5 Critical Reminders Before Sending in Your Graduate School Applications

With many of this year's grad school application deadlines right around the corner, it's time for some last-minute admission tips and reminders.

In my prior two blog posts, I discussed some ways to be positively noticed as a graduate school applicant and some ways to get negative attention. Now, with many of this year’s grad school application deadlines right around the corner, I wanted to share some last-minute admission tips and reminders. So you can submit the strongest graduate applications possible—and gain some valuable perspective.

1. Give yourself time to do your best work

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating at this stage of the game, since time is running short. Rushing and/or waiting until the last minute tends to lead to making unintentional mistakes that can be costly when your grad school application is evaluated. Prioritize completing your applications to the best of your ability. This may mean making some sacrifices to carve out time to thoughtfully complete your applications, from turning down social invitations to giving up your weekends.

2. Remember that presentation is also important

While the content of your application is obviously paramount, the “look and feel” of it matters too. This is especially true when the graduate institution or program to which you are applying is extremely selective and has the luxury of choosing students from a very large applicant pool. 

Beyond proofreading your application to catch grammar and spelling mistakes, make sure your name and contact information appear on each page and that all pages are in the right order. If you will be submitting physical copies of anything, make sure the materials are clean and well organized. And before you hit “submit,” always perform one last check to make sure every application field is complete and all required materials are included—and they’re for the correct school.

3. Be yourself

This is another repeat from earlier posts, but for good reason. The best grad school applications I have read are from those who were, in effect, communicating the following between the lines: “This is me. I hope you will appreciate who I am and also appreciate the level of interest I’ve demonstrated in your institution by completing this application. If you choose to admit me, I’ll be thrilled. If you don’t, I’ll be okay.” Keep that in mind as you wrap up your grad school applications, and you’ll be ahead of the curve.

4. Make contingency plans in case you are not admitted

In my nearly 30 years as an admission dean, I’ve met many applicants who were so convinced that a particular institution was for them or that this was the year they were going to attend graduate school that they did not make plans for what to do if things did not go as they hoped. Some would go so far as to inform employers and loved ones of their plans before it was advisable to do so. In some very extreme cases, they moved to where their top graduate option was located before they received an admission decision!

Being prepared for all outcomes is not a sign of lack of belief in yourself or your ability to do graduate work. It is a sign that you realize life does not always go the way we expected and having a backup plan is often required—a sign of prudence and maturity.

5. Think about the grad school admission process as a learning experience—because it is

Though it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of completing your grad school applications, try to reframe the process as a valuable opportunity for personal growth and reflection.

Remember, simply going through a graduate school application process can be a major learning experience in and of itself. As they move through the application process, some applicants end up deciding not to pursue graduate study or wait a while. Others decide to pursue an entirely different area of study than they originally had in mind. As you complete each application, you will engage in personal reflection and self-discovery. This often proves quite rewarding, regardless of the admission decisions you receive.

Stay tuned for my next article: what to do after submitting your grad school applications. In addition, feel free to share your questions in the comments below, check out my website, and/or to join me on Twitter.

PS Want to learn more expert tips from Dr. Martin? You could win a free grad school admission consulting session! Enter the contest here

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About Donald C. Martin

Dr. Donald C. Martin is an expert in the fields of enrollment management, student affairs, and higher education administration. From 1980–2008 he managed divisions including admission, financial aid, student development, registration/advising, and career, disabled, and international services. He has been employed by some of the best colleges and universities in the United States: Columbia University (Teachers College), University of Chicago (Booth School of Business), Northwestern University (Medill School of Journalism), and Wheaton College (IL). Along with a team of dedicated professionals, Dr. Martin grew both the applicant pool and the enrollment yield at each institution he served. In addition, students’ ratings of their experience at those institutions improved dramatically during his tenure.

Having visited over 60 countries on every continent, Dr. Martin has worked with thousands of prospective and current students of varying nationalities, backgrounds, beliefs, interests, and goals. His book, Road Map for Graduate Study: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students, was released in May of 2008. A supplement for international students was released in 2009.

Dr. Martin continues his work with students and educational organizations worldwide, speaking on college and university campuses, and also at graduate school fairs, forums, and education conferences. His focus is on the value of education and negotiating the graduate school experience from start to finish, dispelling the myths that hold many back from earning a graduate degree and financing their graduate education. In addition, he provides one-on-one coaching services for graduate/business school applicants.

For further information please contact dmartin@gradschoolroadmap.com.


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