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I'm finishing college next year and need to start applying to grad school. I've got a list of schools I'm interested in but I'm not sure what the next step is.

Should I contact faculty members, or just fire off applications? If so, should I just contact the folks I'll be studying with, or should I talk to the head of the department too? What do I say- just introduce myself and say I'd like to come, or ask questions?

If at all possible I want to start in fall of 2012, so I need to get on this!
 

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Just go on their websites and see what the process is for application to grad school. Different schools have different processes.

Most profs I know are really busy, but approachable.
 

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Communicate with the professor(s) you want to study with first. Depending on the school...they need you as much as you need them and they will be in recruitment mode. Grad school is way different than an undergrad in that most of your time/work will be spent with your major professor. Therefore, you need to be picky (if you can be) and find the prof(mentor)/student fit for you. Again...find the right fit for you...this is so important. Otherwise, you will be miserable for a few years.

EX: Although I consider myself a musician first and a "somewhat complete" saxophonist (Classical/Jazz) second, I was more of a "jazzer" going into my grad studies. My MM and DMA professor wasn't into jazz at all....you get the idea. I studied where I did for a few personal, non-musically related reasons. I learned a ton and am a much better musician for it....but it wasn't an easy working relationship.

Hope this helps. Good luck!
 

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I'm finishing college next year and need to start applying to grad school. I've got a list of schools I'm interested in but I'm not sure what the next step is.

Should I contact faculty members, or just fire off applications? If so, should I just contact the folks I'll be studying with, or should I talk to the head of the department too? What do I say- just introduce myself and say I'd like to come, or ask questions?

If at all possible I want to start in fall of 2012, so I need to get on this!
Do all the the above! I just did all my apps for undergrad and the more you do, the more likely it is for you to be accepted. Show them you really want to be a part of their program and that you'll be valuable.
 

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Do all the the above! I just did all my apps for undergrad and the more you do, the more likely it is for you to be accepted. Show them you really want to be a part of their program and that you'll be valuable.
Exactly! The general priority deadline I've seen is around late November or early December, so now is a great time to open the lines of communication.
 
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