Graduate Studies

Graduate School...How to Make an Effective Application to Your School of Choice?

Right now thousands of college seniors and hundreds of master’s degree students are making applications for graduate degree programs across the nation for the next academic year.  How do these students, especially final year undergraduate students, make an effective application to the school they most want to attend?  This article will shed light on some ‘best practices’ for making an effective graduate school application, one that will maximize your chances of gaining an acceptance to your ‘first choice’ program and institution.

First and foremost, you need to do your homework before filling out any graduate school application.  What kinds of questions need to be asked and what type of answers are desired for you to gain thorough knowledge about each program and university?  What do know about that reputation of the faculty and the program?  Are the facilities up-to-date?  How long does it take, on average, to earn a degree from that program/institution?  Do faculty have good interactions with their students?  What are their placement outcomes and their track record for success?  Are there support services there that will enable you to realize success?  All these questions, and more, should be addressed as you review potential programs and schools. 

Next, fill out the application by the deadline(s) requested and submit the complete application (including transcripts, letters of recommendation, and any other requested documents) in advance of the deadline.  Once you have applied, follow up with the graduate program director and the graduate school.  While you’re waiting on a final decision regarding your admissions, find out the real costs of attendance for your program, including tuition (in-state vs. other rates), housing, cost of living in the area nearby (rent, food, entertainment, etc.).  With real costs in mind, find out about how to get financial support for your degree program through the institution with a graduate assistantship (e.g., research, teaching, or other forms) which usually covers tuition costs and provides a stipend anywhere from $3,000 – $12,000 a semester, depending on whether you enroll in a master’s or doctoral program.

Realize that your goal of gaining acceptance to the graduate program of your choice is the outcome of a process that is not entirely under your control.  The part that you do control is the submission of a quality application that makes you an attractive applicant to that program so include your research experiences, internships completed, study abroad, volunteering, and work experience that supports your academic record and GPA.  The personal statement part of the application is your chance to describe your interests and background, how they match up well with the program’s strengths and challenges.  Some applications, especially for research doctorates, also require an on-campus interview that might last 1-2 days and these take various forms but treat them like a job interview process as an assistantship opportunity may be part of the package.

Finally, if accepted to your program of choice, now’s the time to identify a possible mentor for your program of study, a faculty member who can guide you effectively through the degree program as well as serve as a resource for your scholarly and professional development in the discipline.  This person can help you establish a reasonable and workable timeline to finish your degree requirements and provide you access to the professional culture you wish to join with your graduate degree.  If you did not get accepted to your program of choice, call the program director and ask for feedback regarding the strengths and weaknesses of your application and advice on how to strengthen your candidacy for acceptance in the future.



Page last modified June 26, 2012