A Quick Guide to Graduate School Applications

graduates_of_brunswick_high_in_2007By Nick Rocha

Applying for graduate school is often a daunting task for students who are attempting to balance work, school, and family life.  Submitting an application, asking for letters of recommendations, and writing an essay takes both time and energy.  Students who are currently working on applications or students who are interested in attending a graduate program after their undergrad might benefit from these 4 tips.

  1. Ask for letters of recommendations early. Professors and academics are often busy on their own work and responsibilities, so it is imperative that you ask for letters of recommendation early on in the application process.  Some experts recommend giving professors at a minimum three to four weeks to write a letter.  Many graduate school applications require the professor to submit the letter on to their website or complete additional questions about the applicant.  Make sure to send a resume to the professor detailing your relevant experiences and why graduate school is the next step for your career.  In addition, it is okay to contact your professor to ask about the status of the letter of recommendation when the deadline is approaching, but do not constantly ask them if they have submitted it yet.
  2. Establish a hook. When you are drafting your essay, it is important to spend a considerate amount of time on your first few sentences.  A hook simply means that you engage the reader in a meaningful way to encourage them to continue reading.  Students can talk about a powerful interaction with a teacher or a professor.  Some students can talk about the first break through that they had with a difficult student during their student teaching experience.  What is important is that you develop a narrative that captures the reader and provides a sense of mystery.
  3. Look for application fee waivers. This is something that is often overlooked by students.  When submitting applications to different graduate school programs, the application costs can add up quickly.  Many graduate school programs offer some information on their websites on how to apply for application fee waivers.  Students who have completed service work such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are sometimes eligible for a waiver.  If you are low-income, participated in summer research programs, a McNair scholar, or demonstrate economic hardship you may qualify for a fee waiver.  It is important to note, however, that many graduate schools offer application fee waivers on a first-come first-serve basis so it is important to look for opportunities long before the official deadline.
  4. Establish connections with professors you want to work with in graduate school. Who you will be working with in graduate school has a significant impact on your overall experience and your retention in the program.  Spend some time finding professors at your dream graduate school who are conducting research in an area that you want to get involved with.  Don’t be afraid to ask your current professors if they know anyone from those schools! Academia is actually quite a small place and you may have someone you know who can get you connected to someone at your graduate school.  If you have the opportunity to visit the prospective graduate school prior to applying, I encourage you to do so.  That will give you the chance to see not only if you are a good fit for you, but if the school is a good fit for you.

Finding and applying to graduate school is like dating.  Not only are you being assessed on your ability to contribute to the graduate school, but you also have to make a decision on whether that particular graduate school program is right for you and whether you want to pursue it further.  Finding your niche is not an easy process, but once you have found it things become that much easier.


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