It’s that time of year again – Christmas is just around the corner, the semester is winding to an end… and oh yeah, COLLEGE APPS ARE DUE! For high school seniors, this means finishing up essays, submitting the common app, and stress-induced, tearful trips to the guidance counselor’s office. For grads or soon-to-be grads of a university, however, this means….????? Applying to graduate school is a similar yet completely different and terrifying experience that no one really prepares you for.
Here are some things that I learned, as a college senior applying to graduate school. Everyone’s experience will be different, but there are a few important things to keep in mind, especially for those looking to continue their education right out of undergrad.
1. Apply to multiple schools
It can be very easy to fall in love with one particular school or program – for me, it was the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern. After putting all of my time, energy, and resources into completing the application, it was so tempting to just say “great, that’s pau (done)! I can relax now!” But, as much as my heart is set on that one program, I realize that it’s important to have options – plan B is always better than having no plan at all.
2. Be picky
At the risk of contradicting everything I just said – be picky! Graduate school is an important decision and is meant to provide support and knowledge to guide you through your specifically chosen career path. If a program is not quite what you want, there is no reason to waste your time or money; take the time to research lots of schools and programs and find a few that are really exceptional choices for your life path.
3. Accept advice, but take it with a grain of salt
For those applying to graduate school right out of undergrad: the common response upon sharing this with people is something to the effect of, “don’t you want to wait until you have some professional experience first?” This is, of course, a logical factor to consider – some schools don’t even accept applicants who haven’t spent at least a few years working in their given field. My response, however, is that life is about choices – by applying to graduate school as well as looking for jobs in my field, I will be presented with options to choose between upon completing my degree. I don’t know yet where I want to be at this time next year, but this way, I won’t be left saying “what if.”
The best way to share your sparkle and prove your brilliance to people is by simply meeting them and interacting with them. Writing essays and providing letters of recommendation only goes so far in regards to conveying personality; many schools offer the option to go in for interviews for certain graduate programs. Some interviews are by invitation only, but for those that are optional, it is always the best choice to take advantage of them. Even though one-on-one discussions and interviews can be scary for some people, it’s still the best way to show someone who you really are and what amazing qualities you possess.
5. Find your uniqueness
Applying for graduate school can be very similar to applying to a job or an internship; which is something that most people have already done if they are at this point in their life. It can be helpful to think of it like this, and to ask yourself “Why should they hire me?” Try to find one or a few things that make you stand out – these can be character traits, specific accomplishments, or even something as simple as your award-winning smile that makes everyone around you happy. By identifying this about yourself, it can be used as a jumping off point in interviews, especially in regards to a particularly difficult question.
In short – be yourself, put 100% into your applications, and always have a plan B. Best of luck to all of those applying to graduate school!