Tips to Apply for Graduate School

You’re sitting in a semi-crowded coffeeshop and it dawns on you that you’re reaching the end of your undergraduate studies. You ask yourself, “What do I want do with my future?” “Should I pursue a master’s degree?” As you blankly stare at your computer screen, you reluctantly look up various master’s programs. It doesn’t hurt to look.

Each website is overloaded with information and endless requirements: references, statement of interest, sample paper, curriculum vitae, and transcript. You have no idea where to start, let alone know the difference between a resume and curriculum vitae. Panic and stress settle in. You text several of your friends about this tumultuous moment. They, too, have no idea how to console you. In fact, your text has become a catalyst for their own crises about their futures.

Whether you're planning on applying for master’s next year, or just planning ahead, here are a few tips that I hope will make the process less daunting.

From the application process to accommodations, pursuing a master's comes with a hefty price tag. 

Before anything else, it's best to reflect on your current financial situation and think about any significant setbacks. There are several factors to consider before taking the plunge: 

  • Do you have an RESP? Are you applying for external grants?
  • Will you be working while completing the degree?
  • What is motivating your decision to continue in your academics?

This is also an opportunity to look at your spending habits and see where you need to cutback. If you find yourself struggling to balance your budget, I suggest having your bank automatically transfer money into your savings on a monthly basis. It's not only out of sight out of mind, but you'll be in for a pleasant surprise when you look at your savings account.

It is important to read up on the universities that you intend to apply to. 

What one university might specialize in can differ from another university. I recommend spending an extensive amount of time researching what your intended university offers. Look at at the courses they offer and biographies of professors in the department. All this information will give you a good idea of what the university's research interests are, which will help narrow down your choices to the top few. 

Your statement of interest works like an elevator pitch. 

While the tone of your statement of interest should be formal, the admission committee want to learn more about your academic interests and what makes it unique. They’ve read thousands of applications and are able to identify the “cookie-cutter” format. Make sure your statement of interest is catered to the specific university. In your statement, include professors whose scholarly knowledge will aid in your exploration at the graduate level, any resources the university provides that is beneficial for you, and what scholarly insight you can contribute to an ongoing discussion of your topic. If you’re uncertain about the direction your statement’s heading, I recommend speaking to a professor and ask for their feedback.

Don't be afraid to speak to your professors!

For most students, it’s always intimidating speaking to professors. You want to exhibit a level of professionalism, but end up fumbling in their presence due to overthinking. I can assure you that this becomes easier overtime, so don’t be afraid to drop by their office hours. Even if it’s to chat for five minutes about you’ve found intriguing about the week’s lecture, they’re more than happy to see their students interested in the course content. It not only gives your professor an opportunity to place a name to a face, but also helps start the conversation of your plan to pursue a master’s degree.

Be prepared to have a semi-polished package for your professors. 

They’re occupied by several responsibilities as well, so keeping in touch with them about the progress you’re making with applications is crucial. Inform them about any concerns or questions you have about your applications. It ensures that your professors have sufficient time to work on their references letters, as well as an opportunity to fine-tune your applications before submission. Often, your professors will ask for supplementary information to aid in producing a strong reference letter. Be prepared to send a semi-polished statement of interest, unofficial transcript, sample work, and curriculum vitae.

Out of courtesy, give your professors a minimum of two weeks' notice to submit a reference letter.

It's takes just as much time to produce a strong, detailed letter that speaks to your academic strengths and research interests. In some cases, your professor will ask to meet with you to discuss your university choices and what they can offer you. Give them as much information as you can because they’ll be including it in their reference.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get accepted immediately.

As cliché as it is, everything happens for a reason. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t accepted into your “dream” university. There will be several opportunities that will help you achieve your pursuit for a master’s degree. Find solace in your family and friends.