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Tips for Applying to Graduate School

Why are you afraid to hear the word ‘No’? Does it make you question everything you have ever done in life, or make you actually question if you, in all of your excellence, are worthy? Humans are consistently wallowing in self-doubt and deeply rooted with questions of self-worthiness, even if it’s simply their own thoughts creating this doubt.

A cognitive-phenomenological analysis of conducted research indicates that there are varying types of relationships that occur between  a person and environment. The three key most stress-related relationships are based on challenge, threat and harm-loss. A person seeking to attain some level of success, be it professionally or romantically, will physically undergo each of these barriers, even if self-induced.

The purpose of this article is to teach each of you how to find the value of yourself while navigating the graduate admissions process. Try not to psyche yourself up so much that you actually psyche yourself out of an opportunity that could be beneficial in your own life’s journey.

One of the most obvious trends as it pertains to students of color, and the lower enrollment numbers of these students into graduate programs, is standardized testing. Research shows that more often than not, students of color shy away from applying to graduate programs or top schools because of two things: their GPA and test scores.  Many African-American and Latino students struggle in high school with anxiety surrounding the SAT. This same demographic of students also has anxiety aimed toward graduate school admissions exams.

If you or someone you know is interested in navigating this process, here are some tips. Note: They are intended to help you navigate the process, not a promise to gain admission.

  1. Sell yourself. The application is a living, breathing document. It is the only way to show admissions teams who you are and what you bring to the table. If you’re serious about an advanced degree, why would you shortchange your opportunity by providing a lukewarm application? This means writing a new statement of purpose for each school. This might seem like a ridiculous request, but it can’t be any more ridiculous than you applying to 50 schools and only changing the name of the school within your statement.
  2. Write an addendum. If you have academic blemishes (C’s, D’s and F’s) on your transcript, why would you submit that document without an explanation? Everyone knows that things in life happen, such as illness, death of a relative, military service, or depression. So, why not address this in a separate statement? I know. More writing – ugh. However, believe it or not, admissions representatives are still human, and although metrics are important, so is the quality of the student. In short, not addressing these blemishes makes it seem as if you don’t care. So if you don’t care to address it, why should they care to admit you?
  3. Complete and submit your apps timely. There is nothing more frustrating for an admissions team than to have to chase down an applicant for their documentation, or to have to jump through hoops post deadline because you sat on your application until the last minute. Give yourself a fighting chance – complete the application on time and accurately.
  4. Standardized…schmandardized. The all-important standardized exam. Prepare as best you can, try your hardest and do your best. And if, at the end, it doesn’t turn out like you had hoped, realize the world will not end. Touch your arm, touch your face, tickle your nose and guess what? You’re still here. There are tons of opportunities to re-test and properly prepare. Guess what else? Tons of schools are moving away from these exams as a barrier for admission. Contact your school of choice and ask if there is an opportunity to waive the GRE/GMAT based upon relevant work experience. What’s the most they can say to you? No? If they do, guess what? You’re still here! Look at schools that offer your program. I’m sure you’d be pleasantly surprised how many options you actually have.
  5. Do you personally know your CEO? Everyone loves to name-drop and defer to someone else’s title or accomplishment as somewhat of an accolade of their own. Here’s a dirty little admissions secret: those letters actually get read and sometimes out loud in front of the entire admissions staff. So, why would you allow someone who doesn’t know you personally to be the determining factor in whether you get into Howard Law, Yale Med, USC or JCSU?
  6. Spellcheck. Proofread your personal statements, and even request, if at all possible, to proofread the letter that your recommender will be submitting on your behalf. There is nothing more horrifying than a recommendation with margin, spelling and incorrect-applicant-name errors.
  7. Congrats! You have been admitted. The biggest hurdle has been crossed, and now we can all breathe a sigh of relief, right? Wrong! Now is the time where you put your grown-up pants on and begin to ask for not only what you want, but what you need. Consider this the same offer that you would get from an employer. You’re reading the offer and you’re excited, but then there is that feeling in the pit of your stomach that wonders if you’re being low-balled? Tip: Most graduate programs, much like employers do not rescind offers simply because you asked for more money. If you receive an offer from a school of your choice, and you’re not satisfied, contact the program directly. I’d suggest writing a letter and e-mailing it. It should indicate your excitement for being admitted, but it should also address your concerns with the financial burden of school. Explain your long-term goals, and how having a student like you can be beneficial to the school as well as your future.

Use these tips, share these tips and apply these tips. You never know – you just might help change someone’s life. Maybe even yours!

Frederick V. Engram Jr., is the manager for Graduate Recruitment Communications at American University.

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