What I wish I knew about applying to grad school

Tips and tricks for life after your undergrad

A grad school to-do list.

As someone who applied to three universities and five different grad programs last year, there was a lot I didn’t know about applying to grad school. Looking back, there are some things I wish I had done differently and been told about prior to the application process.

Although it might seem straightforward and simple like the undergraduate applications we filled out in high school, there’s actually a lot more to it.

Here are some grad school application tips I’ve come up with to spare you from making some dreaded mistakes.

Know why you’re applying to a specific program

When writing your letter of intent, it makes a world of difference if you have a specific goal and true intentions for career plans after your degree. For example, mentioning that you need ‘said degree’ for ‘said career’ would be an important point to state in your letter to show your express interest to admission officers. A lot of people frantically apply to a large amount of places in fear of not getting in places, but if you're not set on what you're applying for, this isn’t always the best strategy.

Make sure to start your applications early

By early, I mean months early. There are plenty of revisions and details you wouldn’t expect from these applications, and it’s best not to leave them to the last minute. The procedure can be time-consuming, so if you’re thinking about enduring the application process, make sure you’re well prepared and ahead of the game.

Choose good, reliable references

Grad schools will contact your references and ask for specific details about you, so try to pick someone that knows you best and who you can be sure will give you a great reference.

Additionally, it’s important to contact someone who you can rely on to write you a reference letter by a specific deadline. Many professors and employers are busy and may forget about your reference. Unfortunately, I know what this is like. If this is the case, either remind your reference early on, or simply find someone who might be more reliable. After all, you’re spending lots of time and money on these applications; it would be a shame if it all went to waste.

If your program is a thesis-based program, contact professors

I can’t stress this one enough. Even if your degree doesn’t require you to have a supervisor at the time the application is due, it shows true interest when a student goes out of their way to speak to professors. Also, a lot of the professors sit on the admissions committee and will remember your name when picking between students.

Start searching and applying to scholarships

The process of searching for scholarships can be started early in the year. Some grad programs provide internal funding for students, but it doesn’t hurt to apply to programs like Ontario Graduate Scholarship, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, etc. for more funding. It saves you money and also provides a great addition to your resume.

Cover your bases

If you’re 100 per cent set on a specific program, I suggest applying to every university you possibly can. You might be surprised with the competition for some grad programs, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Finally, don’t give up

Applying to grad school can be a grueling and stressful process, so remember to take your time and don’t be so hard on yourself. Some years may be tougher to get into than others. If you don’t get in the first time, don’t be discouraged  try and try again. Alternatively, taking a gap-year isn’t always such a bad idea. Sometimes it helps to have a year off to grow your resume and skills and return with a fresh perspective to retry tackling the application process.

Applying to grad programs is most likely going to be a stressful, strenuous process, but hopefully these tips can help you to focus your search and have the best grad school application process possible.

 

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