As you begin to narrow down your grad school choices to a few or a larger pool (depending on how much money you have for applications), you will soon realize that you now have to fill out applications, write essays, and ask for recommendation letters. Here are a few tips for you to make it through the process without being overwhelmed.
It seems like an obvious rule, but many grad school applicants don’t follow the directions given to them. Graduate programs pay attention to your ability to follow directions. You would be surprised at the amount of students who skim the requirements of grad school applications and therefore, do not become grad students in particular programs.
If you are required to include 2–3 recommendation letters, do not include less than 2 letters or anything more than 3 letters. You may think that 5 or 6 recommendation letters looks more impressive to grad programs, but it’s actually annoying. They have set a specific time to be able to look at each application, and if you give them more materials to review, they may just overlook your application altogether. You may have a great GPA and an excellent GRE score, but don’t be the applicant they skim over just because you didn’t follow directions. As another resource, read over Tara Kuther’s article, How to Get a Recommendation Letter, and keep a look out for a future blog post that I’ll write about the dos and don’ts of asking for recommendation letters.
Not only do students tend to forget requirements for recommendation letters, but they also don’t pay close attention to the requirements for admissions essays. Admissions essays can include personal statements or prompts given by the personnel of graduate programs. Personal statements are basically autobiographies that show how you chose your field of study and how you have grown academically; you will need a personal statement for the majority of your graduate school applications. You may also need to reply to prompts that have different subject matters other than that of your personal statement. The essay portion of your graduate school application will include requirements, such as word count and subject matter. If you fail to stay within the boundaries provided to you by the grad program, then your application will not be as impressive as it would have been if you followed directions. I will expand on regulations and tips for writing application essays and personal statements, so watch for that in the future. Until then, look at this article by Tara Kuther.
Graduate programs are looking for applicants who can present themselves in a professional manner in many different ways. Excellent skills in written communication are important because the only way they’ll be able to know you is on paper (unless they interview you later, which doesn’t always happen). Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when trying to stay professional in your grad school application.
I can’t say it enough: proofread, proofread, proofread! Proofreading your grad school applications (or anything, for that matter) should be second nature in your writing process, especially as a student wanting to go into grad school. You could have a fantastic background with great experience as an undergraduate, but a few typos could go a long way — in the wrong direction. Try not to stick to reading your own material again and again. Find a fellow grad school applicant and switch applications to proofread. This way, you’ll be able to take a break from your own materials, and you’ll have another pair of eyes on your application. You can never have too many eyes on your documents, so feel free to recruit fellow students and even professors to help proofread your grad school application. You could even hire an editor to proofread your documents. For instance, Elite Research is a company that conducts statistical and research analysis; it also has editors who help individuals with documents of many types. The editors at Elite Research are experienced in a variety of writing styles, so they could definitely work with you on your grad school application.
Show, don’t tell
Most people know certain keywords that sound good in any type of application: fast learner, works well in teams, great oral and written communication, passion for learning — the list can go on and on. However, if you use these keywords in your application either in an essay or in a list of qualifications, don’t leave the keywords alone. Back up your keywords with a short description of how you showed your passion for learning and another time when you successfully worked in a team. In other words, show the people in the grad program how they will benefit from your skills instead of making them trust your word that you have those skills.
It’s hard to receive advice such as, “Be yourself” because then a question comes: “Who am I?” I don’t mean to get too philosophical here, but it’s important to examine yourself and the traits that you want to portray to your potential graduate school. Dig deep, ask your friends questions about yourself, and get comfortable with your personality. Everyone is different, so let your unique qualities shine through your grad school applications.
Be honest and confident
By the time you begin filling out grad school applications, you may feel overwhelmed because you start thinking about what your future holds in grad school. Just take a few breaths, continue filling out your application, and remember to be honest and confident. Don’t feel so overwhelmed that you start making up stories about your experiences in your undergraduate career, or you start fibbing about your qualifications. Stay level-headed and understand that if you lie on an application for grad school, they will find out the truth because you’ll be working closely with the people who review your application. Also, remain confident while filling out applications. As long as you fulfill the grad program’s requirements, you are a competent applicant; all you have to do is show them who you are and why you deserve a graduate degree from their institution.
Be interesting and positive
The graduate program is not looking only for people who have good grades and good GRE scores. Show them who you are and what your personality and drive will help their program accomplish. After they read your application, grad school personnel should know more about your personality and your passions for your chosen field, not just about your grades and successes. Obviously, they need to know that you meet the requirements, but they also want to know who will go above and beyond to show why they deserve to be a grad student both academically and personally.