Are you planning to apply to
graduate school? It is important to
learn about the application process early in your college career and start
planning. Here are some helpful
tips to make this a smooth process.
Personal Statement. Writing the personal statement is the
most difficult part of the process of applying for graduate school. There are
many websites and books available with advice and guidelines on how to get
started. One bit of advice: be sure to talk about your specific experiences that
are relevant for that program, why you are applying to that specific program,
and what your goals are to do with your degree. You need to do your homework on
the programs to which you are applying. It needs to sound like a professional
statement of background and goals, and not like a "diary entry." Most graduate
school admissions committees are looking for specific information and clear
goals, not creativity, in the essay.
Letters of Recommendation. You generally should only ask a professor to
write you a letter if you have made an A or a B in their class, have
worked in their lab, and/or have talked with them on several occasions about
your post-college plans. In some cases a professor might be able to write a good
letter for a student who has gotten less than a B in their class, but generally
this level of performance would not allow them to make a strong endorsement of
your academic potential. The questions below will help you to figure out which
faculty are the best choices for writing letters.
Which faculty members know you the best?
Answer these questions for each faculty member identified above:
Which classes have you taken with them?
Have they known you long enough to write with authority?
Do they know your work?
Can they describe your work positively?
Can they comment on your writing skills?
Research skills? Internship experiences? Extracurricular activities?
Do they have a high opinion of you?
Do they know your educational and career goals?
Can they compare you favorably with your peers?
Can they write a strong letter of recommendation?
Waive your Right?
Many professors will recommend that you waive your right to inspect your files
and your letters, and some won't write a letter for you unless you do so. The
reason for this is that if you don't waive this right, graduate schools may not
take the letter seriously, because it may look like you have something to
"hide." If you can't trust what a professor has to say about you, then they may
not be the right person to be writing the letter for you.
Put it all together.
See the Checklist below. Put all of
this information together at least a month before the first deadline. Feel free
to talk to the professor if you have questions or are unsure about any part of
it, but the earlier you get started on this, the better.
_____ Your vita (or resume). Be sure to include
information on research experiences, extracurricular activities, or anything
else that you think would be relevant for the professor to mention in your
_____ Your personal statement (the essay in which you outline your goals and
reasons for applying to graduate school)
_____ a copy of your transcripts (unofficial, a photocopy of your transcript
or printed from Webadvisor), with the courses you took with the professor
highlighted. Be sure to write the semester and year of the class if that's not
apparent from the transcript.
_____ your GRE (or other required professional test) scores, if applicable.
_____ LIST: all the schools to which the professor will send a letter,
including application deadlines. Organize the list chronologically, by the date
on which the letter is due. Please be sure to list the precise degree you are
seeking, and give the exact name of the department (e.g., seeking a Ph.D. in
Developmental Psychology from the Department of Psychology; seeking a M.Ed. in
Counseling from the Department of Educational Psychology).
_____ addressed and stamped envelopes for all letters (put the professor's
return address on the front). Be sure to type these or write them neatly.
_____ recommendation forms for the schools that provide them. Fill in the
professor's name and all of their contact information on the forms (neatly).
Complete all information on the form, including the professor's name, rank,