For some of the soon to be college graduates, we’ve got grad school right around the corner. This could be for your MA, MS, PhD, MBA, or a professional doctoral program. When I started looking for grad schools, I felt like I was being thrown into a flurry of words and due dates and I was completely overwhelmed. Especially during COVID, where some schools are changing the GRE policies, tour options, etc. It took me a while to figure out a system that worked best for me in organizing my grad school potentials, but it became a very effective system. So, to help my fellow graduate applicants, I’m going to give some of my best tips to use when it’s application time.
Make a spreadsheet
- When looking at grad schools, there are so many options and it can be really hard to keep up with all of them. So, what I had done was make individual sections with the titles: School, Location, GRE (do they need them?), Internship (depending on your program), Thesis (depending on your program), Assistantships, Stipends, Application Due Date, Campus Perks, Pros, Cons, Distance from Home.
- This helped get all of the information I need in order and also decreased the amount of times I went back and forth from website to website.
Know what they need from you
- A lot of programs will usually ask for things like a resume/cv, a personal statement, transcripts, GRE scores and letters of recommendation. You can usually find this information on their program website. But if you are unsure, email their program director. Some programs are also waiving the GRE for Fall ‘21 applicants, so be sure to check their website for this information.
Letters of Recommendation
- For some people, one of the biggest stressors are asking for letters of recommendation. Without forming relationships with some professors, it might be scary to ask because they really don’t know you and you don’t really know them. On the flip side, getting letters of recommendation from professors you have worked closely with for 1+ years may seem like cake. This advice can be applied to both sides of this situation. Most. professors will likely ask for a resume based on your time in college. This is the perfect place to showcase any organizations you were a part of, any leadership positions you held, etc. But, don’t make them ask for it. Automatically include this in the email when you ask for a letter of recommendation. Some professors might also like to see a personal statement that you have written for one of your grad program applications. Again, don’t make them ask for it. I have found it much easier to provide these two things in the initial email instead of going back and forth for this information.
- It could also benefit you to find one letter of recommendation that is not academically related. If you have worked at a job for however long and know that you’ve been a valuable employee, you can ask your boss/superior for a letter of recommendation. While they won’t be able to attest to your educational achievements, they will be able to talk about your work ethic and who you are outside of the classroom. You can also ask them to specifically refer to skills you know your potential grad programs are looking for. For example, with the programs I am interested in, I would ask them to focus on my leadership skills, interpersonal communication skills, critical thinking skills, etc.
Submit your application as soon as possible
- Now, when I say “as soon as possible”, I don’t mean as soon as the applications open. The best time to do this would be during the break between your fall and spring semester. For most people, this usually lasts about a month and is in December. You can give yourself a small break from the torture we call lectures, but this will be the perfect time to get this done before your final semester rolls around and you begin to lack free time. The way I have my timeline set up is like this: October – begin asking for letters of rec and requesting official transcripts, November – receive letters of recommendation and start looking at or finish any personal statement prompts, December – finish up any loose ends by mid-December.
- Each program has a different way they handle applications (rolling admissions, rounds, a single deadline), so it’s best to get them all done within a single time frame a couple months before they are actually due. This way you can make sure you’ve beaten the deadline and have plenty of time to rest before any decisions make their way to your mailbox.
While this isn’t the biggest “How to Apply to Grad School” guide, this is some of the more immediate things you need to focus on when it becomes application time. But don’t forget that your mental health is incredibly important during this time. If at some point it becomes too much, give yourself a break and regroup.
Congratulations to all of my fellow graduates and good luck with applications!