16 Tips to Ease Your Grad School Application Process

If you are thinking of attending grad school in the fall immediately after graduation, here are 16 tips to keep in mind:

  1. Start the application process in the spring of junior year.
  2. Get to know the graduate school program secretary or coordinator!  They can be hugely helpful throughout your application process.
  3. Generate a list of potential graduate programs.  Be certain to consider grad programs that are both local and national.
  4. Identify faculty from whom you would requests letters of recommendation.  Though you won’t request letters until the summer or early fall, it can help to plant the seeds with your faculty in the spring by letting them know you hope to ask for a letter.  If you haven’t taken a class with the professor for a few semesters, the spring of junior year is also a good time to reconnect.
  5. Graduate review committees are usually looking for letters of recommendation from faculty, particularly those in a field related to the program to which you are applying.  The strongest letters are usually written by professionals who know you and have observed or supervised your academic work.  Depending on the nature of the graduate program, one letter from an employment supervisor who can speak to your fit for the field would also be appropriate.  (Applicants who have been out of college for several years would be more likely to request letters from employment supervisors.)
  6. Through the spring and into the summer, research your list of schools closely in order to whittle the list down and rank order programs.  You’ll eventually want to apply to between 9-12 programs.  Rank your programs into three categories: safe, probable and reach.  You should have about 3 or 4 programs in each category.
  7. As part of your research, take time to schedule informational interviews with faculty and current grad students, particularly at your probable and reach schools.  Become intimately familiar with the academic scholarship of the faculty in your programs, and begin to connect how your research goals align with theirs.
  8. Create a table or chart to keep track of your graduate program selection; this can be used as a checklist.  Include items such as deadline dates, exam requirements, number of letters or recommendation requested, decision dates, and any other quick details you would want to track.
  9. Schedule, study for, and take your admission exams in the spring or summer, early fall at the latest.  If you are completely dissatisfied with your test results, you will have time to retake them.
  10. Gather a list of personal statement questions from each program.  Group similar questions together to help organize your responses.
  11. Begin drafting your personal statements during the summer.  Be sure to answer the questions being asked.  If no specificquestion has been asked.  Some programs won’t ask any specific questions but will still ask you to submit a personal statement.  Typically, they want to know “where you have been,” “what your academic preparation has been to succeed in the program,” and “what you hope to accomplish in the future with your graduate degree.”
  12. In the early fall, (or even summer, if you are in touch with them), begin asking for letters of recommendation from faculty.  Keep in mind that some faculty will want to see your personal statements, questions, transcripts and/or resume to help them in writing their letters.  Make the writing process as easy as possible for the recommender.  Also, note what each school requires for submission of letters.  Many schools request letters to be submitted electronically.  Other schools may want letters to be submitted by mail, directly from the professor, on university letterhead.  Others will want the letters submitted with your application materials.  Read each program’s directions clearly and if you have questions, call or email the program’s coordinator.
  13. Have your personal statement drafts reviewed, especially by career services professionals, your writing center staff and faculty.
  14. Prepare resumes, if needed, and complete your application forms.
  15. Deadline dates vary from program to program, with earlier deadlines falling in early December, and many deadlines arriving in January, February and March.  Work hard not to wait until the deadline. To submit your application materials.  For programs with rolling deadlines, preset a date for yourself to keep you on track.
  16. Take note of financial aid or fellowship/graduate assistant deadlines which can be earlier than application deadlines.

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