Guide to Grad School from an Undergrad

Jan 6
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

1) GRE - Does it matter? Yes and no. There is no minimum GRE score needed to get into graduate school. An average score suffices for the application process. If you're trying to get a fellowship, then your GPA and GRE score play off each other to determine if you meet the criteria. In this case, a well-above-average score is usually needed. Also, take the GRE early in case you want to take it again, and study right the first time so you don't have to take it again. :)

2) Network - Even if you are accepted into grad school, you still need a professor willing to let you work in their lab. Talk to everyone. Narrow down your interests, but don't be afraid to reach out to professors you've not talked to before. If you share a common goal and interest, most of the time, they're glad to meet with you. They might even give you a few more names to talk to.

3) Do your research - If you're going to interview with a professor about joining in on their research, then you should probably know a little bit about the research they do. Academic papers seem scary and have lots of words you're not going to understand, but do your best to get a good idea.

4) Ask questions - While doing your research for the interview, you'll have about a thousand questions. Don't be afraid to ask them. I used to think this would lead the professor to believe that I wasn't smart enough to understand the material, but they don't expect you to understand everything. That's why you're going to grad school. You have a lot left to learn! Questions mean you're inquisitive and interested in their work. Ask away!

5) Don’t get discouraged - Exhaust all your options. Things may not work out exactly the way you planned. During my ongoing journey, lots of unexpected things have happened. Doors have opened and closed. New acquaintances have been found. Sacrifices have been made, and I still don't really know where I'm going to be next fall. The whole process has helped me understand that the unknown is not the scary part. It’s the part that keeps you going.

Sara in the lab
Conducting lab analysis during an internship my junior year. This opportunity solidified my interest in research and started my pursuit to grad school.

Reflect and Reset

Jan 4
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

A friend of mine told me he thinks it’s funny that people assume things are going to change in the year ahead just because the date is changing on the calendar. He’s right, physically nothing changes (unless it is Y2K - yikes, that was an exciting time!), but the calendar flip does give us a chance to reflect on and reset for the year ahead. We can make new resolutions moving forward and try to create better versions of ourselves, which feeds right into the mission of ACES: improving the world we live in today! See how I made that connection? Smart, right?

So, as you reflect on the year behind and reset yourself toward your goals in the year ahead, remember to make the most of your time in ACES - how can you help improve today’s economy, environment, and/or community? We are excited to hear about your ideas! 


Celebrate and Rest. #check

Dec 20
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

I’m a ‘to-do list’ type of person. I like lists. Most importantly, I love to check items off my list .

Whether it’s a list you’ve written down or a list in your head (as many of my students claim to have), now is a great time to check some big accomplishments off your list.

Final exams. #check

Fall semester. #check

Grades completed (for faculty). #check

Graduation (for some). #check

Aside from our academic accomplishments, there are many opportunities during this season of the year to celebrate. No matter how big or small the accomplishment or the occasion, take time to celebrate!

Perhaps just as importantly as celebrating your accomplishments, take time to rest. Surviving the semester is a test of patience and endurance. Now is the time to rest. (If necessary, put “rest” on your list. Then celebrate the moment when you can #check it off your list!)

Whatever your plans may be for the break…

  1. Celebrate your accomplishments.
  2. Set aside time to rest.


To-Do List


Dec 15
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications
As we approach the 150th anniversary of the University of Illinois, I’ve been reflecting on the many generations impacted by this institution.

We see the connection in current faculty who were trained by former faculty, who, in some cases were trained by a faculty member before them. That’s multiple generations of some of the world’s leading scientists. 

We see 4-H leaders, who were 4-H members themselves, influencing future leaders!

We certainly see it in our students.

While interviewing potential recipients of the Jonathan Baldwin Turner scholarships last week, several times I heard students share that they wanted to come to school here because it’s where their parents came to school and, in some instances, grandparents, as well. A few noted that they had never really even contemplated attending somewhere else. The history of the College of ACES launching success for previous generations was repeated in several conversations.

Earlier this month, there was a similar theme of multiple generations experiencing the impact of the College of ACES Jonathan Baldwin Turner scholarship program and in-turn paying it forward. The first JBT scholarships were awarded in 1979. With more than three decades of recipients, we’re starting to see a generational sequence. In the room during the annual JBT banquet, there were former recipients, who had become JBT donors themselves, and were attending that evening in the role of parent of a recipient. Did you get that? Let me draw a picture.

JBT scholarship recipient > JBT scholarship donor > Parent of JBT scholarship recipient

To me that’s a special testament to the JBT program and its ripple effect!

Families, networks, generosity, and leadership are all products of the generations who have passed through this institution.  

Kraig Krause, left, congratulates Eileen Urish on receiving the JBT scholarship supported by the Kraig Krause Scholarship fund. Urish grew up near the Krause family farm in Mason County.


Dec 13
Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES

If I were to choose one word to describe my first 30 days as the Dean of the College of ACES, it would be the word hopeful. After meeting dozens of people, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, stakeholders, community members, and Illini colleagues, it’s clear how much people love this college and the university. Even more exciting to me is their willingness and eagerness to partner with me to create a vibrant future for ACES and the people we serve. The outpouring of support and encouragement I have received has been truly remarkable.

I am deeply moved by the stories I have heard from students about the experiences our faculty and staff are creating for them. Lives are being transformed, and our students are grateful for the sense of home and support they experience in ACES. I have heard many accounts of dedicated alumni who go beyond the call of duty to improve the college by devoting their time, resources, and energy to help create new possibilities with us. I have read stunning reports about the many discoveries taking place in our research programs that are improving the lives of people around the globe. The quality of the faculty and staff in this college is truly extraordinary. Excellence abounds and people are excited about the future. The upshift in energy and enthusiasm is palpable, and opportunities to take action have already presented themselves to me. 

My intention as dean is to empower the ACES community to live into our collective potential by capitalizing on the strong foundation that exists in academic programs, research, and Extension to catalyze a vibrant future for this organization. I am working with the administrative team to develop action plans to initiate efforts to propel the college forward by elevating the visibility and image of the college to internal and external constituents, by activating our donor and alumni base to support strategic visioning and advancement, and by implementing strategies for reducing our dependence on state resources.

Initial efforts include piloting collaborative strategies with college support units and departments to improve communication and visibility. The ACES administration team and I are actively engaging with stakeholders and partners, both internal and external, to address concerns and to identify opportunities for expanding collaborations. Efforts are also underway to determine the value-added proposition of being an ACES graduate, which will be used to invigorate recruitment efforts and create connections with industry partners. We will share details surrounding these efforts early next year after strategies have been clearly framed.

In spite of the tremendous budget challenges the university is facing, I remain hopeful that we will thrive, not just survive, as we move forward. I have used the following mantra to guide me throughout my career: “Do the right thing. Do it again and again and again, and good things will happen.” That approach brought me to the perfect place at exactly the right moment with an excellent cast of characters to join me in this commitment. If we continue to do the right things, we will continue to have the opportunity to transform lives. I am grateful to all of you for allowing me to join you on this journey.

Taking a "selfie" with Frank Gonzales, a junior in finance in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics.

Sitting in on a session at the Farm Assets Conference with U of I President Emeritus Robert Easter last month in Bloomington.

Meeting Emeritus Professor of Animal Sciences Jim Pettigrew and his wife Cinda at a reception earlier this month.

Orange tote bags and the future

Dec 8
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist
During these last few years of working in ACES, I have passed countless groups of prospective students and their parents on campus sidewalks taking part in an official college visit. A tour guide, in a harrowing feat of backwards tightrope walking, leads the high schoolers and their families from building to building, announcing destinations such as, “to the right is the undergrad library,” or “just ahead are the Morrow Plots!”

How do I know they’re prospective students here on a college visit? It’s the bright orange tote bags slung over their shoulders. If you spend your days on campus as a student, or as a member of the faculty or staff of U of I, you’ve seen the orange tote bags, filled with info pamphlets and other goodies.

Recently, on a rainy Monday afternoon, I walked next to my son, a junior in high school, along the familiar campus sidewalks but my eyes were fixed on the orange tote bag slung over his shoulder. It was our turn for our very first college visit. I pass these campus tour groups all the time.  And I’ve often wondered what the parents are thinking about as they make their way from the south quad to the library to the main quad.  Are they excited that their child’s next chapter in life is about to begin? Feeling the pangs of sadness at the thought of their child moving away? Overwhelmed by how big the campus can seem at first?

It was so weird to me to be in the center of something—this group of parents and high school students, and all our orange tote bags moving across campus—that I have seen from a distance, but was now experiencing myself.  I couldn’t believe this day had come.

I watched my son take in all the information that was presented to us that day, information about what the admissions office looks for in applicants, what the demands of certain programs are, how to find opportunities to get involved with clubs or groups on campus, and how U of I prepares students well for their careers.  I watched his face and I knew that he was thinking about his future.  He was picturing himself in the scenes he was seeing all around him.

Parents, if this is your stage of life, too, we will get through this. We made it through kindergarten, junior high, learning to drive, right? We’ve got this too.

Tour U of I

Last Day of Classes

Dec 7
Brianna Gregg, ACES Coordinator of Transfer Recruitment

As I morphed from student to employee at Illinois, my feelings about the last day of classes before finals changed. While as a student I was excited for the last day of courses, finishing that final paper or studying with my friends for final exams, now I am a little sad because many of the students will be gone for close to 5 weeks and campus will be E M P T Y.

This does have some perks. 

·         Driving around campus is MUCH quicker

·         There ISN’T a line at Panera and there IS a place to sit

·         Projects that have been put off due to time are slowly getting done


·         No students to have conversations with about their research and experiences

·         No classes to further learning (unless you are taking one online - there is still time!!!)

·         The hallways and sidewalks look like campus went through rapture

·         Bevier Café closes meaning no cookies for me or Santa

So as you enjoy your time away from campus, wherever that is, please know that you are missed and we are counting down the days until you return!

Give yourself the nicest gift this year

Dec 1
Sara Tondini, Animal Sciences graduate student

The end of the year brings me mixed feelings: joy at all the memories I've made, hope for what next year brings, and major anxiety at all there is left to do!!!! I've always enjoyed being busy. As much as I complain about my task list for the week, I find lots of happiness in making that list and checking things off. It brings me a sense of accomplishment and I've always liked that about my busy schedule. However, I've noticed that as I start to check off one thing I add about 3 or 4 more to the list. I'm challenging myself this December to actually give myself a break while on break, and you should join me. 

Here's how to do it: 

1. Say no every now and then: I know you want to do a thousand things but it's okay to only do nine hundred and ninety nine things sometimes. If you cannot find anytime in your schedule to even consider a break. Say no once. It's scary... and freeing. 

2. Set aside time: Actually do it. Don't say "I'll take a break after this." Write down a date or some evenings in your week or a whole entire weekend and schedule yourself some "me-time". 

3. Hide all electronic devices: Having email on your phone is a blessing and a curse. When you're trying to relax that's when the curse part comes in. Just put them away. All content will be there blinking and buzzing when you return, promise.  

4. Invite your friends: Maybe alone time is what you need but if you want someone to hold you accountable start movie night or game night or plan an adventure. Your time is valuable and when you spend it on the people you love you are definitely getting your money's worth. 

Give yourself the nicest gift this year and take a break with me!

P.S. Dogs are really good at taking breaks. 
Especially mine. 


Nov 21
Jason Emmert, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs

“I don’t know.”  As a student recruiter, I hear those words fairly often in response to my question “do you know what your plans are after high school?” Not knowing is completely understandable when I hear this from freshmen, sophomores, and even juniors. But when I hear it from a senior, sometimes it’s almost heartbreaking. 

I’ve met so many bright young people who have fantastic plans for their future, some involving the U of I, some not (and that’s OK). But there seems to be a growing number of seniors who don’t have any direction. They have no idea what life after high school will involve, and it is clear in many cases that they’re not getting the encouragement and advice they need.   

Over the years I’ve tried to develop at least one piece of advice and encouragement for each student, no matter what their interest is (or isn’t). You usually don’t have to drill down too deep to find out if they like science, math, people, working with their hands, technology, etc. If their interest fits well with our majors in ACES, we can have a great conversation about our potential career paths. But what if that’s not the case?

When I’m able to determine that students enjoy working with their hands, or that they want to pursue a more physical type of career, I tell them to check out the great trade school, community college, and tech school options we have in Illinois. But I also encourage them to take some business/management coursework, because as you get older, the physical work becomes more difficult (I can attest to that!). With training, maybe they could transition into a management role, or run their own shop. That’s may not be life-changing advice, but I at least want to give each student some encouragement to stretch themselves and reach for the best life they can.

I want to ask each of you to be an encourager of young people – any time you get the chance! We love to have advocates who promote the wonderful opportunity of pursuing a degree in ACES – believe me, your efforts are incredibly valuable to us! But please don’t ever pass on the chance to encourage young people who may not be a fit for our college and university. You may provide just the spark they need to set the wheels in motion on the way to a better life. You can do it!

You can do it

A man on a horse looks different than a man standing on the ground

Nov 17
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist
Recently, ACES alum, Dr. Temple Grandin, was back on campus and spoke to a few classes and presented a seminar for the Animal Sciences department.  Dr. Grandin is well-known as both a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior and as a world-renowned autism spokesperson, speaking candidly about her own experiences with autism.

She is a passionate speaker on both of those topics and it was great to hear from her in person.

I have been mulling over one of Dr. Grandin’s word pictures she used in her seminar that day. She was talking about the importance of keeping animals calm while working with them, especially in handling cows. Part of that, she explained, is considering what they see in their surroundings and being aware of what might frighten, surprise, or distract them.  And then she said this:

“To a cow, a man on horse looks a lot different than a man standing on the ground.”

For the next few days, I found that idea coming back to mind over and over.  Aren’t people the same way? Don’t we need time to acclimate to new situations, new ideas, and new surroundings? We need to take things in and decide if they are true and safe.  We need time to deal with change.

As I prepared for an interview that week for a story I was writing to highlight the great work being done in The Autism Program (TAP) in ACES, I again kept thinking of that phrase about the man on the horse vs. the man on the ground.  I talked with a parent of a 16-year-old boy who has autism. She told me that her son, who now towers over her in height, thinks and relates to others at the level of a 5- or 6-year-old child.  With assistance from programs such as TAP, that mom told me that the family has learned to help him by better understanding the way he sees things.

That mom’s words rang so true with what I had heard Dr. Grandin say.  To be able to see things from someone else’s perspective and to understand what frightens them or what motivates them, is so important in being able to connect or communicate with someone.  

I will probably never let this idea—that a man on a horse looks different than a man on the ground—leave my thinking, especially as I raise my kids, meet new people, or communicate with the media and public in my job as a writer for the College of ACES. Sometimes we just need to see things from others’ perspectives, and give each other the time and space to find truth and a sense of safety and hope in what we are offering.

I am grateful for the words and work of Dr. Temple Grandin. 

Temple Grandin