Graduate School application season is upon us and application deadlines are soon approaching. This time seven years ago I was in the same position, finishing up undergraduate responsibilities and collecting documents needed for graduate school. During my time at the University of Alabama I was a McNair Scholar and that program definitely gave me the tools I needed to submit a strong application package. To this day I advise prospective graduate students on how to make the application process easy and smooth. Here are a few tips to use when applying:
Choose Atleast Six Schools To Apply To
First things first, where are you applying. I don’t advise applying to all elite schools or only applying to one program because your chances of being accepted are small especially for programs like Clinical Psychology. I was certain that I only wanted to attend a top ten institution but I knew I needed to apply to schools that were considered low hanging fruit. I applied to three dream schools, two in the middle, and one school I knew for sure I would get accepted into.
Ask For Application Fee Waivers
Applying to multiple schools can be very expensive and the truth is most of us are poor students with limited funds. One thing I found helpful was reaching out to graduate coordinators or admission officers to determine if they provided application waivers for certain students. For example, since black women are an underrepresented group in engineering, a lot of schools offer application waivers to that group as a method to increase their minority enrollment. However, a lot of applicants do not know this information and won’t apply. So if your money is tight, ask before you apply or choose not to apply.
Make a Calendar With Application Opening Dates & Deadlines
Once you have determined where you’re applying make a calendar with important dates such as when the application opens, when recommendation letters are due, application deadlines as well as accountability dates for yourself. Accountability dates are personal deadlines. For me, I wanted to have all my applications submitted a week before deadline just in case there was an error or issue with the system.
Ask For “Strong” Letters of Recommendation
Recommendation letters are the most important part of the application package because this is how the graduate committee learns about your character. I have sat in on graduate admissions committee meetings and most of the time what sets a good candidate apart from a great candidate is the strength of the recommendation letter. So when you ask a professor or manager to write you a letter make sure you ask for a “strong” letter. Choose people who know you well and can really speak about your character, accomplishments, and work ethic. Provide them with your personal and research statements as well as your CV/resume to ensure a strong letter. You should also know that Professors respect other Professors so choosing someone that you worked with for three months will not trump that of a professor.
Keep Recommenders Accountable
The truth is people are busy especially professors who are more than likely writing letters for multiple people. Make sure you check in periodically to keep them updated on approaching deadlines. As a rule of thumb, I would email them every two weeks until the letter was submitted. Also, choose the same recommenders for every school because once they write one letter, they can use it multiple times.
Have Multiple People Review Your Application Package
Different people have varying experiences and knowledge which can be very useful for you. Every application requires both a personal and research/professional statement and some schools require a diversity statement. Before you submit it, make sure you have three people review your statements to check for mistakes and clarity. More than three people is too many and very time consuming to keep up with. Make sure you target essays and statements to the particular institution. Mention current professors/initiatives who ideas and research align with your professional goals. Make sure you show how your skills could benefit their group or program.
Applying to graduate school can be very stressful and time consuming. I hope these tips help you and make the process easier and less time consuming. Please don’t get overwhelmed but just in case you do remember “You Got This”. Check out my posts 11 Things To Consider When Choosing A Research Advisor (According To Me) and How To Make The Most Of Your Prospective Student Visit Weekend for more help with the graduate school process.
From Aeriel, With Love