The grad school admissions process can feel pretty daunting (and with reason). From your GRE scores to letters of recommendation and your statement of purpose, it’s important that you get everything right, meet all the deadlines, and differentiate yourself from other applicants every step of the way. To get into your dream grad school, whatever your discipline, you must combine excellent standardized tests scores with a flawless statement of purpose and a clear vision of the value you could bring to your chosen institution.
1. What’s your story?
To make a strong and last impression, you need to tell a compelling story. In the context of grad school admissions, the narrative needs to show how you’ve progressed so far, how grad school fits into the next chapter of your life, what you’ll bring to your chosen institution, and even your ambitions for a wider contribution to the world. What are the values, skills and distinctive experiences that make you who you are? What makes you the perfect candidate for your chosen program, and how will this help you take the next steps in your story? Understanding your own story is the first important step, so you’re ready to capture the grad school admission committee’s imaginations.
2. Make your statement of purpose a cliché-free zone
Your statement of purpose is arguably the most important part of your application – and it needs to be impeccable. Depending on your subject, location and school, this statement may fulfil various purposes, but it will have to be a notch more focused than your undergraduate statement of purpose. At all costs, stay clear of clichés and long-winded statements about your passion for a certain subject or topic. As a rule of thumb, your statement needs to do three things: outline your research interests in more or less detail depending on the course you are applying to; define your career goals; and list your credentials.
3. Choose your referees wisely
Your letters of recommendation are also very important. Nurture good relationships with your undergraduate professors and choose the most experienced faculty members you have the best rapports with to recommend you. While most of your professors are likely to accept if you ask them for a recommendation, think carefully about who you choose to approach. A less-than-glowing, or even neutral, reference could do you more harm than good. Contact your chosen referees several months in advance, and give them some information about what you’re applying for and the impression you’re aiming to make, so they can support your application effectively.
4. Don’t be let down by late transcripts
Your overall grade point average (GPA), a measure of your overall performance ranging from 0 to 4, and the courses you have chosen to undertake in your undergraduate degree, will carry weight with the admissions committee. Your undergraduate school’s registrar office should mail your transcript to the graduate school(s) you are applying to. Note that it is possible for applications to be rejected on account of transcripts failing to be received on time, so you need to begin this process several weeks in advance.
5. Plan ahead for grad school admission tests
Most graduate schools in Canada and the US will require that you sit some kind of standardized test – usually the GRE revised General Test, a GRE Subject Test, or the GMAT Exam. Most schools do not state a minimum GRE score and a near-perfect score is unlikely to guarantee you a place on your chosen course, but a less-than-desirable score could potentially hurt your application. Plan ahead and check online for GRE/GMAT testing centers near you and test dates to make sure that you meet your application deadlines – and allow time to re-sit the test if necessary. You will be asked at the testing center to submit your chosen graduate school’s institution code, and to state whether you wish your scores to be sent to the university.
6. Do your research before interview day
Depending on your course, you may be asked to attend an in-person interview to determine your suitability. Remember that this is also an opportunity for you to decide whether the grad school is a good fit for your profile. It’s important that you spend time researching the school, its faculty and resources, and come prepared with a very clear idea of what the institution could do for you, as well as your own relevant skills and areas of knowledge. Showing you’ve done your research will send out lots of positive signs – providing tangible evidence of your interest, commitment and initiative.
Applying to grad school?
You might be interested in reading our complete guide on How to Apply to Grad School, available to download for free. Meet universities and grad schools from around the world at the QS World Grad School Tour – your chance to get personal answers to all your questions, as well as attending free seminars and applying for exclusive scholarships.