How to Get Published Before Grad School

Post by: Dr. Kristen Willmott

The importance of self-monitored blood pressure as a behavioral strategy; an exploration of Toxoplasma on the path to curing parasitic infections; how to pinpoint aspects of early warning signs before an eating disorder surfaces; the molecular changes that occur when stem cells are exposed to high levels of an acid in processed foods; and uncovering the “postponed power” of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

These are not just thought-provoking research topics, but real-life studies that undergraduate students have researched, written about, submitted for journal review, and gotten published in some of the top journals between May and July 2019. I’m not talking about faculty or doctoral students, but undergraduates who engaged with research participants, conducted quantitative surveys, coded the data and analyzed findings.

I often hear from students, including grad school applicants, that they feel they must obtain year-long research internships with faculty advisors to become published or that research opportunities that lead to peer-reviewed journal publications only come out of Ivy League or “near-Ivy” university on-campus opportunities. This is just not true and here’s the proof. Those five studies linked above? Here are the universities that the students attend and the journals in which they are now published (and bear in mind these publications will sit on their resumes and CVs for life, which is a plus!):

  • University of Connecticut – Journal of Hypertension
  • Clemson U – PLOS Pathogens (a high-profile microbiology journal)
  • Swansea University (in the UK) – British Journal of Psychiatry
  • University of Central Florida – Scientific Reports
  • University of Oklahoma – Journal of Supreme Court History

If you’re a current undergraduate student or a working professional looking to jumpstart your grad school career with a publication, here are some tips on getting started.


Check out your competition, and see how others do it.

Attend some undergraduate research conferences that might be nearby. Most colleges have these annually (usually in April or May, but it varies) such as those at: NYU, UMass, UC Davis, and UWashington, for example.

Review the types of journals that typically accept submissions from undergraduates or working professionals pre-grad school (and those in grad school as well).

I love the list that the University of Nebraska maintains here because it’s so easy to search by field and discipline. All of the journals (with details on each regarding the types of submissions they accept) are separated into categories that include: Art and Literature, Business and Econ, History, Humanities and Social Sciences, Interdisciplinary, International Studies, Math and Physics, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Science and Chemistry, and Tech and Engineering. Most of the journals within each category are open-access, double-blind, peer-reviewed journals and THAT is what is most respected in the land of academia –that’s what you’re looking for.

Google “Call for Submissions” and then type a keyword that links to your preferred field.

Sort by date so that you can see the most recent requests for submissions and abstracts. Then, you could prep a paper (or upcycle a past course paper of at least 15 pages) geared specifically to a journal’s recent call for submissions.

Peruse UPenn’s massive list of conferences seeking abstract submissions for presentations (a great place to start) AND journals seeking paper submissions, AND books seeking chapter submissions.

Let’s say you’re interested in ethnic studies and cultural studies. You’d go to the UPenn Call for Papers site then click the category called Ethnicity and National Identity, and then BOOM –this pops up:

Special Issue Call for Papers: “Using Popular Culture to Bring Awareness, Develop Understanding, and Find Solutions to Issues in our Contemporary World.” Deadline for submissions: August 1, 2019. Publication date: February 2020. Journal title: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. They accept not only papers but essays that review books, films, games, conferences and more that relate to popular culture and pedagogy. Now THAT’S a neat way to get published and no faculty connections or three-month summer research internships are needed.

What if a paper is too intimidating and you want to start small?

Writing and publishing a book review is a great way to dive in. Did you know there are many top journals that will mail you a brand new free book published by top scholars in hundreds of fields so that you can read it and then write a book review, and then have your review published in their journal? Here’s one outlet where you can find out about these unique opportunities: The HNet: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.

Let’s say you’re interested in African American literature. The Ohio State University houses and publishes a journal called Research in African Literaturesand they maintain a list of books that are waiting for writers to read the book and submit a review of it. The list of books and the info to contact them to apply to do this is here.

Where did I find out about this?  It was on the HNet, and it’s one of MANY book review opportunities posted there.


So, as you can see, you’ve got publishing options and there’s no reason not to start even as early as junior year of high school. This Texas high school junior recently solo-authored and published a June 2019 article in the University of Texas San Antonio’s Journal of Undergraduate Research & Scholarly Work.

A peer-reviewed publication is a huge boost to your Common App (if you’re in high school) and if you’re a college student or working professional, it is more likely to lead to better funding as a graduate student and also better admissions odds as a Master’s and certainly as a doctoral applicant.

A publication can be a terrific opportunity for your scholarly and professional track, and sometimes you can even secure a publishing opportunity that lets you kill three birds with one stone (a publication, a named honor or award, and a monetary prize) and that’s what I call “The Publishing Trifecta.” Not sure how that works?  Check out HNet, a public site so few students even know exists, where I found the below example.


  • Prep a paper on Cold War military history and submit it by 11/15/19 for review by the Virginia Military Institute’s Center for Military History and Strategic Analysis. 2019 is the 15th year the essay contest has been held and it is aimed at recognizing and encouraging innovative scholarship on Cold War subjects.
  • If your paper is deemed one of the top three submissions, you could win a monetary prize: first place will earn a plaque and a cash award of $2,000; second place, $1,000 and a plaque; and third place, $500 and a plaque.
  • Get published: The Journal of Military History will consider prize-winning essays for publication.


I couldn’t agree more with hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky’s statement, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” And in this case, I can guarantee that if you don’t start the process and submit a paper for review, you won’t get published. I can help you attain ‘The Publishing Trifecta’; let me know when you’d like to get started.

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