Grad School Prep

When applying to graduate school, it’s best to start early. Applications for most medical school programs are due in December or January, while deadlines for master’s programs tend to hit January through March. No matter which degree you pursue, starting early will give you more time to prepare and polish your application. Applying earlier will also increase your chances of being admitted. Many programs have rolling admissions, so applications are evaluated as they arrive rather than all at once. Spots can fill up as the final deadline draws near.

Below is a sample schedule for a student hoping to enter graduate school in the fall. Of course, you’ll need to modify this schedule to fit the specific school’s deadlines.

May
  • (more than one year before graduate school begins)
  • Research potential schools.  Take practice tests for MCAT, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, MAT, etc.  Study guides are available at Career Services.  These guides will help you determine how much preparation you’ll need and if a test prep course if necessary.
June
  • Register for the test at Career Services’-Testing by calling 435-797-1004
July
  • Request information from schools that interest you.  Meet with several of your professors who can recommend good programs and help you make some connections
August
  • Take required entrance exams.  This leaves you time to take the test again if necessary.  Begin writing your personal statement/letter of intent
September
  • Finalize your list of prospective schools.  Pick a professor or two from each school whose research interests mirror your own.  Familiarize yourself with their work.  Contact your recommenders and ask if they will write letters of recommendation for you.  Keep polishing your personal statement
October
  • Request official transcripts.  Send your recommenders’ supplemental materials (i.e., resume, personal statement, etc.) that they can use as a reference.  Make contact with students and professors at your prospective schools.  Arrange a campus visit, if you can, or follow-up to increase your chances of receiving an invitation for a visit from those programs that invite candidates (medical/dental schools).
November
  • Have someone in the field, a professor or advisor, and your Career Services Career Coach review and edit your personal statement.  Leave time for rewriting and editing
December
  • Complete and submit all applications, keeping a copy of every section for your records.  Verify that your recommendations have been sent
January
  • Focus on financial aid—fill out the FAFSA online and look into private loans, grants, and fellowships
April
  • Celebrate your acceptances.  Appeal the aid package (or apply for alternative loans) if the amount the school offers you doesn’t meet your financial needs
 

Almost every graduate school applicant will receive at least one rejection. While disappointing, it’s not quite the final act. Call your contact professors in that department and politely express your regret at not being admitted. Ask them if they can point out where your application was weak or give you some suggestions on how you might strengthen your candidacy in the future. This will help if you choose to re-apply the following year.

Writing Personal Statements

A Personal Statement is:

An Impression.  Your personal statement should produce a picture of you as a person, student, and potential scholarship or assistantship recipient. 

An Invitation.  The reader must be invited to get to know you, personally.  Bridge the distance and make your reader feel welcome. 

A Good Indication of Your Priorities and Judgment.  What you choose to say in your statement tells the committee what your priorities are.  What you say, and how you say it, is crucial.

A Story, or More Precisely, Your Story. Everyone has a story to tell, but we are not all natural storytellers.  Before you do any writing, spend some time in self-reflective conversation with friends, family, and mentors.

A Personal Statement is Not:

An Academic Paper With You as the Subject.  The papers you write for class are typically designed to interpret data, reflect research, or analyze events all at some distance.  We are taught to eliminate the “I” from our academic writing.  In a personal statement your goal is to close the distance between you and the reader.  You must engage on a different, more personal level than you have been trained. 

A Resume in Narrative Form.  An essay that reads like a resume of accomplishments and goals tells the reader nothing he/she could not glean from the rest of the application.  This type of essay reveals little about the candidate and is a wasted opportunity. 

Writing a personal statement is challenging and will take many drafts and much reflection.  Don’t wait until you have it complete before you share it with others; their input will make it stronger, clearer, and focused.

Before You Write

Know Yourself

  • What’s special, unique, distinctive, and/or impressive about you or your life?
  • What details of your life (personal/family, history, people/events) that have shaped you or influenced your goals might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from other applicants?
  • When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it (and about yourself) that has further stimulated your interest and reinforced your conviction in this field?  What insights have you gained?
  • What have you learned about the field—through classes, readings, seminars, research, work/internship experiences, or conversations with professors or people already in the field?

Describe Your Unique Talents and Goals

  • If you have worked during your college years, what have you learned (leadership, managerial, teamwork skills, etc.) and how has that work/internship experience contributed to your growth?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are there any gaps or discrepancies in your academic record that you should explain (great grades but mediocre LSAT or GRE scores or a distinct upward pattern to your recent GPA)?
  • Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (economic, familial, or physical) in your life?

 Know and Discuss Why You’re the Best Candidate

  • What skills (leadership, communicative, analytical, etc.) do you possess?  Use examples.
  • What personal characteristics (integrity, compassion, persistence, etc.) do you possess that would improve your prospects for success in the field?
  • Why might you be a stronger candidate for graduate school and more successful in the profession or field than other applicants?
  • What are the most compelling reasons you can give for the selection committee to be interested in you?
  • Identify a specific program or faculty member you might like to work with and why. 

Writing Tips

  • Plan on devoting a significant amount of time writing this essay.  It is common to write several drafts of your personal statement. 
  • Proofread your essay several times.  Make sure you have no punctuation or grammatical errors. 
  • Solicit comments from your Career Coach, professors, graduate students, and English majors whom you know well. 
  • Keep it brief.  Most instructions specify how long the essay should be.  If length is not mentioned, stick to one to two pages, single-spaced (unless the instructions specify otherwise).
  • Mention a specific program or faculty member you might like to work with and why

Sample Personal Statement (PDF)

“Applying to graduate school takes a lot of time and energy. I had to prepare for the GRE, write my personal statement, and keep my grades up-all at the same time. My Career Coach at Career Services critiqued my personal statement and kept me motivated until I got into a graduate program.”

Monica Barrett
MS, Electrical Engineering