind.

Rather than looking for students in a particular discipline, graduate and law school admissions counselors seek those who have excelled in a challenging field of study. The American Bar Association, for example, doesn't recommend specific major for undergraduates. Instead, it encourages a curriculum that focuses on analytic reading, writing, and research skills.

For example, traditional paths to law school include majoring in history, English, philosophy, political science, economics, or business. Non-traditional disciplines are art, music theory, computer science, engineering, nursing, and education.

If law school interests you, a pre-law adviser can help you choose the best strategy. She can work with you to gauge your interests and recommend classes that will best prepare you for the type of law you want to study.

A similar strategy applies to medical school, but with a greater emphasis on the sciences. Med schools typically require coursework in biology, math, chemistry, physics, and English. A well-rounded undergraduate experience, however, includes the humanities and social sciences. Such classes help you understand how society works, show you how to communicate well, and teach you to write effectively-all traits of an ideal physician.

Extracurricular experiences are important. Volunteering at a hospital or law firm provides invaluable exposure to your field of interest and can help you decide if it's right for you. Nothing else can provide the full picture of a profession like being immersed in one.

The reality of graduate education doesn't sink in for many students until it's time to face the admissions exams-the MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, and GRE. The tests are long, difficult, and take a great deal of preparation. Taking the exam during the summer before senior year means that you're not busy with other classes. If you take the test in early fall, you can use the summer to study. It's important to allow yourself the time and opportunity to retake the exam if needed-not so you can fail, but just to alleviate some of the pressure from other commitments.

If you're not sure about graduate education, explore your options. Career fairs and similar campus events provide a wealth of information. You'll get to meet with recruiters who can provide helpful insight, and you'll gain exposure to new career paths, and educational possibilities.