Talk to someone: speak to counselors and/or alumni of programs to get a better sense of what the graduate program provides and where it will take you. 

(1) Know what test to take! 

(2) Know the application and admissions deadlines. This isn’t only important because you don’t want your application to arrive late, but you also want to give yourself enough time to prepare for your test, take your test, and have enough time to take the test again if you are not satisfied with your first score (see Timeline below).

(3) Know the program and do your research. Make sure it is a school you could see yourself studying at for the next 2-7 years.


Letters of Recommendation

These documents are also imperative to your application. You should always get people who know you well and can speak to your abilities and experience. These people also need to be able to speak well of you, so finding someone who know you well and knows your strengths will help you build a strong application. This is also a great time to take advantage of your time overseas. Acquiring a letter of recommendation from an overseas professor or employer can only help with your grad school application.

Who to ask

When you are thinking about who to ask, you should consider someone who:

  • Is willing to write a letter for you 
  • Is familiar with your work 
  • Knows you well enough to be able to include personal accounts in the body of the letter 
  • Can write well 

This should apply to letters you get from an employer and professors. When thinking about who, remember that if you are applying to an international affairs program, a letter from a professor you had while you were studying abroad may carry more weight than a stats professor. A person’s title also carries different meaning. A tenured professor might hold more esteem than a lecturer.

How to ask

When you’re asking someone to write a letter for you, you should always be candid with the person as to why you are asking them. This is easier when you know the person well, but if you do not know the person very well make sure you feel comfortable enough with asking.

  • Begin by talking to him/her about your interest in applying to graduate school (or a job) and lead up to the request. This will give you a better idea of how comfortable he/she is with writing a letter for you. 
  • Talk to him/her in person or on the phone when possible so he/she can get a sense of what needs to be covered in the letter. 
  • Provide information that will give the person more information about you (biography, resume, etc.). 
  • In the case that your recommender brings it up, offer to write the letter yourself for him/her to sign. 

Information about the School

Here are a few other steps in preparing for graduate school that might help you get a better idea of how to build a strong application.

  • Talk to an admissions advisor. They will be able to guide you in what the admissions committee will be looking for and what successful applications look like. 
  • Conduct informational interviews with current students. This will give you an insider’s perspective to the demands of the program. You could arrange this type of meeting with the admissions/recruitment coordinator. 
  • Know the faculty. Find someone that has similar interests and contact him/her. It is likely that you could use this person as a final thesis/project advisor. He/she might also be able to put in a good word about you with the committee. 


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