The Graduate School Application

Graduate school can be an exciting step for getting that dream job or advancing your career! It can also be very nerve wracking … and I should know, I’ve done it all twice! Here’s just a little wisdom I found useful on my journey thru the graduate/professional school application process.

Typically, there are three components to any graduate school application: resume, personal essay and letters of recommendation. For each section I’ll list some of my tips to make your application stand out in the crowd and for the right reasons.

Resume

No matter the format for entering the information, this is the portion of your application where you essentially state your credentials to enter the program. Some programs will ask for a resume or curriculum vitae (CV), others have internet applications you manually enter information much like an online job application. Your transcript, test scores and extracurricular activities all end up in this section.

  1. Research the schools to which you are applying and know the prerequisite courses. Additionally, note any stipulations they may have on the way courses were taken (online versus in person). While programs may be for the exact same degree, different schools can have different prerequisite courses or minimum hours of a subject at a certain level. Don’t get your application discarded for failing to meet the university’s basic requirements.
  2. Take heed of any courses/experiences that are “suggested” or “highly encouraged” by the program. They state these for a reason. The program likely has found students who have participated in these courses/experiences to be the most successful in their program. While it doesn’t mean you can’t be the exception to the rule, it is unlikely many students are accepted without the suggested course/experiences.
  3. Use your personal experience to your advantage. If you worked in college make sure it is included somewhere. If you played sports (beyond a pick-up game here and there) include them where appropriate in the application. Working while in school can indicate basic professional skills and responsibility. Sports participation can indicate team work and commitment. The key is figuring how to spin your specific experiences as desirable skills for your chosen program.
  4. Don’t include high school experiences. I understand your experiences in high school shaped who you are but graduate programs want to see what you accomplished while you were an adult making more independent decisions for yourself.
  5. Give professional contact information and make sure your e-mail is one you check frequently. For e-mail addresses, a variation of your name with numbers if necessary is perfectly acceptable. An old high school nickname or inside joke is not professional and may have your application swiftly into the rejection stack. If you’re still in school it is completely appropriate to use your school given e-mail, just make sure you check it often.

Personal Essay

This is the one part of your application that you have complete control over right now. You can’t change test scores and grades at this point. You can’t know exactly what will be put into a letter of recommendation. But you can provide a thoughtful essay that shows admission officers the candidate outside of what is in a test score or resume. The personal essay can be the difference between two people who look the same on paper otherwise. Be sure to make the most of it!

  1. Be passionate about what you are writing. If you don’t believe what you are saying in your writing, how can you expect the reader?
  2. Make sure you include something that states why you actually want to be a part of the program. Not just in the field of study, but why specifically the program you are applying.
  3. If there’s a prompt be sure you answer it! Yes, you want them to know why you are awesome and why you would be a great candidate but if you can’t answer a simple question it will reflect poorly. Reread your essay at the end and be sure you can say the question was explicitly answered, not just implied.
  4. EDIT! Ask someone else to read over the piece. You can review and edit one hundred times and still miss the misspelling of a common word. It happens to us all.
  5. Be professional. This is graduate school. While it’s great to show your personality be mindful that you will be the face of that program when you graduate and they want to make sure that it reflects favorably on them. Be articulate and get your point across without alienating your reader.

Letters of Recommendation

While you cannot control specifically what a letter of recommendation states, you are in control of who writes those letters. You also have the power to aid your recommender to show you in the best light possible.

  1. Dependent on the program you will be allotted a certain number of recommendations. My personal opinion is that you create a well-rounded view of yourself. By this I mean, one recommender can contribute to your academics, another to your passion for the field of study, and another to your commitment to service (or another component you deem important). In this scenario, I would select a professor who taught a challenging course that I did well, a professional in my field that I shadowed on more than one occasion, and a volunteer service coordinator in charge of a program in which I participated.
  2. Have someone from your field write one of your letters if possible. They will have better ideas on the characteristics to showcase for your acceptance into the program by sheer virtue of having walked the same path before you. They would also be a good person to look over your essay if you have that type of relationship.
  3. Be wary of anyone who states you can write the letter and they’ll just sign it behind you. I have strong opinions against this personally. But think about how hard it would be to write someone else’s perspective of you without sounding like yourself in the letter. It also means on the chance this recommender was contacted, they wouldn’t be aware of what was really in the letter “they wrote”.
  4. Provide a copy of your resume. It allows them to know what things you have already stated in your application that they have the ability to enhance with their recommendation. They may also notice something that didn’t quite fit in the resume but feel is important the admission committee consider.
  5. Send a thank you card, and keep them apprised of whether you made it into the program or not. They could be contacted by the program for further comments and this will be another thing they can brag on you about. On the off chance you don’t make it into one program, they could be helpful in seeking out other options. It’s always good to keep connections!

Be sure to give yourself enough time to submit your application. Double check due dates and create a timeline for yourself if needed. Give yourself a refresh day! Walk away from the application and come back with fresh eyes (after a whole day at least) prior to looking it once moreover before submitting.

The most important piece of advice is to be yourself and be confident! It will show thru every aspect of your application if you let it and then they would be crazy not to offer you a slot in the program (or interview)!

Good luck! You’ve totally got this!  And don’t be afraid to reach out to me or any of the other Corvias alumni … many of us have been in your shoes before and are more than happy to share our experiences!

Welcome to 2018’s New Corvias Scholars and Alumni

Corvias in Boston 2018

My Fellow Graduates and New Corvias Scholars,

I first want to say, congratulations to the new graduates and welcome to the new scholars! Meeting the new scholars and reconnecting with the 2018 class in Boston was a rejuvenating experience. Being with such a dynamic and accomplished group of scholars left me feeling even more inspired to set new goals and start my new beginning in graduate school. As myself and many others begin to walk through the doorway of a new season in life, I want to spend some time reflecting on the potential of a new beginning.

Two years ago, I was sitting in an Ancient Philosophy class with one of my beloved philosophy professors, and he made a remark that has stuck with me. Plato said “The beginning is the most important part of the work”. My professor said this quote in reference to what felt like a thousand page long essay about the importance of philosophical thought but it applies to so much more than just academia. New beginnings are a blank slate that have endless possibilities, and sometimes this can lead to difficulty in identifying where to start in your new beginning.

Whether you are just joining your campus community, joining the workforce, or continuing your education, choosing where to start in your journey can be a daunting task. The possibilities can be overwhelming. There is so much blank space to work with, but I encourage each of you to walk into the unfamiliar and begin painting that picture that is your new life.

To all those starting undergrad this fall– congratulations on your accomplishment! I hope during this new and potentially challenging time, you lean on your Corvias family for support and guidance because believe it or not, we have all been there before. You are not alone in this journey and we want nothing more for you than to see your success and help you through your shortcomings.

To those of us who just graduated– I am so proud of our accomplishments and the change we have made on our campuses and in our community. I hope you continue to engage with the ever expanding Corvias family and continue to take advantage of the opportunities that this community presents us with.

So whether you are beginning your undergraduate career, going to graduate school, starting a new job, or still trying to figure out what’s next in your life, I wish you luck on your new beginning. I will leave you with this quote from Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Welcome to your new beginning!

College Stress and Mental Health

Have you noticed that Mental Health Awareness month coincides with the end of spring semester?  I hope that your finals went well; but, if you’re anything like me, then maybe they didn’t. Back when I was an undergraduate, it was difficult for me to be anything but hard on myself after a disappointing test…class…semester…  In hindsight, I was going through something more serious than I could acknowledge at the time; perhaps you are, too. College is brutal. Mental health suffers in the environment, where the stressors are many. Before diving into your summer plans, be they a new internship or some hardcore R&R, take some time to reflect on your semester.  Better understanding your stressors may help you to feel better about the semester and may even help you overcome these challenges in the coming semesters. Need some help getting started? See the inventory below.

There’s the workload, the reading assignments, the homework, the studying — none of this is new, but the volume and subject matter density seem to be growing exponentially.  This author had to completely relearn healthy study habits (because my old high school techniques were not cutting it).  Speaking of healthy habits, college is a lot of scheduling (hard) and self-discipline (harder).  “This is when I need to eat, and this is when I need to sleep.” Sleep! Dorm living, roommates, lack of personal space.  Friends eating up “free” time. Stressful romances. Diet and exercise? Oh right, and money. Some of us may be thinking, “That’s just life,” but our freshmen may be doing all this — alone — for the first time in their lives.  Overwhelming is an understatement.

stress comic 2

I’m here to say: rough semesters happen, and it’s alright.  Higher education may be the hardest four years of your life thus far, and you are doing your best.  Some days, your best may be better than other days. Sometimes, your best may not compete with your colleagues’ best.  It happens, it’s alright. College is brutal which is why it’s especially important to be forgiving of yourself. Once you forgive yourself for being a growing, learning human, then you can appreciate that what you learn in college is more than fact, theory, and practicum.  College is an immensely complicated experience, and what you are truly learning may not be apparent while you are in it. Yes, it can get messy, but it can be positive for those who learn to manage stressors and mental health (which is one very important lesson).

So what do we do now with this long list of challenges and new found appreciation for the capacity for growth in college?  Be kind to yourself and practice!. For many of us summer break is a low-stakes opportunity to practice self-care: at first it may feel scary, and it may feel silly.  In my experience, those were the two quickest ways that I talked myself out of doing something that I knew would be good for me. However, a little bit of self-care goes a long way, especially if you are (as I was at the end of spring) in a self-care deficit.  Start small and build up to lavishment. A bath, a gas station ice cream, a non-judgmental cry can be enough to be kind to yourself. Taking good care of yourself will not get rid of your stressors during the semester, but it may help you approach them and recover from them differently.  I suppose that’s what I learned about self-care in college: I did my best. It was all I could do, and it was enough.

stress comic 1