Now that you’ve chosen the schools you want to apply to, it’s time to start applying. This process can be overwhelming, so today I’m sharing some do’s and don’ts to keep you organized and to avoid common pitfalls.
✓ DO keep track of your deadlines. In a spreadsheet, calendar, or whatever organizational tool works best for you, write down ALL of the application submission deadlines for the programs you’re interested in. Don’t trust yourself to remember them all; making sure you know the deadlines for your applications will allow you to prioritize the work you need to do.
✓ DO write down all of the application requirements for each program. Unlike most undergraduate applications, graduate school application requirements can vary wildly. Some programs require the GRE or GMAT, while it’s optional for others. Some will require a writing sample. Some programs may need three recommenders for your letters of recommendation, or two, or none at all. You don’t want to realize at 11:55pm that your application due at midnight requires a writing sample, so make sure you’ve checked each program’s requirements thoroughly: and again, write it down!
✓ DO repurpose material, but not word for word. It’s a great idea to have a template statement of purpose— there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel for each program. However, make sure that each statement of purpose has at least a few sentences that is unique to each program: what draws you to that program? Which faculty are you looking forward to working with? What opportunities does the school offer that you want to take advantage of during your time there?
X DON’T wait until the last minute to submit your supplemental materials. Remember that things like transcripts, test scores, and letters of recommendation can take time to prepare. Make sure you reach out to your undergraduate or other graduate institutions, test centers, and recommenders well ahead of time.
X DON’T skimp on proof-reading. Many students think that they can do their own editing, but it always helps to have another person’s perspective. You’d be surprised how many typos you’ll miss when you’re reading your own work! Identify two friends or colleagues whose writing advice you trust and send your work to them early, in case they have any revisions.
X DON’T forget to write your recommenders a thank you note! This often gets overlooked, but after your recommender has agreed to write your letter of recommendation, follow-up with a thank you note— it never goes unappreciated. Moreover, you can use your thank-you note as a chance to attach your resume (which is often helpful for your recommender to have), or mention what personal qualities and achievements you would like your recommender to focus on when writing your letter of recommendation.
Remember that you can control how hectic (or not) this application cycle can be. Starting early and staying organized not only help your graduate school application but also help prepare you for the rigors of a graduate school program; these are skills that will be beneficial to you as you enter the next phase of your academic journey. Best of luck!