Do your homework! Use your local resources (library, school counseling office, internet, etc.) to research your interest areas and the universities to which you want to apply. Before you submit your application, be sure that the school/department to which you’re applying actually offers training in your area of interest. While this may seem obvious, many applicants fail to do the obvious.
Be sure your application forms are complete. Even if the information requested on the application form is already on your C.V. or resume, it is still important to fill in the blanks on the application itself. The standardized format allows application processors and reviewers to proceed with the evaluation process in a much more timely fashion.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important component of the application and receive close scrutiny during the review process. When selecting your recommenders, try to identify professionals who know you well and have the ability to assess your potential for success in your chosen career. Some of the qualities they should be able to address include, but are not limited to:
- your level of understanding of your chosen career
- what strengths you will bring to that career
- ability to work independently
- ability to think creatively and critically
- problem-solving skills
- quantitative skills
- communication skills (both verbal and written)
Be sure to give your recommenders ample time for writing your recommendation. The less time you allow, the less thorough a job they’ll be able to do. You might consider giving them a brief written summary of your career goals, as well as the types of skills that are important and that you would like for them to address in their letters..
Statement of Interest
The statement of interest is one of the most critical parts of your application. Be sure that what you write addresses the issues identified by the department’s application materials. Demonstrate to the faculty that your career goals have been well thought out and that you know what you’re getting into. If you have experience which is relevant to your program of interest, be sure to provide details. It’s helpful to highlight your strengths, but don’t dwell on facts that are readily evident elsewhere (e.g., grades, GRE scores). If you can identify weaknesses in your application, then the faculty will likely identify them as well. If you believe there are extenuating circumstances, or that those skill levels are more accurately reflected by some other assessment, you can address that in your statement of interest or in a separate letter directed to the Admissions Committee.
No matter how strong your application is, you may not receive an offer of admission. There are many factors taken into account during the admissions process, some of which have little, if anything, to do with a particular applicant. For example, consideration must be given to availability of suitable mentors in a particular area, faculty advising loads, etc. Then there is always the simple limitation of space. The applicant pool will vary from year to year, as will the ability of the department to accommodate additional students in particular degree and focus areas. Therefore, it will often be necessary to turn away seemingly well-qualified applicants. Applicants should take this into consideration when making decisions about the number of schools to which they will apply.