How to Apply to Grad School

Emory University
Emory University

Applying to graduate school, especially for international students, is a daunting task. In most cases, the schools are not really forthcoming with specifics regarding the sort of GRE/GMAT scores and GPAs that would get a candidate admitted. This is even worse when it comes to the available financial aid and what sort of a candidate profile is needed to avail that opportunity. The schools have a reason they do this; they do not want to limit the applicant pool by giving a bottom line as that could also potentially bring down the prestige of the school. 

So how to go around this problem when applying to Grad School? If you live in the country of the Grad School you are applying to, it is easier to get a better sense of things as you can visit the university and your department in particular which can help you have candid discussions with the staff and faculty who can tell you the insight scoop on things that is not available on the official websites. But if you are an international student or someone who just cannot make the trip down the schools, you are left hoping for the best based on very vague estimates of things.

I went through exactly this when I was deciding to apply to Grad School as an international student. Like most international students, I was looking for the following;

  1. A Medium or Large research university
  2. A department that is big enough for national recognition but small enough that you end up knowing everyone else
  3. A university that has enough funds for granting Research Assistantships to International Students
  4. A location that is live-able i.e. is affordable, is not super racist and has a good transportation system

ETS-GRE-logoBased on these criteria I planned out my admissions and I came up with a ‘Grad Admissions To-Do List’;

  1. Come up with a list of 10 schools that you intend on applying to. Research these schools in depth.
  2. Cut that list down to 7 schools. These would include 3 safety Schools, 2 ideal schools, 1 guaranteed school and 1 completely out of your league school.
  3. Talk to the departments and get a sense of what sort of Graduate Assistantship packages they have on offer. This is going to be crucial in deciding which school to eventually pick.
  4. Plan to take your GRE at least twice (Especially if you are an International Student). No GRE score of below 310 is going to be sufficient in social sciences. I do not know about Natural Sciences and Engineering requirements as I have no experience in those. In case you are serious about a Graduate Assistantship, you need a score of at least 315 to be competitive.
  5. Take your TOEFL exam. Ideally take it as early as possible as it is the simplest of all the exams you will need to take. So any time between July and September would be great to get done with your TOEFL.
  6. Start working on your personal statement in August or at least 2 months before you send it in. Your personal statement really makes a difference, so please spend some quality time on that.
  7. Line up your recommendation letters at least 3 weeks in advance. Most of the recommendations are to be submitted online. Ideally this should be an easy exercise, but for most international students it is a hassle as it requires running after your recommenders and ensuring that they have sent in the required documents on line.
  8. Get your application in as early as possible. Ideally your application should be with the department at least 1 month before the deadline. This helps as the department gets time to go over your application early; it shows that you are serious and that you have done your work in advance.

GraduatesGrad School admissions are mostly about finding the right match for yourself and your ambitions. Sometimes the highly rated university is great on paper but is not the right fit for you. So when you do make a list of the schools you wish to apply to; have a look at the faculty that is teaching, focus on what sort of a placement history the department has, what are the research interests of the faculty and most importantly is the location of the university do able for you? Grad School is not about what big name school you attend, it is about how much you can gain out of your courses and what you can contribute at an academic level. In short, look for the right fit; all schools have a personality, so make sure you end up in one which is closest to yours. 

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