5 Ways to Rock Your Grad School Applications

Whether you’re in your last year of undergrad or just looking ahead to the future, applying to graduate school can be daunting. The idea of graduating and moving on to a new school or program can seem scary and you may be unsure of what your life post-grad is going to look like. The application process is also a big undertaking, especially if you’re applying to multiple programs, with all of the research, essays, scholarship applications and interviews. As someone who went through this last year while writing my own applications, here are my top five tips for rocking your grad school applications this year! 

1. Don’t procrastinate

If there is one thing you take away from this article, let it be this. When I was preparing for my grad school applications last year, I waited until the end of December: a few weeks before the deadlines. I kept putting it off and off, saying that I would work on it when I had less schoolwork and more free time until I barely had enough time to get everything done. This was partly due to the fact that I was so stressed about what I was going to do with my life after undergrad and so worried that no program would accept me, causing me to stress myself out even more because I waited too long to start. Don’t be like me! Start early if you can, even if it’s by breaking things up into a few tasks per week. 

2. Make a list of professors you’d like to ask for a reference letter—and try not to take it personally if they say no

Reference letters from professors are typically a large part of graduate school applications and definitely something else I wish I’d done better while preparing my own apps. I only had two professors that I felt comfortable asking and while luckily they both agreed to write me a letter, I would have been in trouble if they hadn’t. Make a list of several professors you’d feel comfortable asking for a reference. These should be professors that you’ve gotten to know throughout your undergrad, either in smaller classes or through activities outside the classroom, rather than a professor who you had for a class with five hundred other people. Make sure to have a few backups, in case some of them are not able to provide you with a letter. And try not to take it personally if they say no—writing a reference letter can be a lot of work, especially if the professor has requests from other students.  

 3. Reach out to professors or current students in the program

This one is especially important if you’re hoping to go into a research-based graduate program where you’ll be paired with a supervisor. Do some research on the faculty in the department you’re looking at and see if any of their research interests align with your own. Then reach out and try to set up a meeting with them to discuss their research and “pitch” yourself as a grad student. That way when your application lands on their desk, they’ll recognize your name and yours will stand out. Reaching out to a current grad student can also be helpful for getting a feel of what the program might be like and for answering any questions you might have that aren’t online. 

4. Make a “master list” of your experiences to help with writing your statements of intent

This is something my mom taught me (thanks, mom!) when I was writing my applications last year and it was incredibly helpful. To do this, make a list of every major activity you’ve been involved with during university and high school, with a brief description and different skills you learned from them. Then, when writing your entrance essays, you’re able to easily remember what you’ve been involved with and what their associated learning outcomes were. Different programs often place emphasis on different skills and I found it really helpful to have all of my experiences at a glance and grouped in this way.

5. Breathe 

Preparing your grad school apps can be really stressful, especially once you’ve submitted them and you’re waiting to hear back. Try not to focus on it too much, even though that’s easier said than done! The decision will come back when it comes back and worrying about it won’t change the outcome. Try to breathe and enjoy your final semester of undergrad! 

Applying to graduate school can be a huge undertaking. I hope these tips help to make the process a little less stressful. Best of luck!

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