Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate or graduate degree, the application process is largely the same—with a few exceptions. If your goal is to get into a graduate school that is the perfect match for your academic goals, you need to understand those exceptions in order to tailor your essay so that graduate school admission counselors will want to read it.
No matter what you’re studying, graduate schools usually require a great deal of research which will eventually help students specialize in a certain field. It’s the difference between a more generic undergraduate degree and a field of study that is geared toward preparing students for eventual field work in a particular area of expertise.
That said, there are so many graduate programs that it’s hard to discuss them without generalizing. Nevertheless, the following information can help you as you embark on this next phase of your studies.
Graduate school admission counselors keep an eagle eye out for students who know what areas they want to specialize in. That’s important because it shows that, having exceeding professional and academic expectations, those students now want to apply what they’ve learned and go on to the next step. It’s the difference between studying something just for fun and studying something in order to apply it in a real-life work setting. Graduate schools want students who want to develop true expertise in their field.
In addition to needing outstanding grades, a fantastic résumé will show admission counselors what you’ve already done to begin working towards that aforementioned expertise. They want to know you’re both committed and driven. Only then will graduate schools know that you’re one of those students who will make the most of your studies and truly excel.
Fewer Applicants, But Way More Competition
When you applied to undergraduate school, you competed against roughly 20 million other student applicants. For graduate school, that number is significantly smaller—somewhere under five million—and the seats available are far fewer, so the competition is stringent.
Since there are fewer applicants, logically, graduate school applications get examined much more thoroughly than undergraduate school applications. Admissions counselors are concerned with creating classes of students that will be successful and which will reflect well upon their establishment. Thus, seeking help from a graduate school admissions consultant whose job entails helping students prepare outstanding applications, is always a good idea.
Your application is exceedingly important, and in particular, your personal statement is critical. You need to be able to make the case for why you want to earn your graduate degree. Graduate degrees are usually seen as optional—very few people get them because they’re not considered “necessary”—so you need to make it clear what is driving you to take this next academic step. Explain why you’re continuing your studies and why you want to do that at a particular school. How will that school help you fulfill your specific goals?
Unfortunately, It’s (At Least Partially) About the Money
Keep in mind, as you’re preparing your application, that graduate schools are businesses. An admission counselor’s job is to make sure not only that a university enrolls outstanding students but that there are enough of those students to pay the bills. Graduate schools are usually subdivisions of large universities and have fewer students than undergraduate schools as a whole, so every single one counts.
Of course, even though graduate schools are businesses, they differ in that their “product” is students rather than, say, cars—if they produce students who excel in their respective fields, that allows for bragging (read: marketing) rights and helps to attract more students which will help pay more bills … you get the idea.
How does this help you? Well, if you know graduate schools are constantly in a financial crunch and are watching every penny, it helps if you can afford not to ask them for scholarships or other forms of financial assistance. That doesn’t seem like helpful advice, of course, if you can’t pay for an entire degree on your own. However, you can always look for outside scholarships. Keep in mind, again, that this is generalized information, and some graduate schools have great endowments with which they can assist students. It’s a matter of researching your particular school of interest. The majority of schools with such financial acumen are Ivy League members, and the degrees are often geared toward areas such as public service and education.
Your Résumé is Key
As we noted earlier, a great résumé is absolutely critical when applying to graduate school. The more professional experience you can prove—specifically experience related to the academic discipline you want to pursue—the more chances your application will be successful. Why? In addition to demonstrating your commitment to your area of study, substantial work experience indicates that you already have some preparation that will stand you in good stead in the classroom.
Students with extensive, specific work experience can contribute a great deal to the classroom by bringing in their personal experiences and connecting them to everything they’re learning. They can pair that past experience with new research and, as a result, anchor academia in work-life reality (something that can be tricky) and take their studies that much further.
Also of importance is proving in your application that your degree will make a real difference as you move forward in your career. It could be that you’re in a job that requires a specific graduate degree before you can be promoted. If so, make sure you state that clearly. Admission counselors want to know that you’re really planning on using your degree and that it won’t just be a dusty, forgotten diploma on a wall somewhere.
After you get your coveted degree, graduate school admission counselors want to know that you’re going to take your education and run with it. It looks good for a school to be able to say “x number of graduates immediately obtained jobs in their specific fields of study.” Conversely, if you (and your fellow graduates) can’t get a job post-graduate degree, the school’s reputation takes a hit. Its degrees lose value. Of course, the job market is also responsible for anyone struggling to get work, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that if many graduate students from a certain school can’t find jobs, it looks bad.
Unlike Undergraduate School, Professors Can (and do) Weigh in on Graduate School Admissions
Since, as we have said, graduate school involves research and practical application of skills learned, students will be working far more closely with their teachers than at the undergraduate level. Therefore, it makes sense that professors want to thoroughly vet the people who they will be collaborating with for year. This is why it’s important to specifically research what professors will be teaching classes for your field of study. Then, in your application, make the case for why you will be able to help further those specific professors’ goals (as well as your own.)
Whether you’re applying for graduate school right now or just considering it for down the road, it’s a good idea to get started with your research now. The more you look into specific fields of study, schools, and professors, the better prepared you’ll be when you do decide to apply. That will only help to better your application and improve your chances of being admitted.
When it comes down to it, applying for graduate school can be overwhelming. Seeking help from a graduate school admissions consultant, who is specifically trained in helping walk you through the process of crafting an outstanding application, can be a worthwhile investment of time and money. It’ll save you stress and make it that much easier to start down this next path in your academic journey.