Preparing your Application

Your academic statement is written declaration that explains how your interests, coursework, and research experiences led you to become invested in pursuing graduate training and describes how your experiences and interests fit the program.

  • Traditionally 1400-1600 words
  • Focuses on intellectual and research-based aspects of your development
  • Shows reviewers you're ready to take ownership of your intellectual pursuits.

Your academic statement should convey:

  • Explicit qualities
    • Research experiences (academia, industry, non-profit, etc.)
    • Publications, presentations, abstracts
    • Understanding of your field
    • Interests that fit professor's and/or department's specialty
  • Implicit qualities
    • Intellectual curiosity
    • Critical thinking/problem solving skills
    • Clear presentation
    • Ability to work on teams
    • Strong sense of initiative
    • Motivation to complete projects
    • Adaptability

Discuss how this program will contribute to your future professional goals, even if you're not sure what you want to do (e.g., academia, industry, etc.). Think in terms of pressing questions you want to answer, and why you're interested in those particular questions. Try to include:

  • Any resources and/or opportunities that make the program an unique place for you.
  • The names (2-3) of faculty whose research interests you and could be potential mentors!

Share your process

Describing your intellectual development in action, beginning from what sparked your interest in the field all the way up to your decision to pursue graduate studies, can be a powerful way to tell your story. A simple interest leads to action. This action leads to involvement. Involvement creates experience. Experience develops further interests and goals which then propels further action.

Show that you're excited about your area, but avoid using the following types of language:

  • Sentimental - e.g., The theories I was exposed to in my philosophy class affected the pit of my soul, profoundly altering how I understood people, cultures, and the world
  • Grandiose - e.g., I will give it my all in order to find the cure for cancer
  • Surface level - e.g., We need to solve this health problem right away before it's too late

These styles come off as superficial and can make it difficult for reviewers to take your statement seriously. And if you include personal information in your academic statement, make sure it relates to some concrete aspect of your intellectual development.

Revise, revise, revise

Writing takes time and patience. Multiple revisions allow you to refine and improve the statement's overall impact.

The personal statement (~500 words) gives you a place to discuss your personal history in some depth, especially as it relates to your academic development. Some programs will ask that you write about specific topics; be sure to make the necessary adjustments to your personal statement if need be.

The personal statement should include and/or show:

  • History, experiences and aspirations: How your upbringing, personal experiences, hardships, and/or mentors have influenced your academic development, intellectual interests, and your desire to pursue graduate studies.
  • Demonstrate leadership, contributions and commitment to diversity in your work, volunteer and/or student experiences. Explain how these relate to your development or research interests.
  • Discuss and resolve discrepancies/limitations in your academic record if necessary.

Keep it professional

Although the information here is more personal, your tone should still be professional and mature. Discuss the journey that has led to your decision to seek a graduate degree.

  • Connect your personal experiences to your development (and not only to your successes).
  • Recognize the importance of those who helped you overcome obstacles
  • Be honest about mistakes or shortcomings, but don't let them overshadow your accomplishments. Show how you responded and move on.
  • If you don't feel comfortable discussing a potentially negative issue, you might ask one of a recommender with relevant perspective to discuss it in their letter of recommendation.

One of the most important parts of the application, Letters of Recommendation can make or break you. They give the admissions committee a chance to learn more about your qualities and limitations from those with whom you've worked.

Stand out from the crowd

  • Ask the faculty who know you best and who can comment positively on the quality of your work.
    • Letters from senior faculty in your prospective discipline carry more weight than those of faculty outside your field, but don't ask a professor who doesn't know you just because he or she works in your area/discipline of interest.
    • If you've worked with faculty in another area for a long time and this person can attest on your qualities and accomplishments then ask him/her for a letter.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a "strong recommendation letter"
  • Meet with the recommenders who are writing the letters, so they are clear in your interests
  • Prepare a "Recommender's package" with a copy of your statements, C.V. or resume, & transcript and a list of all the schools for which they will be submitting letters including;
    • URL's
    • Emails
    • Name of the program/department
    • Deadline
  • Give them 6-8 weeks
  • Although letters from faculty can carry more weight, it is OK to ask non-academic supervisors or mentors for recommendations. The important thing is that they can speak about the qualities and abilities that make you a great candidate for graduate school.

To waive or not to waive

Some recommenders only provide letters of recommendation if you waive your right to access the letters. Consult in advance with your recommenders about their preference.

Your resume or Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) should include relevant academic and professional experience, research projects and publications and highlight any information that was not included in the other parts of the application.

First, check to see which one your application requires!

  • A resume is usually one page
  • C.V.s can be more than one page but should have the most relevant or important information on the first page
  • C.V. formats vary; use online resources to create and edit.
  • GPA is usually not included in the CV; however, academic honors are. If you graduate with honors, mention it under Education or in the Honors and Awards section.

Education

Include only institutions where you have received degrees (Bachelor's and beyond).

Experience

It's OK to use multiple subheadings (e.g. Teaching and Related Experience, Research, Industry)

Relevant information

Prioritize! Make sure to include experiences that are relevant to the degree and program you are applying for admission.

Not too personal

Personal data should include contact information only. Do not include things like marital status, date of birth, health or religious affiliation.

On the other hand...

You want to stand out, so if something is out of the ordinary but will work in your best interest, include it even if it seems unorthodox.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) assesses general skills and is a basic admissions requirement for many programs. The test has three sections.

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Analytical writing

Check with your program to find out the average scores for admission and if they have a minimum requirement. Some programs may also require a GRE subject test.

GRE success tips

  • Practice, practice, practice. Take multiple,timed practice tests.
  • Use the free tests and reviews at GRE.org
  • Give yourself enough time to retake it, if necessary. Make sure to leave enough time to prepare and review the information before re-taking the exam.
  • Do not stress about it. The GRE is part of a broader application package; you have control and can make sure that the other parts of your application are strong.