The classes you take outweigh the grades you earn in them – or at least that’s the case at most grad schools. Grad schools want to see that you challenged yourself academically, instead of just padding your GPA. While most schools still require a strong GPA to be accepted, they pay very close attention to the classes you took.
For example, an A in a cooking class like “Cuisine 101” can actually hurt your chances of being accepted, and a B (or even a B-) in an Advanced Chemistry class can improve your chances, especially if you’re applying to a science program. But, ultimately if you can earn an A in your Advanced Chemistry class, there will be no doubt about your abilities.
So, do what it takes: put your prof on speed dial, organize study groups, work with an individual tutor for some one-on-one learning. A tutor might be your best bet, as he/she works closely with grad schools and knows exactly what they are looking for in students and how to help you improve your grades.
Other than that, here are some tips to improve your chances of being accepted into grad school with better classes:
Take relevant classes: Do some digging to find out what the curriculum is like at the schools you’re applying to and mimic it at your undergrad. Take the exact same classes if you can. You can search the Internet for a school’s curriculum, ask professors at your undergrad what they think it will be like, reach out to current/former grad students, etc. Ultimately, a student with a 3.3 undergrad GPA in a curriculum similar to the school’s has a better chance than one with a 3.8 in irrelevant classes. And most admissions counselors will look that far.
Active learning vs passive learning: There’s an old adage saying that you will transition from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge when you move from undergrad to grad school. So, take as many classes as you can in which you are producing knowledge. Load up on project-oriented classes, labs and field-research classes instead of test-oriented classes because that’s how most classes are set up in grad school. Being able to produce a project or case study with academic or practical importance is infinitely more valuable than being able to memorize a lot.
Industry conferences: Field trips for grown-ups. Attending industry conferences can show you are seriously about your field. Find the classes that take students to conferences and enroll in them.
Diversify general requirements: Ideally, you want your classes to be challenging and relevant to the graduate degree you’re pursuing. General requirements typically miss the mark on both. So, grad schools want to see diversity. So, if you’re a liberal arts major, take some science classes and vice versa. But, you don’t want to diversify into pottery classes or anything like that. Still, try to take challenging, academic general requirements.
What does this class say about me? Ask yourself this every time you sign up for a new class because that’s exactly what grad schools will do when they see your transcript. Every class you take should say you are willing to challenge yourself and learn something new. Stick to that, and you’ll be golden.