#PhDOrBust: Tips For Preparing For Graduate School Applications (Part 2)

Congratulations on deciding to pursue yor graduate studies! Hopefully you’ve checked out the first installment of this series of blogposts on preparing for graduate school applications. The first post covers the process of assessing the academic and social environment of prospective graduate programs/schools. This one will cover the actual application process.

Test Scores:

Whether you take the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT or the DAT, it is important to familiarize yourself with the format of the test and practice the skills required by each test. Some tests test strategy, memorization, quantitative reasoning. The process of studying should include taking practice tests, brushing up on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and analytical writing (it really depends on the test and your strengths.)

On test day, you should have your identification cards, writing instruments, etc all ready to make for a stress-free entry into the test site. As for sending the test scores to graduate programs and schools, please understand that it can take up to 2 weeks to match test scores with applicant files. When you follow up to confirm the receipt of your test scores, remembering this will alleviate some stress.

Afterward, when you send your test scores to graduate schools/programs, please be aware that it can take up to 2 weeks to match mailed test scores with applicant files. When you follow up with the Admissions Office, keep this in mind.

Personal Statement:

Your Personal Statement should answer the following the questions:

  • Why am I applying to this program?
  • What can I contribute to the academic and social aspects of this program?
  • What are my research interests?
  • Who would I like to work with?

The Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement is their first impression of you, so correct (yes, prescriptively correct) grammar and spelling matters a great deal. It helps to have someone else proofread and edit your Personal Statement before you submit it.

Curriculum Vitae:

The Curriculum Vitae, derived from a Latin phrase which literally reads “the course of my life,” is an overview of one’s experience and qualifications. In many disciplines, a Curriculum Vitae highlights research experience and publications. Relevant experience is important here. Highlight your skills and experience as they relate to the graduate program and discipline that your are interested in, and BE HONEST. Just as with resumes, a little “embellishment” (outright fabrication) can be detected.

My Curriculum Vitae is certainly longer than I’d suggest, at 4 pages. I studied History in undergraduate, and worked as a research assistant for my Professor. At this time, I have (non-academic) publications, most of which are relevant to my proposed research interests. In terms of my work history,  a cursory glance at the CV reveals that I have not taken the “traditional” path. My work as a writer and non-profit consultant has been unorthodox, but invaluable.

In short, your Curriculum Vitae should truthfully reflect your skills and experience. Also, note that in the U.K., CVs tend to be more abbreviated than American CVs, which are quite comprehensive in comparison. Worldwide, conventions for Curriculum Vitae differ, but the principle is the same: sum up your life’s work and relevant skills in a neat, easy-to-read manner.

Letters of Recommendation:

Hopefully, you have maintained meaningful contact with professors and mentors within your field at this point. Let’s be real- it helps tremendously when your potential recommenders know your name. The process of asking them for a letter of recommendation should begin at least 9 months before your application deadlines. Some recommenders might ask for a template letter, a curriculum vitae and a representative sample of your work to improve the quality of their letter. Graduate schools give applicants the option to waive the right to see their letter of recommendation in order to ensure the veracity of the letter. I suggest waiving the rights to see your letters of recommendation.

The application form will ask you to list the recommenders. You’ll likely need their email addresses, mailing addresses (office addresses suffice), and current place of employment and position. If you’ve kept in contact with them and asked them for a letter of recommendation, you’ll probably have this information. If you get started on your applications early, then you’ll give your recommenders more time to submit their letters of recommendation in a timely manner. If need be, send gracious reminders to your recommender. On this point, I might be old-fashioned, but I’d send a written thank you letter to all of your recommenders afterward. I did this even after I began the process of applying to law school, and changed my mind. Two of my professors had letters on file for me, and I didn’t get to use them, but I thanked them for the letters anyway. This kind of gratitude goes a long way, in my experience.

Stay tuned for Part 3, which addresses budgeting and financing the costs of applying for graduate school.

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