What are the steps in applying for grad school?

With an international pandemic, plenty of schools are changing their graduate school policies or not admitting new students all together. A lot of things are up in the air right now, so we decided to at least make certain parts of the application process clearer for students who will hopefully be joining us in grad school for the next year.

Dragana: With the start of October, many students might be wondering when they should begin their search for graduate schools. I would say start now! Finding the right school for you could be a long and exhausting process, especially if your area of focus isn’t as popular or if it’s a very specific field that not a lot of professors study it (I’ve been there). Getting an early start allows you to have enough time to properly research schools and programs, but it also gives you a good amount of time to reach out to professors who you are interested in working with. When I was looking for programs and professors, I used the American Historical Association (AHA) website to do a preliminary search for my area of focus. It’s a great first step because it shows you professors who focus on areas and topics you might be interested in—be careful though as not all of the information on it is up to date. Regardless, it’s a great tool to get you started and exposed to schools that might have a program that suits your needs. Create a document where you have the schools, programs, professors, and application requirements. It would also be a good idea to meet with a professor you are close to or your advisor to go over the list. Professors can provide you with some extra schools/programs and they’ll usually tell you some information you might need to know about your schools. If you start your search early you are giving yourself enough time to find the best programs for you and to complete the applications (which can be long and sometimes expensive). Good luck!

Clayton: Graduate school is full of hurdles, and the first major one that you will face is often one that is overlooked, applying and getting into a program. It may sound like a redundant statement, but getting into a graduate program is much more involved and in depth than getting into undergrad (something I did not fully realize when I first began to apply). First off, one thing I would definitely recommend when getting everything together for a graduate program is good time management. The process of applying involves multiple steps and some, such as signing up and taking the GRE test (if needed) and getting letters of recommendation, take time and may not fit perfectly into your timetable. You also have to get your own materials together, mainly a good writing sample, which means you can’t be preoccupied with constantly checking on external factors.  Making sure that you have all the necessary materials, letters, scores, and whatever else you need well before the major deadlines will eliminate a lot of worries and headaches.

Besides making sure you have everything to get into a program, you should do all you can to make sure that you are getting into the right program. Every program and professor has its own strengths and weaknesses, and before you even apply, you should make sure that the program and professors fit your needs and wants from a grad program. Make sure to go on the university website and look at what certain professors usually teach and what they have written on. Researching what certain professors study and finding one that works on a similar field that you wish to study will make your time in grad school much more enjoyable. Applying is only the first hurdle, but it can often be one of the tallest.    

Chelsi: After taking a year off from school, I decided to apply to grad school in 2016. I had moved back home, four hours away from my undergrad university and no one in my family had ever been to grad school. The process was a daunting one in which I had no one I thought that could help me. Like you may be doing now, I looked up checklists on blogs for what materials I might need, and still felt overwhelmed. Finding out that I needed a letter of recommendation (not just one but three at that) was by far the hardest part to conceptualize.

When was I supposed to ask? How do I ask? Who should I ask? The first is easy: ask as soon as you have a working list of what schools you want to go to, but no later than six weeks prior to a school’s application deadline. As for the second question: If you can go to the professor’s office hours or if you can’t send them an email. Remind them who you are and tell them what you want to apply to with a short description of what you plan on doing. Tell them when the applications are due as well. Attach a CV or Resume (which I go over how to write here) and ask them straightforwardly.

The last question is the hardest. In undergrad I was not close to my professors nor did I really go to office hours. I was applying to a history program but could only think about two history professors in which to email. When considering who to ask for a letter, make sure that you did well in their class, that they have a semi-secure position, and that you did a project for them in which you are proud of. My third letter was from an internship position I had in undergrad. This obviously worked for me, and I was stressed and worried every step of the way. Hopefully this can take some of the stress out of the process for others.

Frank: After narrowing down what schools and professors you might want to consider working with or attending based on your interests, it is usually a good idea to reach out before applying. Emailing individual professors who you may be interested in working with can be a great way to learn more about the program and clarify if you would be a good fit working with them or attending their school. Moreover, sometimes department website’s can be a bit overwhelming in what is said to be offered, specialized in, and possible about a program. By reaching out, you can receive more individualized feedback about how you might fit in the department if accepted. Since most applications start becoming due by the beginning of November, it is usually a good idea to set these correspondences in motion in advance of that; however, it is never too late to reach out since the application will likely not be formally reviewed until at least a couple of weeks if not much longer after the deadline. Initiating and maintaining good communication when appropriate is a great way to learn more about a program and get a better understanding of how things might work if you decide to attend.

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