For a lot of university graduates seeking further education, the graduate program application process can be rather surprising. When you apply for university the first time around, everything is pretty straightforward: you'll take any required standardised tests, submit your school transcript, and supply personal information and essay responses. There are countless books and pieces of advice for constructing a university application in a manner that stands out, and depending on your school situation before university, you may have a counsellor or teacher who helps you out directly.
But when you apply to a graduate program, the same process tends to become very particular and specialised in a way that's meant to help you demonstrate your professional interests and personal capability. In other words, a university typically wants to see a well-rounded and polished candidate; a graduate program wants to see a successful and driven student with a proven track record in the classroom and a clear drive to succeed in the relevant industry or line of work.
It's a very different process, and one that requires very specific preparation. Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Focus On One School At A Time When you're applying to university to study an undergraduate program, there are certain aspects of the task you can do in bulk. Applications tend to be similar enough that you can have many things ready to go, and then write an essay or two specific to each school. This is different when you're applying to graduate programs. Even if it's a similar program at a different school, there may be a varied range of expectations and requirements. For this reason, it's important to apply to one school at a time so as to give each its due attention and tailor your personal statement accordingly.
Start With Your Letters Of Recommendation When you're applying to university for your undergrad degree, letters of recommendation are fairly easy. You can simply talk to your favourite teachers in person and secure a letter, as they're generally expecting to have to write a few. For a grad program it's different because your university professors (or anyone else you may request a letter from) aren't necessarily as accessible. Clare Tattersall of Talent Egg recommends a minimum of four weeks' notice when contacting professors. This ensures you won't have any overdo letters that might otherwise have swayed your application.
Consider An Essay Coach Being a clear and capable writer isn't always the most important step in acing an application essay. Even the best writers can fail if they don't know what the grad program is looking for in an essay, or if they can't address specific questions in a suitable manner. For this reason, it's wise to seek assistance with the essay portion of your graduate school applications. Sometimes the benefit is simply having extra eyes available to edit your work, but it can go further too. Alice van Harten's Menlo Coaching program specifically looks at helping applicants to write about themselves, simply because this is one part of the essay process that can be difficult. Acknowledging shortcomings, communicating drive and desire, and articulating your successes can all be awkward tasks, and sometimes a knowledgeable coach can help to get through them.
Be Professional To an extent, this refers to how you conduct yourself and even how you write. But more specifically, it's best to present yourself in a way that shows some professional capability and initiative as well. If at all possible, try to illuminate things you've done that show you're already interested in and able to work in the relevant field. This could mean anything from working an internship, to volunteering, or even maintaining a blog on topics related to your field of choice. Never fabricate an application, but if there's any sort of professional experience you can point to, be sure to emphasise it.
Learn From Your Rejections Most tips and recommendations for getting through a grad program application focus solely on your first time around. Graduate programs are by nature more selective than universities, and you'll often have only a slim chance of getting accepted—but that doesn't mean you should give up. Re-application is very common among postgraduate students seeking further education, and sometimes it's rejection that teaches you what you could have done better. If you do get a rejection, it’s a good idea to contact the admissions team to find out what you could have done better. So a few weeks after a rejection give them a call to ask politely what you could do to enhance your chances the next time around.
There are no definite ways to ensure you have put together a well-crafted grad program application – but preparation is key. Each application form requires careful attention, so use these tips to get started. With proper diligence, you can construct a very strong application and give yourself the best possible chance to get into the school you want to attend.
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