Inside Tips on University Admissions | Top Universities

Inside Tips on University Admissions

By Staff Writer

Updated March 5, 2021 Updated March 5, 2021

Gaining admission to a top university can be extremely competitive. Tim Rogers – former head of admissions at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science – offers some advice to help you get ahead of the pack.

Following the instructions online or in printed material is certainly one of the best ways of getting into one of the world’s top universities – simply following the application instructions is the minimum required to make a successful application. 

But in the most competitive programs, the best students set themselves apart with distinct tactics, increasing their chances for a successful application and entry into the graduate program of their dreams.

So, what are the inside tips used by the world’s brightest students?  As a former director of admissions at one of the world’s leading universities, I have seen thousands of excellent applications to grad school, many of which have had a number of elements in common. 

Really good applications from the best students tend to be focused, accurate, convey enthusiasm and interest for their particular field of study and give the impression that they have a good understanding of what their degree will enable them to do after graduation.  This last point is crucial for the very best applications – the best and brightest students use their graduate school experience and qualification for the rest of their lives. 

Put the effort in

Anuradha Bajaj, an Indian graduate student at the London School of Economics (LSE), argues that the strongest applications from the very best students stand out as soon as they are submitted, especially from international graduate students. 

“My top tip for any prospective student is to put as much effort as possible into your application – especially the personal statement or essay. Filling in forms isn’t always the most interesting task but applying to graduate school, especially in another country, means that you are unlikely to have the opportunity to have an interview. 

"The essay, therefore, is like an interview on paper and has to be structured accordingly – honest, enthusiastic, confident and well argued – so that a university can get a sense of your personality and your strengths.”

With graduate study, particularly amongst international students, growing in popularity every year, the need to submit a competitive application is becoming more important.  Bernice Rosenzweig, a PhD candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University believes that content is king. 

“The need to be complete in your application, offering the best reflection of your abilities academically, socially and in terms of any relevant career experience, is perhaps the only sure way of making a successful application to one of the top PhD or masters programs.  There are so few places available that, being the absolute best, is vital in your application.”

Plan ahead

One inside tip that is consistently overlooked is that of deadlines and submission.  More excellent applications are rejected because they are either turned in late or have material missing from them than for any other reason. 

The need to plan a timetable for both your university and program research, being aware of all necessary relevant deadlines is critical in the application process.

The most competitive programs either operate a rolling admissions procedure or accept completed applications on a “first come, first served” basis and as such, adhere very strictly to submission deadlines.  Irrespective of the content and the quality of your application, if you miss a key date, your application is almost certainly bound for rejection.

Take a long-term view

But perhaps the key inside top tip is to think of your application for graduate school as the first step of a much longer journey. Subhrendu Sarkar, a recent graduate in information systems from New York University and former QS Scholarship for Innovation winner, believes that the key to submitting the strongest application is ambition. 

“When I applied for my master's degree I had a clear intention to use the degree for the benefit of my future career. I made sure that I conveyed this in my essays and asked my referees to comment on my suitability for the program and my aptitude to gain from the degree.

"My practical experience and my academic achievements were all focused on entry to the NYU masters degree and using that qualification to enter the career I was most interested in, information systems and technology. I am pleased to say that this has been successful for me.”

Graduate students like Subhrendu and others have been successful in their applications due to a combination of factors, all of which include the determination to do as well as possible and a painstaking research process leading up to the submission of their materials. 

While each applicant is considered on an individual basis, it is these two qualities that raise a “good” application to one that is considered excellent, with a greater chance for success in the decision-making process.  For those considering their graduate school application now, take a moment to read your material carefully and make sure that what you have written reflects these two qualities – if it does, then submit it with confidence. 

Good luck!

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in March 2021

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