5 Steps to a Successful Graduate School Application

Applying to graduate school can seem like an overwhelming task to students unfamiliar with the process. Between selecting the “right” potential mentor, the “right” references, and preparing an initial contact and/or portfolio, it is easy to get lost in the process.

“It’s natural for prospective students to worry about their grad school application,” says Craig Ireland, Graduate Officer (Applications & Admissions) at Brock University. “It’s important to remember that there are several steps you can take to ensure that you submit a strong, competitive application to the Graduate School of your choice.”

With that in mind, The Faculty of Graduate Studies at Brock University has come up with a list of tips for potential grad students to help them through the application process.

1) Do Any Necessary Pre-Application Networking

In many/most disciplines, most notably for research-based Graduate Programs, prior contact with a potential supervisor is all but essential to securing a placement. If you haven’t looked at the literature and talked with your current mentors about appropriate future mentors, get on it now. There is nothing like a solid personal contact to get the ball rolling to a successful outcome.

Connections go a long way. If you are serious about attending a certain graduate program, try reaching out to current faculty to discuss your research interests and to learn more about the program. Perhaps even try to contact a successful graduate of the program, but be constructive and professional –  not everyone will respond or respond positively. Be polite and direct but do not push the matter if you don’t get a response.

Making a direct connection in the program early on in the application process demonstrates your passion for the graduate program and can help separate you from a pool of applicants. Again, some programs also require you to have a supervisor firmly identified before applying to the program. Be familiar with all the program requirements and realize that they differ from program-to-program.

Need help contacting a potential supervisor? Read our tips and guidelines here.

2) Start Your Application Early

Meeting application deadlines may seem like a no-brainer but it is important to remember that completing all the requirements for a Grad School application can take time. You may be asked to submit results from exams such as the GMAT, GRE, IELTS or TOEFL (for international students), write a letter of intent, provide examples of your work as well as transcripts.

Every Graduate School will have a different application process so it is important to read over the requirements several times to ensure you have all the required documents and meet the minimum admission requirements. Having an identified potential mentor is only part of the process – make sure you cover all your bases and get your school of interest all the information they need to efficiently process your application. Remember, submitting a Grad School application can take as long as two weeks or more.

*Most programs will accept applications after the deadline until the program is full. Check in with the program before applying after the application deadline.

3) Differentiate Yourself In Your Statement of Intent

Most Graduate Schools will require you to submit a statement of interest. This is your chance to make yourself stand out from the other applicants. Tell the admissions committee about your career aspirations, future plans and how the program will help you achieve them. Briefly outline your past experience and what you will bring to the program – in other words this is your chance to “sell yourself”. While you want to make sure you are putting your best self forward don’t be overconfident. Make sure you stick to the facts and be honest about the work you have done.

If you are applying to a research-based program, tell the admissions committee about your specific research interests and what exactly you want to research in your graduate studies. Demonstrating creativity and your understanding of how to design a proper research study tells the committee that you are prepared for a research-intensive program. If your program to date has provided you with some experience in critical reviewing and/or grant applications, make that clear.

Show them that you are serious about completing graduate studies at their institution by linking your research interests to the research being conducted in the department you are targeting. One way of doing this is to reference a faculty member’s paper when describing your research interests and the background research. Mentioning a specific paper and how it captured your interest and imagination is useful as well.

Remember to be clear and concise! Your statement of interest should only be around two pages (maximum). Check the program-specific admission requirements to see if the program has outlined any specifications for your statement of interest.

4) Choose Your Referees Carefully

Choosing the right references is a critical part of the application process. It is important for you to select people who are familiar with your work, who can convey your strengths and accomplishments, and who’s recognized experience and expertise carry sufficient ‘weight’ in the field. Also, be sure that these referees have clear experience writing such letters of support, in particular for the sort of position you are applying for. This is critical.

It is also potentially important to have both academic and professional/industry/employment references available to you. If you have been out of school for a number of years and have lost touch with your alma mater try volunteering as a research assistant or with an organization in the field to make new connections. Find those in your current environment who have experience writing successful reference letters in terms of the path you are choosing to pursue.

Always refer to your program-specific admission requirements to confirm how many references are required.

5) When You Think You Are Ready To Submit…

Proofread every last word and have a half dozen folks help with that. They don’t necessarily have to understand everything you are proposing to work on, but they should be able to read it all without finding a single spelling or grammatical error. A single example suggesting that you take this process lightly in any manner can mean the difference between success and waiting for another letter of offer. Remember this for your future Postdoc and job applications as well!

Good luck!

For information regarding our Brock University’s 49 Master’s and PhD programs, please visit our website.

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