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13 Aug Strengthen Your Graduate School Application

As Director of graduate program and a leader on the admissions committee I am able to provide applicants with tips that will increase the chances of being accepted into a graduate program. This article should be used as a tool to perfect your application file. In no way does it guarantee your acceptance into any program. Based on my experience reviewing applications and meeting with potential students, I found that there are some important things for applicants to be aware of and pay attention to.

Applicants should first understand that graduate school is very different from undergraduate programs. For example, undergraduate programs have requirements so that students are well-rounded, taking classes in different areas so that the students have some knowledge in several areas. Graduate school is focused on one specific area of interest and it is a shorter amount of time. You must be sure of your interest in that area because you will be studying all aspects of it. Graduate school is not the place to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. You should know what you want to do and want to solidify your knowledge and skill in that profession.

Second, the admissions committee uses the required items you submit to build a case for why you should be accepted or not accepted into their program. In many programs you will be compared to other students. Graduate schools want the best students who will be productive and contribute to the richness of the program. They will look at the actual application, test scores, transcripts and read your personal statement and letters of recommendations. These components are what they use to visualize you as a student. This is not a fool-proof way but it is the only way. A few schools conduct interviews but not many so these components are all they have to make their decision. The following components are important to that decision:

Transcripts are very important and the first to be reviewed. All programs have a GPA requirement. Some programs will not look any further into your file if your GPA does not meet the requirement for entrance. Some programs will review the list of courses you’ve taken and the upper level (most recent two years) GPA. Maybe you had a difficult time or life altering circumstances that affected your grades for a short time, but you showed improvement. Some programs will take that into consideration.

The next component reviewed in your application is the exam scores. Some schools do not require an exam but many professional degree programs require some sort of exam whether it is the GRE, GMAT, L.S.A.T., M.C.A.T., D.A.T., and more. It is imperative that whichever exam you take, you must prepare for it. These exams cost money each time that you take them. These are not tests you want to take just to see if you do well. The scores are posted to a national database, for colleges to see. If you receive low scores, those scores will be posted even if you take the test again. Take the time to prepare for the test especially if you have had difficult doing well on standardized tests. Some schools offer preparation classes, there are books available and if you have the money you can pay a company who offers preparation classes. Each exam has a website; you should be able to find practice questions and information about study groups and preparation resources.

Letters of recommendation are more important than applicants may realize. Letters should be from professors and supervisors from jobs and internships. Those who write letters for you should be able to speak highly of your work ethic and to your ability to do graduate work. This is easy if you have built a relationship with your professors and have a positive student experience. If you are afraid that your professors do not remember you, then you will have an extra step. Contact the professor of your choice, request a meeting. During the meeting you will bring a resume and writing sample with you. Remind the professor of the class you took with him or her and the grade you received. Discuss some of the topics that were covered in that class. Then you should let the professor know about your professional and academic goals. Give them your resume and the writing sample, if they ask you for it. Discuss your plans for applying to graduate school and how you would be honored if they wrote a letter of recommendation for you. Pay attention to their body language. If they hesitate or look like they want to say no but don’t want to hurt your feelings, give them the opportunity to say no. If they seem genuinely interested in your plans and ask for more details, this is the person who would be a good reference for you. Let them know the deadline for their submission and send an email reminder if they do not submit right away, sometimes it slips their mind.

Lastly, an important component is the personal statement or essay required by all programs. Some programs have specific questions to answer and some allow you to simply write about your goals. The personal statement is an essay that allows the admissions committee to have an idea of your writing style and your ability to write professionally. They also want to make sure your goals match up with the program’s mission. Be sure to follow the directions, do not give more or less than what the application requires and have someone proofread your work before you submit it.

Graduate school is a great place to hone in on your skills and challenge your academic abilities. Be sure to research the programs that are appropriate for your goals. Doing that and paying attention to the tips above, should ensure that you have a strong application. Do the best that you can, getting into the program is half the battle. Now that you are armed with valuable information, good luck with your journey into the world of graduate school education.

Natasha A. Patterson

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