Tag: Application Process (page 2 of 2)

Common Graduate School Application Mistakes to Avoid

If you’re considering applying to graduate school, chances are you’ve taken a look at one of the many guides all over the internet giving advice on how to start the process (maybe you’ve even read the blog post I wrote earlier last month on some do’s and don’ts!), and realized that most of the advice columns offer the same advice. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve almost certainly read one of my many, many, posts where I urge students to proofread their work. “I get it, I get it, how many times are they going to tell me?” you’ve probably thought…. but the truth is, we repeat these maxims over and over because we run into them over and over. So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let’s run through the most common application mistakes I see and some tips on how to avoid them.

Start off on the right foot. When I was 4/5/6/7/8/9 years old…”, “From a young age I have always been interested in…”, “For as long as I can remember I have been interested in…” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve read these words as the opening line in a personal statement, I could take myself and every reader of this blog on all-expenses-paid vacation. If you added a nickel for personal statements that begin with a famous quote, we could all retire. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t reflect on what brought you to apply to graduate school, and it doesn’t mean that you can never use a quote in your personal statement. It does mean, however, that we’re more interested in the specifics of what led you to the program you’re applying to than about generalities.

Don’t be a rebel. Follow instructions. Read them carefully, and then read them again. It’s easy to overlook directions when you’re juggling multiple applications at once, but the ability to follow procedures and stay organized are key components for being successful in graduate school, and application readers look for those skills in all aspects of your application. Make sure that you’ve answered all the questions on the application, and that you’ve answered them correctly. Double-check that your statement of purpose doesn’t exceed the page limit (same goes for your writing sample, if you have one!).

Choose wisely. Without fail, every year I get an email from a professor who is baffled by the fact that they’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation… from a student they’ve never met. If you’ve never made this mistake, it can be hard to believe, but it really does happen!  It may seem obvious, but you should make sure the recommenders you choose know you well, even if there’s a more “impressive” contact you could ask.  An unfavorable letter of recommendation is as bad as having no letter at all, if not worse, and a generic letter doesn’t do anything to help your application.

With application deadlines coming up soon, I hope you use this list as a guide to put your strongest foot forward and gain entry into the program of your dreams. Good luck and stay focused!

 

Put Your Best Foot Forward: Starting the Application Process

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!

How to Choose the Right Program: Doing Your Research

Last month I talked about how to initially narrow your search for the perfect graduate program for you by looking at basics like population size, program format, geographic area. But once you have a list of about ten to twenty schools, making cuts can seem almost impossible. Especially now, when visiting schools is virtually impossible (pun intended!), how do you know which to cross off your list? Today I’m sharing some tips to move from a list of schools that meet your criteria to the four to six schools you’ll end up applying to.

Step 1: Take inventory. I referenced this briefly in my previous post, but this is the stage where you’ll really want to dive into what’s motivating you to go to graduate school. What are the holes in your knowledge? What do you want to gain from your time in graduate school? Try to make this list as concrete as possible (i.e., not “I want to make connections” but “I want to make connections with people in fields x, y, and z.”).

Step 2: Dive in. Now that you have your list, compare that to the curriculum and faculty interests of each program. If you know you want to gain hands-on experience, programs that don’t offer an internship or practicum option can be crossed off your list. If you want to focus on behavioral health issues in Southeast Asia (for example!), and none of the faculty at the school have experience in either behavioral health or Southeast Asia, you can eliminate them as well. If you know you need to learn STATA (a statistics software), and there’s no classes or support for that in the program, you know that the program would not be a good fit for you.

Step 3: Final cuts. After step two, you should have narrowed your initial list significantly; if you didn’t, it’s a sign that your list of objectives wasn’t concrete enough. But once you’ve gotten your list under ten, that’s where the fun part of the research comes in. Reach out to admissions staff members to get any answers for your remaining questions. Connect to current students and alumni, and ask questions like, “Do you have enough academic and career guidance? What do you like and dislike about your program? How available are your professors?” Attend virtual events for prospective students! Many schools, including Heller, are offering a ton of virtual events to help students connect to faculty, program directors, and current students, so take advantage of this opportunity.

Only you can decide which program will be best for you, so think of this as an opportunity to reflect on what you want to do after graduation. In the end, remember that graduate school is a stepping-stone toward your personal and professional goals, not the final destination; every person’s path will look different depending on where they see themselves in the future. Start early, keep your search organized, and know that whichever program you choose, your passion and hard work will be the keys to success!

Last Chance to Submit Your Application!

Hi everyone! Tomorrow’s the big day: the last chance for domestic students to submit their application to a master’s program at Heller. If you haven’t, check out my earlier post with five tips for finishing your application, but sometimes, we need a little motivation! So today, rather than sharing the how of finishing your application, I’m going to share three reasons why you should submit your application to motivate you to cross the finish line.

  1. Our peers agree: we’re top-notch. Heller is consistently ranked a top-ten school in social policy by US News and World, which reflect peer assessments of deans, directors, and department chairs at 276 schools of public affairs. For 2021, Heller was ranked in the top 10 for social policy and top 20 for health policy and management. Heller is one of only two New England graduate schools of public affairs to be ranked in those specialty areas.
  2. Diversity is more than a buzzword at Heller, it’s a commitment. When you join Heller, you’ll become a part of an incredibly diverse community: last year, we welcomed students from 66 different countries (more than 60 languages are spoken at Heller), making international students about a third of our incoming class. 39% of our incoming domestic students were students of color. Moreover, Heller is home to many students with disabilities, students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and students from a variety of religious backgrounds. This diverse environment challenges every student to consider new points of view, and offers the unique opportunity to learn not only from our experienced faculty, but students who are nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, policy analysts and more.
  3. The Boston area is a great place to be for graduate school. I may be biased because I moved from Atlanta to Boston for my graduate education, but I truly think the Boston area is a great place to be when you’re getting your master’s degree. The MBTA system (which connects to the commuter rail line that goes right to campus) makes the city easy to explore, and the city is filled with intelligent, passionate people in a similar place in their lives, whether they’re studying engineering at MIT, or music at Berklee. The Waltham area is great because if you choose to live in Waltham, you’ll be able to find more affordable living, but if you want to live in the city, it’s easy to commute to campus. Once you’re in Waltham, there’s plenty of restaurants and beautiful paths along the Charles to keep you busy.

You’re almost there! Just push through and press that submit button, and then help yourself to your favorite treat to celebrate! Best of luck; I look forward to welcoming you to Heller!

Five Tips for Finishing your Application

With many graduate schools (including Heller!) extending their application deadlines, now might be the right time to take the leap and apply for that graduate program you’ve been considering. You’ve done your research, you’ve chosen the programs, and you’ve started your application: but how do you push through to the finish line? As someone who submitted way too many applications when I was applying to graduate programs, I’m a self-proclaimed expert on finishing graduate school applications, and today I’m giving you my top five tips to help you click the “Submit” button with confidence.

  1. Phone an (admissions) friend. Many colleges are changing their requirements during this application cycle to accommodate students. For example, Heller’s Social Impact MBA and Master of Public Policy program are waiving the GRE and GMAT test requirement for this cycle. Programs that normally require interviews may be doing phone or Zoom interviews or waiving them entirely. Check the admissions page for your program or reach out to the admissions staff of the college to make sure you have all the required materials and know the updated application deadlines
  2. Make a schedule. While it’s tempting to set aside a whole day to finalize your applications and just get it over with, I would recommend making a schedule and breaking your time into manageable blocks. Once you know the updated deadlines for your programs, prioritize programs with earlier deadlines, and read through each application carefully. I wouldn’t recommend working for longer than an hour at a time (even if it doesn’t feel like it, you really do lose focus after a while!) and reward yourself after each time-block: take a walk, order take-out, watch an episode of a TV show, whatever helps you to unwind and come back to those applications refreshed.
  3. Profread Proofread! I get it; you’ve read your statement of purpose twenty times already, and the thought of reading it one more time makes you want to scream. But proofreading is one of the easiest ways to polish your application and put your best foot forward. Ask someone else if they would mind looking over your statement of purpose– chances are, they’ll catch more mistakes than you would on your twenty-first read through. Another tip for proofreading: input your statement into a text-to-speech reader and have your computer read your work back to you (I use Natural Readers); you’ll catch way more errors hearing it read out loud. While you’re at it, check your resume too!
  4. Reach out to recommenders. Your recommenders are likely writing more than one letter of recommendation this application cycle, so make sure that you’re on the forefront of their mind by writing them a sincere thank you note. Remember, they’re doing you a favor by writing a letter of recommendation, so make sure you express your gratitude and check in with them if there’s anything else they need from you (if you haven’t already, attach your resume to your thank you note so your recommender can review your qualifications and include specifics in their letter).
  5. Triple-check your transcripts. Although Heller (and many other schools) accept unofficial transcripts for the purpose of admission, reviewers still need to authenticate certain information. Make sure that the transcript you’ve uploaded has your name, your previous institution’s name, and indicates that you’ve completed your program (if you have). This may sound like common sense, but many grade portals on student accounts don’t include this information, so make sure you take a look before you submit your application.

Checked everything off this list? Then you’re ready to press the submit button! Good luck and make sure you reward yourself for taking this important step for your future. Remember: you’ve got this.

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