Applying to graduate school can be a stressful time. During my process, which happened to span about a calendar month, I looked around the Internet and asked friends for their advice. I found some really good information that was helpful and I thought I’d share some of my favorite tips as we start to reach the fall application deadlines.
Tip 1: Start Early and Often
I began my search for the perfect graduate school in March, while the deadline was the following February. Beginning the process that early may sound daunting or even trivial, but the knowledge that I gained in those first few months was invaluable. I learned the major (and minor) differences between similar programs that were beneficial in deciding to take one track or another. Applicants shouldn’t just start the college hunt process early, but also get a head start on studying for the GRE and gathering references. I know that many students take the GRE multiple times. Making the decision to schedule that first one can either get it out of the way so you never have to look back or give you the realization that you need to study more and take a GRE class. Luckily, since you took the initiative so early, you have time to do that! Also, don’t leave your recommenders for the last second. They are usually extremely busy and need time to formulate a quality letter. Make sure to give it to them!
Tip 2: Keep Track of Deadlines
We’ve all been there. “Oh, that paper isn’t due for another couple of weeks. I have time.” One week later, “It’s due next Friday. I still have plenty of time.” The night before it’s due, “I can’t believe that I have to write a ten page paper in one night.” This is not the pattern that you want to follow when applying to grad school. Procrastination is the enemy. Fortunately, many programs allow you to create an account well before the deadline is anywhere near. By creating an account and entering in their systems, you’ll often get periodic emails reminding you that something is due soon. Make a calendar with your own deadlines to make sure that you don’t forget to send your transcripts or write a personal statement. The last thing that you want colleges to see is that you forgot to add something or submitted it late. Aim for great first impressions!
Tip 3: Take your Time on the Personal Statement
You’ll come to hear that programs want their applicants to be holistic. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll just nod your head, pretend to know what the word holistic means, and wonder how the heck you got into grad school. Basically, by wanting holistic applicants, colleges are saying that they don’t just look at the GPA, or the GRE scores, or your resume. They take the whole application into account. With that being said, the personal statement is by far the most important piece that you will hand over. It gives you an opportunity to show your strengths and explain why there may be some weaknesses on your application. It provides a vital opportunity to sell yourself to the university. Do not rush! Write a little bit at a time. Edit it to make certain that it is grammatically correct. Have others read it. Edit it again. Then submit it with no regrets!
Tip 4: Don’t Limit your Search by Distance
The fact is that the perfect program may well be halfway across the country. It is natural to want to stay at a school and in an area where we are familiar with everything around and feel safe. Always apply to your undergraduate school if they have the program that you are interested in pursuing! The fact that you are already loyal to the college will actually go a long way when they are reviewing applications. But don’t let the fact that you are scared about moving some place new by yourself prohibit you from applying to that program one thousand miles away. Chances are that you will love it and meet some of your best friends there. As my Taco Bell hot sauce packet once read, “You never know, if you never do.” So do!
Tip 5: Stop Reading Online Articles
One of the worst things that an aspiring graduate student can do is to start reading articles about the difficulties about getting accepted into a program. Even the most qualified applicants will start to second guess their resumes. It’s imperative that you are confident during the whole process. Don’t stress about not having the perfect GPA or the highest test scores. You’ll read that you need them to get into any program and that more people get declined from graduate school than accepted. You’ll see all of these unbearable statistics that will make your heart sink. But all of that just makes it even sweeter when you receive that acceptance letter. Just remember that you are qualified. And make sure to show it!
By Matthew Doyen