Graduate school applications aren’t easy to complete, especially if you apply to more than 3–5 schools. It can be difficult to organize the different requirements for each application and to keep track of your specifications of the right school for you. I’ve already written about the elements of a grad school application that you should include, such as showing professionalism and following directions. Now, I want to touch on a few things that you should avoid in your grad school applications.
Don’t mix up the schools.
Most students don’t like to put their future of being a grad student in the hands of just one graduate school. It’s good to have backup schools in case your first picks can’t see that you would be a great grad student at their institution. However, it’s difficult to keep all the different schools organized because most of them will require you to write a personal statement and other essays. Many students decide to write essays that would apply to many schools and simply change the name of the school in each essay or personal statement. This strategy is good to have throughout the process of preparing your applications, but people make mistakes, and you could forget to change a name of a school or accidentally submit the wrong essay with to the wrong school. If the personnel of a school’s admissions office receives your application and reads another school’s name in an essay, you might be disqualified as a candidate for their graduate school.
Instead of simply substituting each school’s names into a slot in your admissions essays, try switching up each essay. I wouldn’t recommend writing a different essay for each school (especially if you’re asked to write the same essay for more than one school) because of the amount of time that would take; however, you could try to rephrase a couple of keywords that each school gives you in their essay prompts so that each essay is customized to each school. Also, avoid working simultaneously on essays for grad school. Write essays for one school and send them into a proofreading phase, and then move to another school’s essays.
Don’t discuss sensitive subjects.
By the time you’re ready to think about applying to grad school, you will have gone through enough school years to be familiar with which subjects I mean. These subjects include mostly religion and politics, but you should also avoid endless sob stories and strange essay topics.
The main reason you want to avoid the issues I’ve listed is that you don’t want to make admissions officers uncomfortable. If someone from the grad school reviews your application and decides that you’re talking too much about how you broke your leg in high school and how that’s made you the person you are today, they’d probably ignore your application. Also, you don’t want to get chosen or disqualified as a grad student because of your religious or political choices — unless, of course, you’re applying to private or religious institutions for grad school, and they want to know about your volunteer work or involvement in the church. Another exception to writing essays about sensitive subjects is if your undergrad degree is in political science, and you worked as a volunteer or employee for a particular party’s campaign. The way to discuss this subject is to only describe the experience you received working and not anything about the particular party you chose to support and why you chose to support that party.
Don’t include mistakes.
Proofread, proofread, proofread! I said this exact thing in my last post, but I can’t stress enough the importance of proofreading your application documents and proofreading them again. Then, it’s important to let others look at your applications, including friends, family, and editors. Hiring an editor may not sound like something that you would want to do for your grad school applications, but at least looking into hiring one may bring you more contacts for future documents that you may need edited.
Many students have the misconception that they can write out a personal statement, look over it for spelling errors, and submit it to admissions offices. What those students don’t realize is that people aren’t perfect, so rushing to get an application out by a deadline won’t help you if there are mistakes in them. Avoid having mistakes in your grad school applications by proofreading them a few times yourself and then recruiting others (whether you hire them or you know them already) to proofread them.
Tara Kuther also has a few grad school application dos and don’ts. You’ll definitely benefit from this article if you read through it before submitting your applications. Another place you can receive advice for your grad school applications is our own PhDStudent site. More specifically, check out the Personal Statement Checklist and the Graduate School Application Process.