“You may encounter defeats, but you must not be defeated.”
- Maya Angelou
Are you interested in going to grad school but need more advice about the application process to avoid stress? Well, stick around because this blog post on how to apply for graduate school is for you!
Feel free to check out the video below if you prefer to listen to me talk about some tips on how to apply for grad school.
These are the same exact steps I used to get into my current graduate program at Yale. I later wrote about that journey in my first #1 Best Selling book, Crystal Clear: A Journey of Self-Discover (From Public Housing to Ivy League).
It wasn't always easy gathering this information to help my graduate school application be as competitive as possible. The graduate school application process can be quite tricky.
I was rejected from over half a dozen schools before being admitted into Yale!
However, I learned from my mistakes, and I am grateful that I get to share this information with you so you can attend the school of your dreams as well.
LET'S GET STARTED AND TALK ABOUT HOW TO APPLY FOR GRAD SCHOOL IN 7 EASY STEPS!
1. Start Early With The Graduate School Application Process
The graduate school application is already overwhelmingly involved. You do not want to further complicate the process by waiting until the last minute to start working on your application.
You don't want to hinder your chances of getting into great graduate schools just because you weren't able to get all of your application materials in on time.
Depending on the program that you're applying to, most applications open around early August at the latest and close around Late November or early December.
Several components of your grad school application require you to have an ample amount of time (i.e., letters of recommendation, statement of purpose edits, GRE test results, etc.).
This is why starting early is my biggest piece of advice on how to apply for grad school.
MEET THE EARLY DECISION DEADLINE
Also, some graduate schools offer funding if you submit your application before the early decision deadline. Starting early increases your chances of snagging some extra funding in grad school, which is always a big help.
2. Visit Prospective Graduate Schools
Examine campus culture
There is no telling how much money I spent on travel when I was scoping out potential graduate schools. I would do it again if I had to because this technique does several things.
First, it allows you to get a feel for the campus culture. This is so important because you want to be in a graduate school program that allows you to thrive as much as possible. Graduate students go through a lot, so you want to feel supported at every turn.
Show your dedication
Second, it shows potential mentors and advisors that you are willing to make sacrifices to be in their grad school program.
I have met several graduate students who never visited schools or connected with faculty members at prospective schools. However, when I look at applicants who got into the most competitive graduate programs, they all made the effort to visit schools.
3. Contact Faculty Members You Want To Work With
So many people are afraid to reach out to potential advisors but understand this, you have to be willing to speak up for what you want, especially in graduate programs.
THE POWER OF NETWORKING
This goes along with actually making the effort to visit the graduate schools. It isn't always about what you know but who you know.
If a program has two identical applicants, they are going to go with the most familiar one. This is most likely the one who has already formed some sort of a relationship with the faculty in the program. The people serving on these admissions committees ARE the faculty.
It's crucial to apply this step long before your application is submitted. Also, there is a technique around the type of email to send. Luckily for you, I included an example here!
Faculty outreach email
Dear Dr. Kohler,
I hope this email finds you well! I am a current MPH student at George Washington University studying epidemiology with a focus in cancer research, minority health, chronic disease, health disparities and health equity, and social determinants of health.
I am currently applying to PhD programs, and I am searching for programs that I feel will be a great fit concerning my research interests and provide a variety of opportunities for growth.
I know this time in the semester is very hectic, but I was wondering if you had the opportunity to meet with me (phone call or video call) to briefly discuss more of your research and opportunities within the program. I have attached my CV as well.
Thank you again for your time.
Keep it short and sweet!
Notice how the email is very short and concise. Long emails are discarded often.
4. Spend A LOT Of Time Perfecting Your Letter Of Intent/Statement Of Purpose/Personal Statement
These three documents are slightly different, but always be sure to pay special attention to the application instructions when writing your statement of purpose or letter of intent, or personal statement.
Usually, they include specifics on content and structure.
Here's a general Letter of Intent template when exploring grad schools:
- Introduction: (one paragraph) Start with a strong leading sentence to grab the attention of the person reading your essay. They go through a lot of applications, so you want to make sure your application stands out with a strong first paragraph. I encourage my students to start with a personal story and tie that story into why they are applying to that specific program.
- Body: Include relevant research experience. Don’t be afraid to highlight your expertise in the body. Other applicants will, so this is not the time to be shy. You put in all that hard work during undergrad, so talk about it. Never brag, but always sound confident in your ability to bring your experience to your graduate school program.
- Conclusion: (one paragraph): Briefly state why this program fits your needs as a graduate student. If you are still not 100% sure of what you want to do during or after the program, choose ONE area of interest and talk about it here. No one will kick you out of the program if that changes later. But you have to sound decisive in your statement of purpose.
5. Work On Gaining Relevant Research and Teaching Experiences
As I mentioned previously, most grad schools are very competitive, so they want to see that you're already doing the research and that you have the skills necessary to be a successful grad student.
So, things like getting some teaching experience, research experience, or even lab experience are very, very valuable.
This information gives the program a better sense of who you are and how well you're going to fit into their program. You don't have to spend years gathering this experience. Start by volunteering in a lab one semester and go from there.
6. Stay Organized
If you're anything like me then you kind of want to increase your chances of getting accepted into grad schools and so you apply to multiple programs that you find interesting or that you find would be a good fit for you as a graduate student.
APPLYING FOR MULTIPLE PROGRAMS
Whenever I was applying for Ph.D. programs, I applied to seven schools in total. Some students apply for even more, but the more programs you apply to, the more money it will cost for application fees, so keep that in mind.
ONLY APPLY TO DREAM SCHOOLS
Also, you NEVER want to apply to grad schools that you don't really see yourself being happy in. Only apply for graduate school programs that, even if it is your last choice, you know will still be okay because you can thrive there as a student.
Some people make spreadsheets of the different programs they're applying to, but for me, I just got a dollar notebook from Walmart and used that to stay organized.
I have to have things written down, and when I was visiting schools, it was easier to pull out my notebook to take notes than a laptop.
What I had written down for each program
- Program name
- Application deadlines
- Graduate school application requirements (official transcripts, personal statement, standardized tests, etc.)
- Potential faculty members to work with (I always noted which ones I spoke with so that I could talk about it in my application.)
- Any additional notes about the program (i.e., funding opportunities, potential labs to work in, etc.)
7. Work On Having A Strong GRE Score (But Never Tie Your Whole Application To One Score)
I went back and forth about whether I would add this final piece of advice, but I decided to because some of my graduate school applications were significantly impacted by it… and others weren't.
Spend time trying to improve your scores by practicing as much as possible and taking the test more than once if necessary.
DOWNLOAD THE GRE PRACTICE APP
I used the official GRE Manhattan Prep app to study every day on my phone and my quantitative score improved drastically because of it.
Something that will help you remain competitive if you have low test scores is contacting the schools beforehand and seeing how much weight they put on standardized test scores, or just seeing if it's still required.
Some schools (the smart ones) have thrown out these requirements altogether.
Remember, your success as a graduate student does not depend on one score. Highlight your academic strengths in your application. At the end of the day, it is just one part of your overall application.
THIS BLOG POST WAS ALL ABOUT HOW TO APPLY FOR GRAD SCHOOL IN 7 EASY STEPS.
These techniques helped me accomplish my academic goal of getting into my dream school, and hopefully, they can do the same for you.
All the best on your journey!