Article contributed by chief-editor of MyGraduateSchool.com - Sarah Brown Tesolin
Before you start researching the grim stats on acceptance rates, and perhaps getting overwhelmed by what is required, first take the time to consider the benefits of an advanced degree and whether grad school will really help you achieve your long-term goals. If after some reflection, you clearly see how grad school really is the next logical step for you, then read on to find out what things you can do to improve your chances of getting in that go well beyond your grades.
Basics of a Grad-School Application
Let's start with the basics of any grad-school application. First, you need to determine all the things that will be needed for your application to any particular program. You can do this by downloading the application package at the universities that you are intending to apply to, carefully jotting down each requirement on a do-to list as you go along. If you are unsure where you will be applying to, just download the grad application from your current university, or anyone school for that matter. This should give you a good idea of what you are in for.
Your to-do list will definitely include the following 5 components: application forms, transcript of your grades, letters of recommendation (also known as reference letters), standardized test scores and the personal statement (a.k.a. statement of purpose or essay). These are all obvious requirements that you will find in most graduate-school applications. I recommend reading this blog post by grad-school admissions expert Dave G. Mumby, which describes in-depth the 5 main components of a graduate-school application.
It's also important to take note of the number of copies that you will need for each of the components as well as the deadline to submit all the material. It is possible that not all the material will be submitted and due at the same time, so be sure to keep track of the varying dates and check it off your to-do list when you have met each deadline.
Less-Obvious Steps To Improve Your Chances Of Getting Into Grad School
Besides the obvious components mentioned above, there are a few other equally important steps that you will need to take if you want to avoid your application ending up in the rejection pile.
The Benefits of Contacting Graduate Program Directors and Staff
Graduate Program Directors and staff members are terrific assets for information on the ins-and-outs of grad-school applications. As you make your way through the application, there will probably be dozens of questions that you would like answered, some of which may not be available on-line. Jot down your questions as they arise so as not to forget them. You may be able to answer some of the questions that you jotted down as you make your way through your application package, others will require you to contact a member of the graduate-school admissions staff at the universities to which you are thinking of applying. Obviously, you would leave most people with a bad impression if you tried to ask twenty or thirty questions, so make sure to prioritize those questions according to those that are most important and leave the less relevant ones for a follow-up email or phone call, if necessary. Keep in mind, that most of the people you speak with will understand why you are asking these questions, and many of them will try to tell you other things that they think you should know, some of which will also be on your own list of questions.
Taking the time to prepare a well-written email that includes only relevant things will indicate that you are someone who possesses good judgment and is mature, both of which are highly-valued assets that committees are looking for.
Contacting Your Potential Supervisor Before Applying
If you are applying to a program in which a particular faculty member will serve as your graduate supervisor, it is crucial to make personal contact with your prospective supervisor prior to applying. You will probably have a graduate supervisor if it is a doctoral program, but this is also the case in many master’s programs within the applied sciences, arts, humanities, natural sciences (i.e., life sciences, physical sciences), and social sciences.
There are several good reasons to make direct contact with your prospective supervisors, but in general, this step is one of the best ways to make yourself stand apart from the crowd. Supervisors receive anywhere from 5 to 100 applications every year and most of the other applicants that you are competing with will fail to take this step. So anything that you can do to make yourself noticed in a positive manner will be beneficial to you. Even if you are applying to programs where you will not have a specific supervisor, you should still know who the faculty members are with interests that match yours and consider contacting them and let them know of your long-term career goals and intentions on applying to their program.
It's Not All About Grades: Your Attitude Matters Too!
There are many ways to improve the likelihood of being accepted into grad school. Many of them go beyond simply boosting your academic credentials. Most other applicants will not take any extra steps to demonstrate their determination, resourcefulness, maturity, integrity or some other positive quality that they possess, and yet, doing so has a big influence on how one's suitability for graduate school is perceived by those whose opinions matter most, especially your graduate advisor or supervisor. Often, it is these lasting impressions of your attitude that allow selection committees and graduate advisors to distinguish the most promising applicants from among several who have similar academic credentials. Selection interviews, cover letters and your personal statement are all used as a means to discover what you are really like and are thus a good opportunity to showcase your positive attitude towards the graduate program and research area (if applicable). So use these avenues to your advantage.
Find lots more expert advice on getting into grad school in the newly released book: Graduate School: Winning Strategies For Getting In, 2nd edition, by Dave G. Mumby, Ph.D. It is the most comprehensive advisement handbook for College and University students who are considering graduate school. Whether you are still deciding if grad school is right for you, or are looking for ways to maximize your application, this book is for you. Paperback version available at Amazon & Barnes & Noble. eBook available on Kindle and for Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps. Get your copy now.