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Top Tips for Applying to Graduate School

UL Grad School -- 04/26/2016

The grad school application process can be daunting, and it’s important to be relaxed and focused during the last stretch of it. Let us provide you with some tips on how to efficiently get through the application process.

Our Top Tips for Applying to graduate school

Our Tips

Research. Research. Research.

The more research you do, the more focused and organized you will be.

Start early. Be organized.

The earlier you start, the more time you have and less stressed out you will be.

Follow directions.

Don't worry about trying to stand out from the crowd just yet. You'll have a chance for that later.

Make a statement.

This is your chance to stand out from the crowd. Show the admissions office what you're all about.

Have a backup plan.

Having a backup plan isn't accepting defeat, it's about planning for the future.

Learn from rejections.

This of rejections as a learning experience. Use it to learn what to do (or what not to do).

Know what you want.

Make sure to communicate what attracted you to a particular program when applying.


1. Research, Research, Research.

Doing a significant amount of research is the most important thing you can do. Research is going to come in handy for more reasons than one, and certainly will make your life easier and less stressful during this process, allowing you to be more focused and organized.

By this point you're probably 3/4 of the way through the road map to grad school. You've narrowed down your list of schools, made your campus visits, prepared for your standardized test(s), and read just about everything you could find about your potential schools—both good and bad. Applications are opening in a few months, and you want to make sure you don’t come across any surprises. Compile a list of all mandatory deadlines and requirements for each graduate school you plan on applying to. Be sure to dig deep enough to find any program-specific deadlines or requirements.

Once you have your deadline list, you can start mapping out your what your schedule is going to look like for applying. Dedicate blocks of time to complete your applications without any interruptions.

Also, be sure to note if a program has an interview process as part of the application. If this is the case, do your homework ahead of time. There’s no reason you shouldn’t know everything about the program in this day and age.

2. Start Early. Be Organized.

This comes second on our list only because it’s not possible without doing research. Based on findings from your research, start the application process as early as possible. The earlier you start, the more time you have, and the less stressed out you are. When you’re stressed out you tend to make more mistakes. So, by starting early you can relax and take your time completing your applications, being thorough and detail-oriented, meeting all your deadlines and requirements.

Since this is a long process, it’s important to be organized. If you haven’t already, create a spreadsheet with every school you plan on applying to and outline the requirements, deadlines, and status of where you are in the process for each ( submitted, accepted, wait-listed, declined). It also helps to put them in order of priority or sort by the earliest deadlines, so you know which ones you want to get to first.

3. Follow Directions.

As tempting as it may be to try and stand out from the crowd or break the grid, follow the directions given to you. If there’s a word limit or restriction on the topic, stick to it. If they ask for certain test scores, provide them. The inability to follow directions can raise some major red flags, especially at this point in the process.

4. Make a Statement.

Most grad school applications require a personal statement, and getting this right is important. This is your chance to stand out from the crowd, showing the admissions office what you’re all about. Show that you’ve spent time researching the program, the department, and even the area where the school is located. It can be tough to do, but this part is essentially branding yourself, expanding on why you would be a good fit for the program and the value you would add as an individual.

It is also important to choose references based on your personal statement. They should be able to talk to and endorse you for the points you made in this statement.

5. Have a Backup Plan.

Having a backup plan isn't necessarily lacking confidence or accepting defeat. It's more about planning for the future, which is vital at this point in your life.

6. Learn from Rejections.

Think of being rejected as a learning experience. If you intend to reapply, use it to learn what to do (or not do) or spend more time on you next attempt. If you feel comfortable doing so, contacting the respective department a few weeks later is a good opportunity to gain some insight and feedback on your application. By doing this you can get a good understanding of where you ranked among other applicants and why you received the rejection letter over the acceptance letter.

7. Know What You Want.

Know why you are attracted to the program and make sure that shows through in your application. Be adamant and enthusiastic about your expectations, career goals, and aspirations. Communicating these things clearly is important and they will give the admissions office a good idea as to what kind of student you’re going to be.

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