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Top Tips for Applying to Graduate Schools

Here’s what you should know to help with the process of applying to graduate school.

After months (or maybe years) of consideration, you’ve done the research, you’ve made the decision, and you’re excited: you’re going to graduate school. But the first step is getting in. Here are some tips for applying to graduate schools.
Why are you applying?
There are differing reasons why individuals may choose to pursue graduate study. It’s important to clarify why you’re applying and how you see further study advancing your professional goals. Importantly, clarify not only the why but the what. Know what you want. Graduate programs seek students who have a clear vision and can identify how graduate study will help them reach their professional aspirations.

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The Personal Statement
The personal statement is more than simply a rehashing of your resume. Graduate schools want to read statement that—along with the resume, references, and other supplemental materials—crafts a narrative about you as a candidate. Use your personal statement to tie your application together, addressing head-on any weaknesses. Avoid clichés. Remember your why and your what, demonstrate your enthusiasm, and show your personality. But remember: don’t overshare. It can sometimes be a fine line between discussing triumph over hardship and crossing professional boundaries.
Remember the Following Key Words: In Advance
Know the application deadlines for each school in advance. Tip: If you’re applying to multiple schools, keep a spreadsheet with each of the school’s deadlines, required number of recommendations, personal statement prompt, supplemental materials, and any other relevant application materials.

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Ask for recommendations well in advance: at least six weeks, though more won’t hurt, especially if you’re asking for recommendations from professors who are typically writing multiple recommendations each year. Prepare your resume or CV in advance. Arrange to take your GREs (or other equivalent graduate school exams) early. If you end up unhappy with your score the first time, you may need to budget in enough time to retake the exam.

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Request your undergraduate transcripts in advance. Tip: most schools will accept a transcript as “official” as long as it is in the original sealed envelope. Order copies for yourself and keep them stashed away unopened. You can then place a copy in a larger envelope and mail it to its destination, avoiding university processing times (or expedite charges). Don’t forget about the transcripts from one-off courses, summer programs, pre-college programs, etc.
Follow Directions
One of the more frustrating aspects of applying to graduate school, especially if you’re applying to multiple schools, is that each school likely has slightly different requirements for the application (see the tip above about keeping a spreadsheet). This might also mean slightly different directions for how, when, and what to submit. Hard copy mail or electronic submissions? Official or unofficial transcripts? Priority, regular admission, or rolling admission? Word count on the personal statement? Include or don’t include your name on your writing sample? Wait, what writing sample?! Read each school’s directions carefully, and give them as much individual attention as you would an important work project. You don’t want to be cast out of the applicant pool for missing parts, which will make you seem disorganized or uncommitted.
If an Interview is Required…
Prepare for the interview like you would a job interview. Research the program. Familiarize yourself with the faculty—perhaps there is one faculty member that you are particularly interested in study under. Ask questions that demonstrate your enthusiasm for and commitment to the program. If possible, try to relax. Think of it as a conversation about your most familiar subject—you—and you’ll impress your interviewer without seeming false or stiff.

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