With the exception of Business, Medical and Law School, the three so-called professional school that rely heavily on standardized test scores and GPA, most other grad programs, particularly doctorate level, look more for “fit” than they do test scores.
While nearly all graduate programs require the GRE for admission, most applicants overvalue the importance of their quantitative factors (GRE, GPA) and undervalue the significance of qualitative factors such as essays, recommendation letters and resume.
At the Masters and PhD levels, admissions officers are looking for established evidence of the applicant’s match for the program to which they’re applying. Here’s an inside look at how they assess that match using the qualitative components of a typical application:
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: Here, in this one document, generally less than 1,000 words, you must prove to the admissions committee that you know yourself and that you know their program. They can spot generic essays using substitute language for different schools you might be applying to a mile away. They just don’t work. Ever! The common mistake people make is applying to too many schools, hoping that one will come through. This strategy is doomed from the start, folks, because it is near impossible to properly research so many schools and then compose thoughtful, compelling essays that demonstrate that research. Plugging in the name of a faculty member or particular class or research center from that school just won’t cut it here, people. Everyone does that and think they’re clever for doing so. Adcoms are more sophisticated than that. The entire essay must clearly speak to why this program specifically meets the needs you have in advancing your career or intellectual interests. The subtleties of the program are what you need to capture and match those with the subtleties of your own interests. This takes time. If you’ve done it right, three to five schools should be more than enough. Believe it will take far more preparation, effort and elbow grease to put together five strong applications than 10 shoddy ones.
RESUME: Resumes for graduate school are different than those you would use to get a job. Really different. For one, adcoms don’t care about what duties you’ve performed since you won’t be asked to perform those same duties in an academic environment. Second, job titles in this case don’t matter nearly as much as descriptive qualities of your role. So, for instance let’s say you were a software engineer for a major toy retailer before applying for a Masters in Information Technology at a top ten school. Your resume is rife with intricacies of your prowess with various technology platforms and projects you successfully completed. Well, for grad school you want to focus instead on personal qualities that made you a success in performing your role. Remember, the adcoms are trying to get an insight into who you are, beyond what you’ve done, and those applicants that aid them in that discovery are rewarded with acceptance letters. So instead of wasting a resume bullet to point out that you…
- Successfully implemented innovative software technology to save company trillions of dollars blah blah blah
…phrase it this way:
- Integrated my management, technical writing and marketing skills to develop cost-saving information technology.
See the difference? One focuses on the duty, the other focuses on your skill set, offering them an insight into who you are and how you’ve developed.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: “How can I control this aspect of my application?” is the most common question we get. Well, while some of it is undoubtedly out of your control, a lot of it isn’t. Focus on that and your letters will be more memorable to the adcoms than most of the standard flattery fluff they receive. Here’s how:
- Include your (well thought out, well-researched) personal statement in your email–or personal–request to the recommender. This will give them the glimpse they need to go to bat for you with some real weight.
- Ask them no less than six weeks in advance of the deadline. This shows respect and also demonstrates to the recommender how serious you are about the process.
- Go for tightness not titles. How tight are you with these people? How well do they know your work (academic or career)? Trust us, titles don’t play well in the adcoms eyes unless it’s a well-known public figure (CEO of a mid-size company doesn’t count). Adcoms tend to tire of recommendation letters signed by CEO’s but clearly written by their secretaries. By the third sentence it’s clear a pro forma letter was used and your chances of admission have just sank.
Hope this helps. Now go whittle down your list of 15 “dream schools” down to three. If you have any questions about this, or any previous articles, contact us.