Tips and Tricks for Applying to Grad School
How I made my application season as stress-free as possible!
Written by fourth-year Western University Medical Sciences student Emily Dietrich.
Being a fourth-year undergraduate student, it had been a long time since I went through the process of applying to different schools and programs. Applying to graduate programs, like a Masters or Ph.D., can be seriously daunting — like the ‘adult’ version of university applications. Here are some steps I took to help me through the process:
1. Think about it: Is grad school right for me?
This is something a professor of mine asked our class back in September. If you’re looking at a thesis-based program — where you’ll have some sort of research project to work on — you have to be ready to dedicate a lot of your time to that one project. Even with course-based programs, the pace will be quick and will cover a lot of content. My prof made a good point: if you are pursuing grad school just as something to do, you might not enjoy it. The takeaway of this is to be passionate about what you are studying.
It's a personal decision, and one you should spend some time making. There’s so much to learn in taking a year off to work or travel, so don’t discount these options! Something to note is that some programs have flexible start dates, so if you would rather take some time to travel and still pursue graduate studies, you could look for programs starting in the Winter term!
2. Make a list of to-dos and deadlines
There are a lot of components to a grad school application, and these can vary between schools or even programs within the same school. One of the first things I did was compile of list of the programs I was interested in applying to and all their relevant information. Most schools will have websites or resources where you can easily access this. Some of the items I noted were the application deadlines, supplemental documents and referee requirements. You can also make note of application fees and the types of financial supports that may be offered.
From here, I made a loose timeline of when I wanted to complete my applications. My biggest tip is to chip away at your applications. Trust me, it will save you so much time and stress! I found making a grad school folder on my desktop was a great way for me to keep everything organized.
3. Get a head start with your referees!
Each program will have different requirements for referees, and I think this often is overlooked. Some programs require you to submit your references with your application, while others may ask for them at a later date. It is best to have contacted potential referees ahead of time, so you aren’t left scrambling. I would recommend having a least two academic referees and two additional references (i.e., professional) ready to go. Remember: your whole application is you trying to sell yourself to this program, so it is good to use references who can speak to who you are as a student and a person.
When talking with my referees, either over email or face-to-face, I made sure to explain to them what program(s) I was applying to, as well as the information I would need from them (sometimes it is just their contact information, other times it may be a written reference letter). It's important to understand that a potential referee may say ‘no’ to you because of the time commitment for them, not because of who you are!
A nice thing to do is to keep them updated about the status of your applications — they are rooting for you too!
Good luck with your grad school applications!
Explore grad school at Western