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Graphic by: Maya Palavali

The fall semester is in full swing. Midterms are over and people are starting to think about what the upcoming Thanksgiving and winter breaks will hold for them. For some, thinking that far out can be anxiety-inducing.

If you’re an upcoming graduate, one thing on your mind might be the prospect of grad school. The decision to make grad school a part of your post-graduate career is something you might be on the fence about. If one of those reasons is uncertainty in navigating the application process, this guide can help make things a bit easier.

The Dos

1. Start Early 

Ideally, you’ll want to begin looking at school about a year early. This will give you a good amount of time to look through programs and decide which will ultimately be the best for you. Different institutions will have different strengths. 

There may also be different requirements, which would need different levels of preparation. Gathering recommendation letters, test scores and transcripts is time-consuming. Do yourself a favor and start early so you’ll have time to make adjustments to any of your materials without pulling your hair out; this includes proofreading and editing those essays.

2. Prepare for Interviews

While not every program will require one, it would be in your best interest to prepare for interviews. Typically, grad programs are smaller and you’ll be working with one professor and the rest of your cohort. This means that in the selection process, people would like to know more about you beyond the applications. Interviews are a way to demonstrate your strengths and go into detail about any personal experiences that make you a great fit for that program specifically. 

Since this can be the perfect opportunity to get to know you as an applicant, prepare so you can put your best foot forward. Be sure to research the curriculum and the faculty that you’ll be working with.

3. Keep Copies and Records

Most applications, if not all, are online. There is a potential for something to go wrong, even if you’ve meticulously followed every instruction given to you. The worst thing would be for you to get an email asking you to resubmit things and you don’t have the files or submission receipt saved.

So, make sure you’re keeping copies of the things you’re submitting until the last step. Better safe than sorry.

4. Get a Mentor 

You should never be afraid to ask for help from someone be it a grad student, alum or one of your professors. Having someone around who knows the process in and out can be beneficial to your application. They can give you guidance regarding how to structure your statements and through the interview process.

They can also let you know what to expect after you’re accepted into a program. This can help you feel more secure in your decision to pursue grad school and your application as a whole. 

Now that you know what you should do, let’s talk about some things that you shouldn’t do. 

The Don’ts

1. Neglect Financial Planning 

One of the first things that you should do is create a plan for how you’ll pay for your selected program. Looking into this early will ensure you’ll have the most financial aid available to you. Think about applying for assistantships or TA positions. These can offer tuition discounts while helping you pay your bills. 

Everyone’s situation will be different, so there is no one way to go about paying for your education. The most important thing to do is to make sure that you’re thinking about this early. 

2. Forget to Network

Make sure that you aren’t forgetting to speak to alumni and current students who might be in the program. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions or to get to know the professor who will be leading your program. Starting these connections early may give your application an edge over others, but the main thing you should be getting is an understanding of how you will fit into your program. You wouldn’t want to commit to a program where you don’t mesh.

Networking is about more than just acquiring letters of recommendation or people to help you secure an internship, although that is a big part of it.

3. Stretch the Truth 

When writing out all of your achievements, it can be tempting to add things that you think will give you a better chance of getting selected. But, the reality is this will not only damage your credibility but affect the fit that you have in your program as well.

Typically, being in a grad program is like being in a well-oiled machine. Everyone’s experiences and skill sets should meld with one another, especially as researchers. They are looking for what you can give to your cohort and receive from them. Embellishing things will no doubt impact the long run. So, just stick to being yourself.

4. Lose Hope After Rejections

Everyone goes into the application process knowing about the possibility of rejection. But rejection does not have the be the end of your journey. Rejection is a part of life as much as anything else, so being able to handle this without internalizing anything will be the best thing you can do. 

Remember, sometimes you just aren’t a good fit for a program. This has nothing to do with your own ability or skill level. Focus on the strengths of your application and look at what things you can improve on for future applications if you decide to reapply for any program. Again, think about asking your professors for feedback on what could have gone wrong, but don’t dwell on anything too long. You are more than a rejection or an acceptance. 

Applying to grad school is a huge undertaking that requires an amount of time, patience and care. Navigating this process can become overwhelming, so we hope this guide will help make things just a bit easier. Good luck grads!

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