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You’ve now completed a whole year at college and you are beginning to get a good sense about how college works and everything they have to offer. If you don’t, do some research and exploration around the campus. No matter what your major is, planning and preparing for graduate school during your sophomore year will ensure you aren’t scrambling after you graduate.

Fall Semester: Start researching graduate school

Take a practice graduate school entrance exam

No matter what grad program you intend to pursue, you will have to take some sort of entrance exam. For medical school, you’ll take the MCAT; for law school, you’ll take the LSAT; for management school, you’ll take the GMAT; and for almost any other master’s program, you’ll take the GRE. Each of these tests are designed to test your academic aptitude in a specific subject area, and trust me, they are difficult. See where you stand now and you’ll have plenty of time to study.

Learn how to study and take notes

If you don’t know already, effectively studying and taking notes are essential skills to succeeding in college. Many colleges will offer classes or workshops to help you with this, and even if you think you know and are getting good grades, you can still learn from the advice of seasoned students and professors.

Begin researching possible graduate schools

It is good to start researching graduate schools you want to get into early so that you know what to expect. Begin creating a list of where you want to go, how much it costs, what type of scholarships and tuition assistance is available, and what it takes to get in. It is good to set your expectations high by choosing a few of the top schools, but also think about reality and research schools you have a good chance to get into.

Continue exploring your interests

You’ll still be taking some general education courses during the first semester of your sophomore year, so you’ll want to continue to explore your interests and get a good idea of what you want to do. Even if you have already declared a major and know exactly what you want to do, careers will have specialties and exploring classes that might help you later on in your life will be essential for getting into graduate school.

Winter Break: Stay focused

Think about who your mentors are

Mentors are essential no matter what phase of your academic or professional career you’re in. Make a list and speak with your parents about how certain people in your life have helped you become who you are and who you want to become.

Start researching and obtaining skills

Getting into graduate school isn’t just about your grades, it’s also about the other skills you’ve acquired and honed outside of college. Graduate schools look at you holistically, which means they want students who are driven, motivated, and ready to become a model of excellence.

Sign up for classes

Don’t forget to sign up for classes. The best classes are generally taken first and can often fill up quickly. Make sure that you sign up for classes as soon as they will let you so that you don’t have to miss out on a class that you really want to take.

Spring/Summer Semesters: Reach out to potential grad schools and your mentors

Keep up your grades

Your grades are essential to showing graduate schools that you are not only a good student, but willing to do what it takes to be the best. Keep your grades up and study as hard as you can throughout your entire undergraduate experience.

Start getting ready for the graduate school admissions process

Graduate school admissions is a bit like undergraduate admissions, except that everything will need to show the knowledge you’ve gained in throughout your college career. Depending on the schools you want to apply to, you’ll want to know exactly what you need to do. Jot down some notes about the school’s requirements and start a checklist. Anything from extracurriculars, grades, specific classes, and internships will help you stand out.

Contact grad schools that interest you

After you have identified some possible graduate schools, reach out to them to begin establishing a relationship and putting your name out there. Believe it or not, graduate schools will remember students who show initiative. Likewise, contact some of the professors at the graduate school to express your interest and ask for their advice.

Contact your mentors

Begin contacting your mentors and building relationships with your professors. You’ll want to start identifying people who will be able to write you good letters of recommendation and will guide you in the right direction towards your goals.

Get a job or internship

It is good to start thinking about internships and jobs, especially for the summer. If you can begin working in the field you want to go into graduate school for, you’ll be a step ahead of the competition and be able to gain specific skills in your field of interest.