How many schools should I apply to?
Have a range of choices: If you feel you have excellent prospects consider applying to fewer schools with more assurances of being accepted. If you feel you have average to limited prospects you may want to apply to a larger number. Some will be "safety schools" which you are confident you will be accepted to and others will be ones you hope will accept you.
Do not sell yourself short: You may have the qualities that your “dream school” is seeking. Speak with your academic advisor and with faculty members in your field of interest about the conventional number of applications sent out and ask the reasoning behind this number.
Consider the cost: How much are you willing to spend on the application process? Costs can be steep and will rapidly add up. Estimate and total the costs versus the amount you are willing to spend.
Costs in addition to application fees:
- academic transcript request and financial aid fees,
- fees associated with the processing of financial aid forms,
- fees required for GRE, MAT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT exams and for test reports, photocopying expenses, and postage costs, and
- interview and campus visitation costs.
Regardless of the number of schools you apply to, be sure to apply to schools that complement your academic background, fit your graduate school needs, and allow you to reach your career goals.
Completing the Application
Generate a list of the qualities, experiences, and skills you want to present in your application. Which attributes will secure your acceptance into a particular graduate program? Study the prerequisites of each program and match them with your profile. Be sure to highlight these matches on your application.
- Review application materials and make note of deadlines.
- Duplicate your blank application to use as a rough draft.
- Have supplemental material such as transcripts, resume, and test scores on hand.
- Read the application thoroughly before entering information.
- Follow the instructions carefully.
- Respond to the items in an accurate and concise manner. Pay attention to detail.
- Don't "mass produce" applications. Although some information is repetitive from school to school, applications vary. Address the unique aspects of your qualifications for each program.
- Thoroughly proofread your application. Check that all the necessary information is complete and accurate. Have someone else review the application for misspellings and typos before you send it off.
- Save a copy of the completed application and keep it on file.
The Personal Statement
A personal statement (A.K.A. statement of purpose or personal essay) is required by just about every graduate program. It should indicate where you have been, where are you going, and how your experiences have prepared you for where you are going. It requires time, thought and frequent revisions. Get started early and have a variety of people give you feedback on your drafts.
Official copies of your undergraduate transcript are required for any graduate school. If you have taken coursework at multiple institutions, you likely will need academic transcripts from all (including those abroad). The website for the Records and Registration Office of your previous institutions will usually have an online system to request forwarding to the schools applying to. If not, call or write for information including fees required.
Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate or professional schools require three letters of recommendation. A faculty member in your department is usually regarded as the best reference, but letters from professionals in the field you are entering are also acceptable. Supervisors from internships and volunteer experiences are other good recommenders. Select people who can judge your past performance and character in a fair and accurate manner.
Contact those you think will give you a positive recommendation. Tell them your plans after getting the graduate degree and describe why you are interested in your chosen program and field. A copy of your personal statement and resume will give your recommenders the ability to tailor a recommendation for program. Tailored recommendations are more persuasive than "canned" recommendations. Remind the recommender of your accomplishments so they can cite specific examples.
If your application materials include forms for recommendations, give these to your recommenders along with stamped and addressed envelopes. Request that the recommendations be completed and mailed by a specific date. Check with them a couple days before, to verify that the person is on track. Note whether the schools want the recommendations sent directly by the recommender or included with your application. Follow up with a thank you note – You never know when you may need their help again!
Additional items may be required with the application. Note any audio, visual, or written samples of your work required to be submitted. If you have questions regarding appropriate submissions, speak with a contact person in the program. Don't assume. Check.
Generally, applications should be forwarded about ten months before the semester you wish to enroll. Give yourself plenty of time to request recommendations, request transcripts, prepare your statement and additional requirements, and complete your application. After sending all requirements, check the status of your application online or make follow up phone calls to verify arrival of materials at the institutions. Make copies of all correspondence and not just on a computer. Keep notes on all phone calls including the names of the people to which you have spoken. Maintain appropriate files.