For the previous post in this series, I created a guide detailing the steps you need to take before applying to graduate school in the US. Now that you’ve finished those procedures, you’re ready to apply to your chosen programmes at your chosen universities. There is no easy way around US graduate applications: it can be a long, gruelling and exhausting experience for most applicants (unless you really, REALLY enjoy filling out applications…). However, a little help does go a long way – as someone who has applied to graduate schools in America (and received offers!), I hope that my experiences can benefit worried applicants who are seeking a little help online.
Double check application requirements for each application
I know I mentioned this in the previous post – but I cannot stress how important it is to write down and double check the requirements for each application you are submitting. Remember, applications from different universities may look similar, but could have subtle, but important differences in terms of their requirements and regulations.
Set alarms for application deadlines
One thing you don’t want to do is guess, or even worse, miss, your application deadlines. Make sure you note down the dates and times for the deadlines of each application, including any deadlines for individual documents to be submitted. Remember to double check deadline dates on the graduate division pages AND departmental pages on the university websites to make sure you’ve noted down the information correctly.
Read the application guidelines and FAQs for each application
I cannot stress how important this is. Before getting your teeth into your applications, read through any application instructions that your university has provided for applicants. You may find that understanding the application beforehand will save you a lot of last-minute panic and give you more confidence to fill out sections that previously appeared difficult. Reading your graduate division’s FAQ section may provide you with answers to any specific questions or worries you may have about your application, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, contact the graduate admissions team as soon as you can.
Get your referees to send in their references/letters of recommendation ASAP
Before you start to concentrate on the other documents you need for your application, make sure that each of your referees have submitted letters of recommendation to each application. It is important you get them to submit the references well before submittal deadlines, as your application will be rendered incomplete and could be rejected without them.
Send off your GRE and TOEFL scores from your account on the ETS website
As soon as you have GRE and TOEFL scores that you’re happy with, remember to send them to your chosen universities ASAP. Most universities recommend sending them approximately six weeks or more before application deadlines, and even earlier if you are not sending your scores electronically. If you have taken your exams in the UK, you will have taken a computer-based test and will be able to send your scores via your account on the ETS website. Remember to note down each institution code for the universities you are sending your scores to. In the US, they do not usually require you to use a department code when sending your scores, only the institution code. This is because all test scores are usually sent to the Office of Admissions, who then pass the scores on to the appropriate department. If you’re worried about which code to input, check the requirements and codes each university has listed on the graduate division website (for e.g. Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ institution code is: 2162) .
Complete as much of the application as you can as soon as you’ve created an applicant account
If you aren’t ready to complete some sections of the application (whether that be because you haven’t quite finished your SoP, or you’re waiting for a referee to submit their letter of recommendation), start on some of the easier sections first to get them out of the way. Usually, online applications will start with an ‘information about you’ section, which will require personal details such as your full name, date of birth, home address, and so on. Depending on the application (some are programmed to make you complete each section consecutively), you might even be able to select random sections to complete. I found that going through each section and filling out as much as I could when initially gaining access to my online applications (don’t forget to save your changes!) gave me a great sense of relief in the last stretch towards submittal, as I only had documents left to submit!
Submit all your attachments and documents well before the deadline
When you’re ready to submit all the required attachments and documents for your applications, remember to give yourself enough time to submit them before the submittal deadlines. It’s important that you try not to leave anything to the last minute, as even if you’ve checked all documentation, last-minute errors do happen.
Remember to mention prospective supervisors in your SoP
This applies in particular to those of you who are applying for PhD programmes in the US. At such an advanced stage in postgraduate education, your department will usually allocate a supervisor to you based on your academic interests. However, to have an early say in this allocation, and to show that you’ve done your research on the department’s faculty, it is in your best interest to mention a couple of faculty in your SoP with whom you would like to work. Here is how I set that out in my SoP:
‘I have an interest in working with three faculty members: Professor ___, whose work on the _____ and the ______ will provide a ___ grounding for my research interests; Professor ____, whose interests in ____, _____, and expertise in ____, is of great relevance to my proposed work; and Professor ____, whose research on _____, ____ and the _____, will offer an excellent framework for me to pursue similar research questions.’
Submit an ‘academic’ version of your CV
The admissions teams, and the faculty members from your chosen departments who will be assessing your applications want to see a CV that reflects your academic interests through your experience as a researcher. While it is important to demonstrate that you have experience working in xyz industries, do not forget to tailor your CV to your academic interests and future career goals. You need to convince the departments who are considering you that your both work and research experience will make you an asset as a graduate student and academic.
Check ALL your documents for each application before submitting them
It’s easy to get caught out by the specific requirements detailed by each university you are applying to. To make sure you don’t mix up the requirements of different universities, or submit the wrong document to the wrong application, make sure you continually check each document you submit regularly and thoroughly.
Get someone to look through your applications before submitting them
Sometimes it’s difficult to spot a mistake in your application when you’ve been staring at it none stop for the past few weeks. This is why it’s important to get a fresh pair of eyes to look over your applications and check for mistakes or errors. Even if you’re 100% sure you haven’t made any mistakes, get someone to double check — it pays off to be safe, particularly when you’ve put in so much hard work.
Don’t forget to pay your application fee
Unfortunately, most universities charge you to submit your application. If you don’t pay the fee before your application deadline, your application will not be accepted. If you can, pay upon submittal of your application, so it’s out of the way.
If you have found this blog post useful, then check out the other three blog posts in my Grad School series at:
Is Graduate School Still Elitist?
Applying to Graduate School in America: What to do before you apply
Applying to Graduate School in America: After applying