Chalkboard stick figure drawings, hand pointing to yellow figure standing out

7 Ways to Stand Out as a Graduate School Applicant

As you know from undergraduate applications, you have to stand out when applying to grad school. These tips can help you create something impressive.

The final stage of the graduate school application process can yield both relief and angst for prospective students. Applications are being finalized and submitted, and then comes a period that can be even more stressful: Waiting for decisions from admission committees. Based on our experience reviewing thousands of grad school applications over nearly three decades, here are some tips to help you stand out as you prepare and finalize your own applications.

1. Relax

The application process is a major learning experience, and applicants often learn as they go. Staying positive and calm allows you to be reflective and thoughtful. Worrying and obsessing during the final stages of putting your applications together does not help. In fact, it will likely hinder your ability to think clearly and focus on preparing the best application possible.

Related: A Non-Stressful Graduate School Application Timeline

2. Be yourself

Embellishing your application or making excuses for weaker areas will not help. No one is perfect, and applicants who try to make themselves look perfect may raise a bit of suspicion. Presenting yourself genuinely and honestly is very important. We all have met individuals whom we initially perceived to be fake or pretending in some way. What is our usual response to these individuals? Not positive. As the saying goes, “Be yourself—everyone else is already taken.”

3. Give yourself enough time

At a minimum, take a few months to gather and compile all required materials. Then check and recheck to make sure all documents are in order. Do not wait until the last second to push the “submit” button. Believe us when we say, admission personnel can tell when you do this. How? Because there are often mistakes, missing information, and/or essays that clearly were written for another program (one classic misstep that happens surprisingly often). You can guess the usual outcome of these applications.

Related: Grad Admission Checklist: 12–10 Months From Applying

4. Follow the directions

Not doing so raises major questions about how the candidate might adhere to policies and procedures once they are admitted and enrolled. If there is a word limit for essay questions, follow it. If you are asked for two letters of recommendation, do not send three. If you are asked not to follow up via email or phone, don’t. As one admission director once told me, “Following directions shows respect, and in doing so, you’ll earn some in return.”

5. Be professional

Maintaining a professional demeanor in all circumstances is a sign of maturity. Graduate school is a big deal and can be stressful; if you’re someone who easily loses your cool, then you’re likely not ready. You should be confident and self-assured, but not to the point of becoming or being perceived as overly aggressive, abrasive, or demanding. If something goes wrong, remain calm. This makes a major, positive impression.

Related: 13 Things Admission Teams See in Great Grad School Applications

6. Focus on content and presentation

A candidate might have the greatest standardized test scores, a superb undergrad GPA, and impressive letters of recommendation. But if the application contains obvious misspellings or grammatical errors, it’s going to be a problem. Rightly or wrongly, admission committees will assume the applicant was not entirely serious about his or her application.

7. Ask questions that show you did your research

A candidate makes a negative impression by asking basic questions that have been addressed already on a school’s website or in printed materials. Two of the questions we were often asked—and elicited a very off-putting inner reaction—were “What are your application deadlines?” and “Do you offer financial aid?” These clearly demonstrate either a lack of real interest in an institution or program, a lack of initiative in doing some research, or both. Instead, ask questions that show you did your homework and took time to thoroughly investigate the program and institution to which you’re applying.

Related: 10 Overlooked Questions to Ask About Graduate School

While there’s often a smaller pool of competitors when it comes to graduate programs, grad schools can be more selective than their undergraduate counterparts. You still need to stand out. Use these seven tips to help de-stress and fill out your applications with confidence, knowing you’re putting your best and most attention-grabbing foot forward.

Learn more about Don and Kevin at GradSchoolRoadMap.com, and find more helpful admission advice in our Graduate School section.  

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!

Lorena Bacallao

Lorena Bacallao

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress was the foundation of my college search process. Because of CollegeXpress, I was able to make a more informed and confident decision as to where it was best to pursue my higher education. I have recommended this website to fellow peers and for first-generation students like me. It’s a website I will continue to promote because of how simple it was to use and how many opportunities were offered to me at my fingertips!

Tariq Adam Khatib

Tariq Adam Khatib

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me a lot. I am a Tanzania boy who finished my high school studies in Tanzania. I never knew I could get an opportunity to get a scholarship to study abroad. I am happy that now I know how to find the school to study abroad through CollegeXpress.

Mataya Mann

Mataya Mann

High School Class of 2022

To say that CollegeXpress is a helpful tool would be an understatement as it is much more than that. Before finding CollegeXpress, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college, it was going to be insanely expensive, and I felt lost. CollegeXpress has given me access to resources such as helpful tips for applications and scholarship [opportunities], and helped guide me in a direction where I feel confident moving forward and pursuing a career. CollegeXpress has helped instill a spark in me that makes me want to continue and supports me in doing so.

Heather McCarty

Heather McCarty

High School Class of 2020

CollegeXpress has helped me with the college application process. The tips and tricks for important essays were so helpful. I also gained useful knowledge about college life. Even though I’m fully online, CollegeXpress has helped me develop a sense of how college is in person. The experiences from college students that were featured on their Instagram page have shown the good, the bad, and the “secret” life on campus from a reliable perspective. Not to mention, they relieved my feelings of anxiety about the workload. I can now understand how it can be stressful, but it takes self-control and willpower to get assignments completed on time and with quality.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Lynn University

Boca Raton, FL

Ashland University

Ashland, OH

Saint Louis University

St. Louis, MO