I applied to three graduate school programs recently wanted to share some thoughts. This is for you – and for me to reflect. How to apply to graduate school in 10 steps:
1. Choose a specific subject area.
Chemistry, English, and Education are broad. I had to search for a specific program, which only certain Universities or Colleges of Education have – educational technology. This made my search easier, because instead of hundreds of options, there may be a few dozen nationwide. In my case, only one school in North Carolina has an ed tech doctoral program.
2. Make a list of possible programs and locations.
Include all possible programs – mine included a dozen schools from NC State to the University of Hawaii and Stanford.
3. Contact POIs.
This is when your search will become concrete – send an e-mail or call the listed professor-of-interest (POI) for your list of programs. In many cases I received a response quickly. In others, I had to be diligent. When you speak with the professor express why you’re interested in their program – it helps to know what interests you about their research. Then, say a few words about yourself.
4. Visit as many schools as possible.
If you contacted your POI and the discussion went well, plan a visit to the school. This will communicate how serious you are about that program. It may also give you an (early) idea of how you will fit in and what your odds of admission are. In my case, I paid to visit the three schools I applied to. I’ve heard of departments paying for students to visit, but usually after admissions decisions were made in the spring.
5. Write resume.
The program website should give you an idea of what the program is looking for. Some value undergraduate (or graduate) research or field-specific work. Tailor your resume to focus on your preparedness for graduate study – I think professors want to know well how you will fit in, whether you’re ready to independently study and research, and make it through four years in their program.
6. Write personal statement.
Each program I applied to asked me to detail my research interests in my personal statement. If I could do write mine again, I would begin with those interests. Professors are people too, and I think they would rather hear about my work and their research before my background and education. Think clearly and you will write clearly.
7. Inquire recommendation writers.
Do this early. That way your recommenders can serve a informal advisors as well as recommenders. Some of mine responded with completed letters (or sent them to the program) in less than a week. Others took quite a while. Take this step seriously and consider it a mini-application — I included versions of my resume and personal statements in my inquiries. Most people and professors will want to help you if they can tell you want to succeed.
8. Select a writing sample.
I had a completed undergraduate research paper I used, but I had to do a lot of editing before it was ready – for example, I did a poor initial job with my APA citations and formatting. This is your chance to show your potential as a researcher or writer in graduate school.
9. Apply to 3-6 schools.
This will take time, money, and energy. Do it early. Make sure everything is complete before the application deadlines, which in my case was in December.
This part was hard. I thought I would begin to hear from schools after the winter break – around January. That month turned to February and them the middle of March until I heard back about one application. Then a week later, I received an e-mail from another. Both programs informed me that I was going to be recommended for admission to the department, which would likely process the official notice within a few weeks. Don’t be worried about this step – if someone tells you you’re in, celebrate!