If you’ve made the decision to continue your education by going to graduate school, and you’ve done your due diligence in finding a potential supervisor and exploring prospective universities, then it’s time to start your application. The application process is an important one because missing documents or incorrect forms could mean your application won’t be processed. It’s a scary thought when you’ve put a lot of effort into the next stage of your life, but there’s no need to panic. Having gone through two graduate studies applications, once for my master’s and then for my PhD in Mechanical Engineering, I’ve come up with the top five tips to help get you organized and ensure you have a stress-free application process.
1. Submission deadlines
The first thing you’ll want to check is the application deadline as it varies per institution. This information is posted on university websites and details when you need to submit your application to start in a particular semester. If a submission checklist isn’t posted by the prospective institution, it’s a good idea to make one yourself to ensure you have all the documents needed to make the deadline. I bookmarked the deadline and application form page making it easier to refer to and to help keep me on track.
2. Statement of interest
Writing your statement of interest is like writing a cover letter for a job application. I went through multiple revisions of my statement to make sure I had enough information about myself and my abilities. What I wanted to highlight was my academic background and achievements, how my degree shaped my interest to go to graduate school, and projects I worked on relating to my preferred research area. I used those points as a guideline to help keep me focused during the writing process. If no page limit or restrictions are listed, it’s recommended to keep your statement under two pages. Lastly, if you have already spoken to a professor who is willing to accept you into their research group, it’s important to make note of that in your statement.
3. Requesting academic transcripts
Most institutions have details on their website for how to request transcripts through their Registrar’s office for minimal cost. I called the Registrar’s office at my previous university to clarify the process of getting my official transcript and the wait time to receive it because it was coming from the United States. I found that this was faster than sending an email and waiting for a response. When you receive your transcripts, they will be in an envelope with an official seal protecting it. This indicates that it’s an official document that hasn’t been tampered with. Include the sealed envelope with your application because broken seals will mean your application is incomplete.
Letters of recommendation are very important for your application. A referee needs to be someone who has knowledge of your academic and/or professional abilities. Be sure to submit the right type of references. This was the most stressful part of the application for me when I applied for my master’s. I initially selected professional references that weren’t applicable, and I almost missed the application deadline waiting for my academic references to arrive. Following the institution guidelines and asking questions ahead of time will alleviate any issues. From my personal experience with academic references, I recommend asking a professor early in the application process to give them enough time to complete the letter. I also followed up with friendly reminders.
5. Who to contact if you have questions
If at any time during the application process you have questions, contact the appropriate administrative office. When I first applied for my master’s, I had many questions and the administrative office was more than willing to help. It’s better to get clarification on items you aren’t sure about than to have your application delayed because guidelines weren’t followed or they were misinterpreted.
Have you already applied to grad school? What are some of your top tips for the application process? Let us know in the comments.