Grad School Application Tips
March 10, 2021
Application tips for any school.
There are some people who are happy go lucky and carefree, better known as college graduates, and some, like me, that are inexplicably gluttons for punishment- prospective graduate students. We are the fraction of the population that signs up for more years of late nights, bad diets, battles with imposter syndrome, and mountains of assignments all for the sweet relief of turning a paper in on time and remembering to eat breakfast before our 8am labs. If this sounds like you, then you should enter graduate school. Yay! Well, now what? Good thing I have a couple “Do’s and Don’ts" up my sleeve to assist you with your application process.
“Safety Schools" should be left in the past.
There is NO such thing as a “safety school". The sentiment of the safety school has always been degrading to the integrity of wonderful institutions and misleading considering that every individual has a different definition of what they consider to be a “safety". Now, with the odds of getting into a good program becoming harder than ever and acceptance rates at al- time lows, I think it’s safe to do away with this idea all-together. Apply to programs that you feel with foster your creativity and will challenge you. Do not waste your time applying to schools simply because you are under the false assumption that you will easily get in. Many of these “safety" schools are hip to the game and will reject you if your passion for the school is not readily apparent in your application.
Research, Research, Research
Research programs of interest to you. Considering that I am writing to aspiring computer scientists, I will speak from this angle. Be sure to research schools that have a computer science program compatible with your academic and carrer goals to begin with (some schools may have analytics, data science, business analytics, information technology, information systems, software development programs, etc). B. Make sure this program has courses that are in line with your interests and professors that have published articles on things you find interesting. This is important because far too many people look at overall rankings, apply for that program, enter the program, and find that there are few if any courses that teach to their interests. If you want to be a generalist, it is probably best you enter a Computer Science program and not a Business Analytics program as this will be specialized toward business. If you are interested in Financial Engineering, a specialized track that intersects between Finance, Trading, and Computer Science, you should not enter a program that does not have any Financial Engineering courses in its curriculum.
Rankings are a poor proxy for student satisfaction
Ignore rankings, follow professors. If you are interested in Ethical application of Algorithms, then it is in your best interest to research leading thinkers whom have worked on the subject, such as Michael Kearns, and attempt to gain admission to a program where he teaches, for example. Talk to students who currently attend. Look them up on LinkedIn and see if you can imagine yourself working at these same organizations and having a similar role. If not, it may be best to move on.
With graduate school applications, less is more
Do not apply for too many. I am a huge proponent of “It is better to take time on one than to spread yourself thin trying to appeal to many." The best strategy is to apply early for the program you like most. If you get in, there is no need to apply for any more programs. In case you do not, write a list of five more schools that you would like to attend and spend time on these. These should be schools that you feel you would be a good fit personally and financially for. If you still do not gain admission into a program, weigh your options. If you insist on attending school in the Fall, there are some programs that accept applications well into July of the year you start. You can try some of those if you would like, or you can take this opportunity to ask for feedback on your application and apply that feedback to strengthening your application for admission in the next academic year. There is nothing wrong with a gap year or two. I took a gap year after high school, one after college, and two gap years after my first graduate degree before entering a new program and I was all the better for it.
Be Proud of Yourself No Matter What
Last but not least, take it all in stride. Getting into a graduate program is not easy, but remember, you are embarking on a journey that few get the opportunity to experience. You have made it this far and that is a testament of your tenacity and strength. Be proud. You have already won.
Want to become a Noodle contributor? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org