Staying sane during grad school applications

Many among you had to face a painful undergraduate application season. But, luckily, I didn’t; I knew what I wanted to do, and knew what constraints I operated under, whether you are talking about credentials, geography and budget, and it was, as with most people who want to study a pure science in French in Quebec, provided it wasn’t a life science, and even biologists didn’t have to meet overly stringent standards to do so. Most of what follows are applicable to both undergraduate and graduate admissions; the list is adapted from FamilyCircle.

  • There’s a department for everybody. Yes, graduate applications are cutthroat and competitive, but pay attention to research fit carefully (if you’re applying to research-based programs) or expertise strengths (if you’re applying to non-research-based programs)
  • Get in the zone. As I mentioned earlier in previous posts (Application strategy and number of schools applied to and Some advice for list construction), the way to maximize your chances of the process having a happy ending is to check against credentials and academic interests, and make sure you’re being realistic.
  • Organization saves the day. Set up a system to track paperwork. It should include bins with hanging folders for each school, files for financial aid and supplemental materials, and a centrally located calendar for plotting deadlines.
  • Don’t mention graduate school too often. It’s OK to ask questions or voice concerns with your friends, but you must not overdo it, even if your friends are trying to strike deals with you about where they’re applying to.

As I said earlier, for grad school, the big picture begins with what academic interests you have. For this reason, a list of must-haves for grad school must contain at least one academic item and that item is usually the one that is truly nonnegotiable. You might have heard of students who, for undergrad, tried to narrow down their college list primarily based on nonacademic factors (other than budget), like student-run media, sports, dorms or geography. From what they could use to narrow down an application list, you can gain some information as to where their priorities lie.

That said, dedicate time to research. It will come in handy when the time comes to write the personal statement. You can also ask professors about this, if their research interests are somewhat related to what you want. Therefore, don’t hesitate to email the relevant people to clear up what is not made clear on a departmental website.


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