Grad School Applications 101

Edited by Ann Marie Elpa 

Grad applications are the bane of a person’s existence. If someone tells you otherwise, they have never been to, or never planned to go to a grad school.

For every senior, their last year is exhausting. The pressure of their previous years combined seems like nothing compared to the pressure of all the grad applications. Getting all the documents ready, writing all the statement of intents and tailoring them to the schools you are applying to, asking professors for references, waiting for their reply…the list is endless.

I started creating my log-ins on the university admission portals in early September. Only one or two schools had opened registration for next Fall. I spent hours scrolling through the courses offered, reading the faculty list, and researching the finances and scholarships. Considering the amount of work and the expensive non-refundable application fees, grad applications should have been a separate course.

If you are another senior like me, and getting lost trying to find the right grad school, or writing the letter of intent, fear not!

Just take a deep breath, and keep reading for a quick guide to finding the right grad school for you.

  1. How far can you go? Make a list of the places you can go to. Are you willing to relocate or not? If you get sufficient funding for your Masters’ program, can you relocate then? Can you stay away from your family? The answer to these questions will depend on your financial situation. And your willingness to live alone.
  2. Finances- Search for all the scholarships the schools offer, and thoroughly analyse their details: do they cover full tuition? Do they cover residence costs? Do they cover one year or one semester? If you will be an international student, make sure those scholarships are available for you too. Some universities like UC Berkeley Campus offer funding for California residents only. Some universities like U Toronto, have their own bursaries and OSAP covers part of it too.  
  3. Programs offered- Not all universities offer all programs at graduate level. Some universities only offer sciences, or social sciences. This itself is tricky because in those programs, their specializations may not match your proposed research. If you want to research the applications of Virtual Reality, VR, in cognitive psychology, not all grad schools will offer this course.  
  4. Professor references- while you are doing this research, contact at least three or four of your professors who can write strong reference letters for you. Make sure those professors hold a senior position because grad schools also check the credentials of your referees.
  5. Application documents- Grad school applications require a ton of supporting documents, from scanned official transcripts to CV, from letter of intent to research proposals. Make sure you are keeping a table of all the documents the different schools require. Some grad schools only require a letter of intent, sample writing papers, and CV. Others may ask for research proposals which require in-depth analysis of your undergrad research, and some help from your professors. If professors are not available, see if the career centre offers workshops editing your proposals, or if the academic centres have those programs.  
  6. Research proposals- Some grad schools require a letter of intent where you outline your specific field of interest within your programs, while some may ask for research proposals where you have to detail the research you are looking forward to. For letter of intent, you may write how you want to study the intersection of politics and environment in 20th century Japan, while in your research proposals, you will go a step further, and give a more specific timeline: influence of World War II policies on environment agencies in Japan, before and after the atomic bomb was dropped. You will also have to give examples of the said influences, and why your research is different from previous research done of the same subject.
  7. Grad school tests- Some grad schools, especially in the States, require either General GRE, or Subject-based GRE exam. Some require LSAT, or GMAT. Get working on them as early as possible because their syllabus is mammoth, and the preparation time is always not enough. If you have a friend who is giving the same exam, work together. My friend and I are preparing for GRE in Literature, and we have divided the genres and time period. He is doing American Literature, and I will be focusing on British Literature and we will share our notes on Google Drive.
  8. Workshops- If your college or university offers grad school workshops, attend those! The faculty organizing those workshops know those problems first hand, they have answered numerous questions regarding the applications and finances.  
  9. Grad school fair- Faculty from different grad schools come to the grad fairs to promote their programs. Go there, ask them all questions you have in your mind, from program selection, funding, application and references required. Don’t ask them fluffy questions like how they feel about the program. They are there to, essentially, sell their school. Ask them direct questions about the program they offer, ask them the fees, the scholarships, the depth of research they require and the co-ops they offer.  
  10. Attend Grad school tours- If you are planning to go to a grad school nearby, try to attend their school tours. It's always better to see the classes, and experience the grad school life yourself. It also gives you a chance to interact with current grad students.

The mere thought of graduate school is terrifying, and managing the application costs can also be hard sometimes. Make a table, or chart, plan it in a calendar or your journal. Remember the deadlines and email your professors about those deadlines to make sure they send the reference letters on time. To make sure you don’t start having panic attacks from the pressure, and trying to stay on top of everything, get help from your friends, and ask recent graduates for some help. It's all worth it in the end, only incredibly stressful during the process.

Good luck!