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10 Tips for Applying to Grad School

Most people don’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to grad school!” After weighing the pros and cons, considering time and cost, thinking about future opportunities and whether it will pay off, and a lot of research, you reach your decision. You’ve decided to do it! After thoroughly researching and comparing graduate programs using available resources, you have narrowed down your top choices to apply to based on your interests, goals, and preferences.

Here are 10 tips to follow before and during your application process.

  1. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to grad school applications. Every program has its own application process and requirements. It’s imperative that you review each program’s specifications separately and provide them with exactly what they ask for.
  2. Get your ducks in a row. While each program will have differing requirements and deadlines, certain elements will be constant. Your transcripts (with hopefully an impressive GPA), letters of recommendation and personal statements are all pretty standard so it’s important to have those. However, your personal statement and references will probably change for each program as you’ll want to customize them to fit what the program is looking for in a candidate. But you can start to prepare ahead of time.
  3. Yes, every program has different deadlines, but they all have deadlines. Establish a timeline and make sure you understand that the common elements needed such as transcripts and letters of recommendation take time to acquire. Allow for that time to meet specified deadlines. Once you’ve decided to apply to grad school, it’s probably a good idea to just go ahead and order a few copies of your transcripts so you have them on hand.
  4. Take a standardized test. While the GRE® test is the most widely accepted measure of a student's readiness for graduate-level work, you may need to take the GMAT® exam, the LSAT®, the MCAT® exam, a TOEFL® test or the DAT® depending on the field of study you are pursuing and the requirements of the school or program you’re applying to. Standardized tests aren’t the be all end all measurement of acceptance, but they are still considered to be a barometer of qualification.
  5. Don’t take test optional as permission to get out of all standardized tests. Grad school programs are competitive; it’s important to give yourself every advantage with your application. Your GPA may tell what kind of student you are grade-wise, but a standardized test will give insight into how you think, prepare and commit to academia.
  6. Ask for guidance. Admissions counselors at most universities are available to help you make sure you’re fulfilling the requirements specified for their particular programs. Personal connections you establish can go a long way.
  7. Write a strong statement of purpose or personal statement. Dig deeper than just why you want to go to grad school or a particular program. This piece lets an admissions committee know who you are beyond your resume, test scores and GPA. They want to know what kind of person you are, how you’ve overcome challenges or difficulties in life, and how those qualities will help you succeed in a graduate program.
  8. Choose your references for letters of recommendation wisely. Based on the type of program you’re applying to, choose references that can lend pertinent information about you for this specific program.
  9. Show yourself. Universities want to see you as a whole person, not just test scores and GPA. They want to know your personality, integrity, work ethic and skills, all of which are just as essential to succeeding in the program you’re applying to as your academic achievements.
  10. Proofread! And then proofread again. And then have someone else proofread. If your application or any of its elements has typos, misspelled words or grammatical mistakes, you can bet you’re not going to get the consideration you would want. In fact, you may not get any consideration at all. Submitting a mistake-free application shows care and attention to detail that an admissions committee wants to see.

Following these simple guidelines can help your grad school application process go smoothly and successfully.