12 Tips For Hispanic Students To Get Into Graduate School

Hispanic Community April 2021 PREMIUM
Being accepted into a graduate school program involves meeting certain academic expectations based on undergraduate grades and standardized test scores.

Just the sound of those dreaded acronyms, GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), sends shivers into the spines of many undergraduates.

Entry into graduate school also entails writing a personal essay, obtaining references, and choosing the right program that fits the applicant’s strengths and career aspirations.  And then, another obstacle involves financing the cost of a graduate program, which can be daunting but is achievable (which we’ll explore in a future article).

For Latinos, minority and other underrepresented students, attending graduate school boosts their expertise and enhances their career and paycheck. For example, attaining an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) often leads to expanding one’s knowledge, a better job and higher pay.

A January 7, 2020 Harvard Business Review article “Should You Go to Graduate School?” noted that the number of graduate students has tripled in the U.S. since the 1970s and that 27% of employees demand master’s degrees for their job fulfillment.

It identified the most compelling reasons to attend graduate school as: 1) Increase your current salary, 2) Set a career change in motion, 3) Follow your passion.

A Council of Graduate Schools report cited that graduate applications were flat in 2019, but minority applications in fall 2018 and fall 2019 spiked about 5% each for Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans.

The graduate fields that showed the highest increases in enrollment were: math and computer science up 5.7% and engineering and health science up 3% each.

Here are tips from Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools and Martin Ruck, a senior advisor to the CUNY Graduate Center (City University of New York) president on Diversity and Inclusion and director of the CUNY Pipeline Program at The Graduate Center, on how best to be accepted into graduate schools.

Tip No. 1:  Demonstrate your academic preparedness

Ortega explains that graduate schools are looking for students who can demonstrate that they are academically prepared to handle the workload.  Both the student’s grades and graduate test scores are indicators of their ability to meet these stringent academic demands. But graduate schools are also pursuing students who exhibit “curiosity, creativity, motivation, stick-to-it-ness and persistence,” she says.

Tip No.2:  Get Noticed on Your Home Campus

Gaining acceptance to a graduate program starts with a student’s getting noticed on their undergraduate campus, says Ruck from CUNY’s Graduate Center. Become acquainted with the faculty; do something such as a research lab assignment, a paper that stands out and become familiar with faculty.  “To me, getting accepted into a graduate program is a combination of academic skills and interpersonal skills as well,” he says.

Tip No.3:  Highlight your diverse background

Graduate programs are increasingly open and committed to attracting a diverse student body, evidenced by the 5% spike in Hispanic, African American and other minority enrollment.  Hence, it’s incumbent upon applicants in their personal essay to highlight their diverse background and experience.  One way to achieve this is “talk about what you’ve done, how you’ve gotten there and the obstacles you had to overcome,” Ruck says.  And then “revise and revise again,” he urges.

Tip No.4:  Choose the right professors for recommendations

Ortega says that most graduate programs pursue students who are “creative, motivated and persistent.” Hence, choose the professors that know you the best and can attest to these qualities.

Tip No. 5: Consider references outside professors.

A manager at a part-time job can be tapped for a reference.  Ortega notes, “If you’ve managed and balanced work responsibilities and course work, you’ve demonstrated a real capacity to manage time and develop priorities.” Whether it was working part-time at Chipotle or elsewhere, the fact that you’ve balanced conflicting demands might easily be mentioned in the essay or part of your references.

Tip No.6:  Prepare early to take the graduate school exams GRE and GMAT

Because of the pandemic, some graduate programs in 2020 waived taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exams) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) because of Coved-restrictions.  But as the pandemic gradually fades, the odds are likely that they will return.  Ortega’s first advice is “start early” to prepare for it.  Ruck's best advice for doing well on these standardized tests is “practice, practice, practice.”

Tip No.7: Take advantage of free testing

Once students have registered to take these standardized tests, the Educational Testing Services (, which administers the GREs, offers free prep material and practice tests online.  Ortega urges all students to take advantage of these free tools.  “Test practice increases people’s confidence,” Ortega notes.

Tip No.8: Do your research on graduate programs

Ruck emphasizes that applicants need to do their homework and research exactly what it takes to become accepted by the specific programs you’re most interested in.  Pinpoint what course work is required, what extracurricular activity adds to your repertoire, and if you’re applying for STEM programs, what research labs are required.  During the pandemic, many graduate programs held Zoom open houses, so take advantage of them.

Tip No. 9: Start a dialogue with the director of graduate schools

At most colleges a director of graduate schools serves as an ombudsman or contact with the program.  Do a Google search, identify who that is, and start a dialogue with that person.  “That person can be a conduit or portal to the graduate programs,” Ortega explains.  Ask if you can obtain the email address of a faculty graduate professor in the program you’re interested in, and send them your questions.

Tip No. 10:  Ask questions; don’t be shy

“Do your homework,” Ortega urges.  If you’re interested in growing programs such as math, computer science, engineering and health sciences, four of the fastest growing graduate programs, ask questions of the director of graduate schools and faculty to determine if the program is right for you and a good fit.

Tip No. 11: Become a comparative shopper

The average cost of a two-year MBA program is about $130,000, but several pricey programs drive those fees.  Become a comparative shopper.  Look for the program that is highly rated, but cost effective.

Tip No. 12:  Think long-term

Graduate programs, particularly if they entail masters plus doctoral degrees, can be a long haul and take years to complete, Ruck suggests.   Ask yourself:  where do you want to be in 10 years?  If your goal is to become a tenured faculty down the road, make sure the graduate program knows and understands that.  To succeed in graduate school, he says, it takes “hard work, diligence, persistence and not taking no for an answer.” 

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