Taking the Next Step Toward a Graduate Degree
By Caleb Jones
Choosing a graduate school and graduate program is an exciting, and sometimes nerve-racking, decision. There are countless programs available and finding the one that best fits you and your goals is the first step. But what comes next?
FINDING THE MOTIVATION TO APPLY
When faced with the challenge of applying to grad school, the uncertainty of what to do next can be overwhelming. This feeling can sometimes keep people from applying to the programs that interest them. Don’t let fear and uncertainty keep you from pursuing a rewarding and meaningful graduate degree! The process can seem daunting, but it’s not nearly as difficult as you may think. It also offers a unique opportunity to showcase your skills and the contributions you can make to the program.
Associate Director of Graduate and Adult Recruitment at Creighton University, Denise Work, says this about the application process: “These items give each student a chance to shine. It is an opportunity for you as the student to tell us about yourself and your goal.”
Applying is a unique chance to share your strengths. The inspiration to follow through with the application process can come in many forms, so try to find what inspires you to pursue a grad degree and follow it!
Our goal is to help demystify the application process and empower you to take the next step towards pursuing a graduate level degree.
HOW TO APPLY
Once you find the programs that interest you, you may have questions: How do I apply? Do I need letters of recommendation? How do I submit my official transcript? How do I write an effective personal statement? These aspects of the application process can seem confusing, but with the right preparation, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed and feel confident that you are putting your best foot forward.
Application requirements vary from program to program, but you can expect these three common requirements: An application form, a personal statement and letters of recommendation.
THE APPLICATION FORM
The school application can usually be found on the website of the program to which you are applying. The program may have a portal they use to manage applications. If that is the case, you may be required to make an account that will allow you to manage your application and view its status. For example, Creighton uses the application management portal. If you have trouble reaching the application form for any reason, most universities have enrollment specialists who you can contact for direct assistance. It is in the program’s best interest to make this process as easy as possible for you, so look for a how to apply page like this one, and there should be clear instructions that guide you to the application form and application deadline.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Most programs will ask you for letters of recommendation. Choose wisely who you will ask to send in letters. “It is a good idea to pull from both your academic and work experience if possible,” says Denise Work. “This will allow those making admissions decisions to see you from several perspectives.” When communicating with those you want to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, it is a good idea to fully understand what your program is expecting from you, so that you can outline those expectations for your references. Don’t be afraid to prep them with some of your strengths that you feel may be pertinent to the program. Being open and honest with your references, educating them on what your goals are and what you are wanting from your education is the best way to ensure that your letters of recommendation will be as effective as possible.
THE PERSONAL STATEMENT
Arguably the most intimidating part of the application process for most first-time graduate students is the personal statement or statement of purpose. The personal statement is your most direct opportunity to express why you are a good fit for the program. Here are some tips for writing a strong personal statement:
Often, a program will offer some direction in what should be included. In some cases, these directions will also include formatting, an expectation for how long the statement should be and other helpful tips that will make the process easier. If that is not available, a brief synopsis of relevant experiences and education is good place to start. Denise says, “talk about your goals and how this degree specifically will get you where you want to go. And finally, show that you have done your research about this program at this institution.” Explain not only why you want to pursue a degree, but why you want to pursue a degree at this institution specifically. Reputation, coursework, specialty areas and faculty are all good reasons that set that school apart for you as a student. Those reviewing the application will want to know just that!
During any of these steps in the application process, admissions professionals are here to help. Call, email or set up an appointment to talk with those who work with the program. It may give you insight on what a specific program is looking for in their applicants. Ask what the committee making the decision is looking for and if they have any tips to share. Often the Admissions Representatives are part of the decision and may be able to give you a competitive edge.