Tips for Applying to Grad School

Begin Early

Applying to graduate school can be a long and complex process. Each school has unique requirements....To avoid potential problems and to keep up with deadlines, it is critical to begin the process as soon as possible. Individuals who procrastinate may experience technical issues that cannot be addressed on time.

Pro Tip: Create a spreadsheet to track where you are in the process for each program to which you are applying. What documents are required? Which documents have been submitted? What are the deadlines?

Create an Interesting Personal Statement

Many grad school applications require an applicant to include a personal statement. To impress the admission officers, applicants should research the department and the particular course of intended study. Many times, a school will be conducting research or have a clear set of goals and it is essential to use a personal statement as a tool to explain how individual abilities and experience align with the department goals and benefit the college. With this in mind, it is wise to tailor a personal statement for each application.

Pro Tips

    • Do your homework.
      Check your graduate program’s website for key focus areas, mission and values, and speak with the graduate program representative or a faculty member in the department.
    • Know yourself and your qualifications.
      Remember what makes you unique and what you can bring to the program — your education, background, work experience, internships and service are all valuable topics to consider.
    • Follow the instructions.
      Unless stated otherwise, be concise and write with brevity. Approximately 500 to 1,000 well selected words (one to two single space pages in 12-point font) will engage the reviewer. Review the supplemental application section of the graduate application to make sure you know if your statement needs to include specific information within a specific format.
    • Ask for help.
      Find someone who will review your statement. Another set of eyes will provide a new perspective and may shed light on something you missed.
    • Don’t write it in one sitting.
      Writing is a process, and your personal statement will evolve with each new draft. Ensure this is the best representation of your work.

Provide a Concise Resume

A resume is an interview on paper; it is a representation of personal accomplishments and relevant experience. Unfortunately, many individuals include too much information. A resume should be kept under two pages with a focus on academic and professional achievements. A solid resume tells a story about a person’s past and future goals.

Pro Tip: Instead of listing awards, it is better to quantify accomplishments. This means being specific with details. For example, it is important to include information like “helped increase 2014 sales by 20 percent using social media campaigns.” Using buzzwords works as well – “built community involvement” and “encouraged sharing through social media” are relevant phrases that incorporate industry terms and create a clear picture of past experience.

Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are critical components of a graduate school application. These letters act as discussions between “experts” in a particular field and the institution of interest. Even though grades matter, these letters are often deciding factors for admission. It is essential to select writers who have personal knowledge of the applicant’s skills and who can comment on the person’s potential. Writers should be able to speak on an applicant’s behalf by explaining the individual’s goals, motivation, and commitment. If possible, it is best to select professors or similar sources. 

Pro Tips: 

    • Don’t procrastinate — give your recommenders plenty of time to create a strong letter of recommendation.
    • Give your recommenders some information about the program you are applying for by sharing a link to the degree page or your personal statement so they can have a better understanding of your academic goals.
    • Find someone who can speak to your academic background and ability to succeed in graduate school; someone you worked closely with in classes, or on research or service projects. For non-academic recommendations, supervisors or colleagues who can attest to your skills, knowledge and contributions at work can offer strong letters.
    • Send a thank you note.


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