In this first part of my new series about graduate school applications, I wanted to inform you about the application process. The many hours that you will spend researching, writing, and finally deciding on a graduate program will soon become worth it when you receive the education that you deserve. One of the first things that you need to understand when it comes to graduate school applications is that you will probably apply to many schools and many graduate programs. The number of graduate programs you apply to might depend on your determination to be accepted into one particular program, your desire to be relocated or stay where you are, or your scholarships (or even full rides) you might receive for certain programs.
In any case, applying for graduate programs will take more than just filling out an application form. You will need to be extremely organized throughout this process, so it’s good to start early and understand how the pieces of the application process for graduate school all fit together. Every graduate program is different, so the ones that you apply to may or may not require all the information I’m about to give you.
To request your student transcripts, you’ll want to visit the registrar at your university. Just let your registrar know that you are applying for graduate school, and you need a certain number of transcripts. It might help if you know a few schools where you want to apply because most registrars can send your transcripts straight to those graduate programs, and you won’t have to deal with sending them yourself.
However, if you are unsure of where you want to apply when you request your transcripts, just ask for a specific number of hard copies to be sent to you, and you can send them in with your graduate school application. Sending your transcripts yourself might actually be more beneficial to you because you can confirm their receipt. The graduate program will receive your transcript and your application together, making it easier and less stressful for you and them.
Letters of recommendation require a lot of time and thought, so make sure you get started with these early. You will first want to make connections in your undergraduate program. Faculty and staff won’t write a letter this important for students they don’t know. Do your best in getting connected with your undergraduate program, and start asking your mentors and other faculty and staff for recommendation letters about 1-2 months before you need them.
You might be asking, “Who should I ask to write me recommendation letters?” You should be thinking about the different people you want to recommend you for grad school long before asking them. Teachers and advisors are good people to keep in mind, but make sure you’re asking people who know you not only as a student but also as a person. Personnel in graduate programs will pay much closer attention to your recommendation letters if you have known the person for a year or two as opposed to one semester. After choosing the people you want to recommend you for grad school, make sure you mention to them that recommendation letters need to be specific and customized instead of broad and generic.
Before you begin asking everyone you see casually in the hallway to recommend you for graduate school, read Tara Kuther’s article about recommendation letters. Dr. Kuther provides many tips on what you should do when you need a recommendation letter. Read through this article, and you’ll definitely get a better understanding of what recommendation letters are used for and how you should deal with them.