Applying To Graduate School
Students who successfully complete post-baccalaureate graduate school admissions efforts follow a series of strategic actions that parallel internship and job search. Successful application and admissions efforts involve following the steps below and seeking assistance and support of others, especially the guidance of Career Center professionals! They are trained to coach you step by step.
1. SET AND ARTICULATE GOALS. Know and say what kinds of graduate programs you are interested in. You do not have to set and state lifelong goals, but you should express immediate and short-term options to implement action plans. You can have multiple and varied goals. Don’t fear focus. Research, articulate, and then take behavioral action steps towards career and related graduate school admissions goals. A number of websites provide information, and facilitate self-assessment and exploration required of goal setting. Of course, Career Center counselors are prepared to guide you through this critical stage. Call or visit the office to schedule an appointment. We encourage you investigate the following page dedicated to exploring academic/professional interests and career fields. Monster.com offers some helpful self-assessment tools. Other helpful sites include Vault.com. Remember, graduate schools are not exploratory in nature. They expect applicants to know why they are applying for admissions to particular programs, and for applicants to be able to articulate vocational and educational goals via personal statements and other supporting documents. Often, there are pre-requisite courses and, on occasion, shadowing hours required for admission.
2. DEVELOP DOCUMENTATION. Draft, finalize, then use resumes, cover letters, essays, personal statements, follow up correspondence, applications, recommendations, portfolios and other materials that project goals and qualifications for admissions. We do strongly recommend the UofResume format for oUR students. This “targeted” variation on the HBS Resume best presents your background and goals, as well as academic, experiential and co-curricular assets. While some may question whether it is strategically sound to have resumes share common visual qualities, the success of students who use the UofResume reveals that this style is truly effective. Having a Career Center counselor critique your documents is the best way for these professionals assess and facilitate goal setting and strategy implementation, while they enhance documents needed for success. Copies of sample resumes and cover letters are available oUR website. Have your resume, cover letter, personal statements or graduate school essays critiqued, schedule an appointment, and send a copy of your draft as in MSWord.doc to your counselor. Counselors will review documents, respond with suggestions, and identify where you are in the ten-step process, and facilitate your progress to next steps. Online resources regarding graduate school essays include Admissions Essays and Essay Edge.
3. IDENTIFY A “HIT LIST” OF POTENTIAL GRADUATE PROGRAMS, FELLOWSHIPS AND OTHER EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES. Use printed and on-line resources to develop a list of schools and programs to contact. This step involves identification of places where you wish to apply and, if admitted, attend. Don’t try to determine “ideal” schools, but do generate a larger list first and then narrow down the options later. Utilize Petersons.com, Princeton review, LawSchool.com, Med Students.net, BusinessWeek (MBA), and Engineering Graduate School Rankings as well as printed resources available in the Career Center’s Goldberg Library to begin this process. All students and alumni(ae) exploring graduate school options are strongly encouraged to communicate directly with faculty. These scholars are knowledgeable of programs, and can identify colleagues you should contact. Of course, they will also serve as recommenders (writing letters of recommendation), but they can also give you some “getting started ideas” and begin your hit list with recommendations of schools and programs. Career Center counselors can teach you how to accomplish critical faculty networking efforts. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to undertake this step without clear goals, so you might have to return to the first step before you complete this one.
4. ESTABLISH AND USE A “NETWORK.” This involves identifying and contacting friends, family members, alumni(ae) and, most importantly, Rochester faculty can offer advice regarding the admissions process and particular recommendations regarding programs and schools. These individuals may also serve as active advocates (by writing recommendations) or strategic supporters (discussing schools and programs and suggesting persons to contact regarding specific institutions and offerings). Also, “internetworking” now means using the internet for varied activities. While there are some graduate school “chat sites,” we encourage you to find direct contacts, often offered by schools, rather then over-generalized information (that too often is negative). Know your goals and act accordingly, honestly seeking information when establishing goals, and consideration and referrals when seeking a job. Please discuss with a Career Center Counselor how to maximize your effectiveness and appropriately use this powerful web resource. Strategic and goal-focused networking can be extremely effective, but over-generalized and “shot gun” approaches can diminish your potential for success.
5. COMPLETE APPLICATIONS MATERIALS, ADMISSIONS EFFORTS AND TESTING. Completing printed or web-based applications is, obviously, crucial. Law schools, medical schools, and veterinary schools have “common web-based applications,” but other programs have “school-specific applications.” Know how to use common application sites, have all of your information available in MS Word.doc format, be ready to copy and paste into specific systems, and always apply well in advance of deadlines. Focus first on completing an application for one school, and later you can adapt materials for other schools. The sooner you get all information gathered, organized, critiqued, and submitted to one program, the sooner you will be able to adapt it for others. It should get easier as you progress. Know what standardized tests are required of the programs and schools you are applying to. LSAT, GMAT, MCAT information is available on a variety of sites such as Kaplan, ETS, and Test Prep Review. Again, do have a Career Center counselor critique documents used when completing applications, and allow this person to coach you step-by-step through all efforts.
6. UPLOAD, E-MAIL OR MAIL SUPPORTING MATERIALS, AND APPLICATIONS TO SCHOOLS AND PROGRAMS ON YOUR HIT LIST. Take first steps, complete all applications, and then keep the flow of communications persistent, yet appropriate. Attach a resume to initial email correspondence as well as follow up e-mail or fax notes. Work effectively by phone, e-mail, or in person with all involved in your efforts, particularly with your Career Center counselor. Apply to a number of schools and programs, but do so strategically. Don’t apply to schools you would not attend, and think about the selectivity of programs when you create your hit list and complete applications. Take into account factors like rankings, reputation, selectivity, geographic location and, most important, faculty and, for many programs, research and practica opportunities.
7. FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP. Communicate with potential schools and network members by fax, e-mail, or phone. Career Center counselors are trained to inspire appropriate and effective follow up actions. They are effective “graduate school admissions coaches,” who can motivate you step by step toward success. Follow up is often the most critical, yet too often the most forgotten of the ten steps.
8. INTERVIEW. Communicate motivations, and most importantly, qualifications which may be shared by phone and, in most cases, in-person. Always prepare prior to these special “conversations with a purpose” that are conducted by admissions professionals, faculty, current graduate students and, occasionally, alumni of particular programs. Again, Career Center counselors are prepared to coach you through this critical stage, ideally in person via appointments and role-play interviews. Do communicate with them regarding general interview advice, and strategies specific to your circumstances. Copies of sample interview questions and tips are available for downloading in pdf format. You can also investigate About.com interviewing tips, Peterson’s guide, and Princeton Review for additional interviewing information. For some professional schools, including medical school, the interview is a critical step that follows primary and secondary application submissions. It is a very, very important part of the overall process, and you must be prepared to do well.
9. TAKE CLASSES, VOLUNTEER, OR OBTAIN INTERNSHIPS OR PART-TIME JOBS. Successful graduate school admissions candidates continue skills building by taking classes in goal-related areas or by finding part-time paid or volunteer experiences. This can be done prior to applying to school or, more often and highly recommended, if you were not offered admissions to your top choice schools and programs. Each experience will enhance your chances of someday obtaining your goals. This is often the most effective step, yet least taken, step for disappointed applicants have difficulties overcoming rejection and implementing strategies that will, ultimately, yield admissions success. One course or two or three could become your springboard to admissions into a program or school that once rejected you, as can a post-baccalaureate internships. Check your local area colleges and universities for courses of interest! Discuss the idea of a “post baccalaureate internship” and a “one course at a time” strategy with a Career Center counselor. For some candidates, interested in specific academic fields and programs, these are most effective and logical goals. And, when you obtain and internship, volunteer in a particular setting, or take courses, follow up with your target schools to inform them of your efforts. In many ways applying to graduate school is both an application and communication process, not just one or the other.
10. RECEIVE OFFERS AND ACCEPT ONE. Conduct post-offer analysis after you have received graduate program admissions offers. Don’t delay earlier undertakings while prematurely trying to make hypothetical “what if” decisions. Career Center Counselors are trained to assist you with this last step as well. Please share your circumstances and ask for personalized assistance. And, faculty advice at this stage is again crucial. And, never accept and then later renege on an offer of admission, unless you have been “wait listed,” and your status changes after you have already informed one school of your plans to enroll. You can, and should, ask for the appropriate amount of time to collect information and make this very important decision. Deadlines are often negotiable. And, whenever possible, do visit the school (especially if you have not yet done so) prior to making your decision. Please, let the Career Center know of your decision, via formal surveys or informally, by emailing one of our staff. We are always curious regarding the successes of our students and, we most definitely, might solicit your assistance with the efforts of future candidates who share common academic interests.