Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Graduate School Application Process: Questions, Documents, and References

You've almost made it - only one more full academic year to go before you are free! ... Unless you are one of a number of students who would rather stay nestled in their textbooks and labs a little longer! For Brock students entering their fourth year (honours) of their undergrad education and considering continuing their education in graduate school - now is a good time to begin choosing your programs/universities and preparing your application documents. This is both a financial and time investment for you so make sure that you take your applications seriously and that you apply early. The following are a number of suggestions to keep in mind when beginning the application process.

"Why Graduate School?": 
This is a question you need to ask yourself. What are your reasons for choosing to continue your education instead of getting into the workforce? Does your ideal career/job environment require you to have a Masters or a PhD? Perhaps you are looking to obtain a job in academia as a professor or a researcher? Or maybe you are hoping this will leave room for career advancement in the future?

Whatever your reasoning is for going, ensure that your purpose is to enhance your career options and qualifications and not to avoid the scary world outside the comfort of a university campus. Are you prepared for another 1-3 years of school if you choose to do your Masters? How about another 4-6 years afterwards if you are looking to do your PhD? It's important that you understand what you are getting yourself into before you make the leap from your undergrad to your graduate degree.

Gather References Early: 
Graduate schools typically want you to have 2-4 references for them to contact as part of the application process. Be sure to check each program's application section to ensure you have the proper number of references on hand. Each school will also tell you the type of reference they are looking for you to have (for example, most prefer professors over TAs). If you haven't started gathering your references then you should start shooting off emails to professors and arranging office hours where you can discuss your post-graduate goals. Remember - the quantity of references you obtain will be worth nothing if the professor doesn't know enough about you to make it more personalized. Make a point to talk multiple times face to face outside of lecture hours so that they can give the highest quality reference possible. And don't worry - most don't bite!

Statement of Intent: 
On top of your Curriculum Vitae (CV), graduate schools normally require a statement of intent which is a short letter outlining your scholarly work to the admissions committee. Be sure to check each program's admissions page to see what each school wants you to include in your letter. Career Services can assist with both Statement of Intents and CV writing to all students applying to Graduate Studies.

Have a Backup Plan:
... and a backup plan for your backup plan. Always apply to more then one school. Even if your average is in the high 90s you never know what the competition will be like the year that you apply and you could end up going no where. Try to find at least 2-3 schools that are similar to your dream school's program and apply to those as well.

Your second backup plan should involve the nightmare inducing question of "what if I don't get accepted anywhere?". It happens. It might not happen to you, but that doesn't mean it isn't a reality for some applicants. It's best to already have a stable backup plan in mind that you can jump onto if the worst happens. This can include obtaining a post-graduate certificate in a more hands on aspect of your field or even looking for jobs that only require you to have your undergrad.

How Career Services Can Help: 
Not only do we have a number of resources available regarding graduate school prep, but a number of our student staff (including myself) are applying for graduate studies this fall. We can empathize with the stress of document preparation and selecting the perfect school and we are more than happy to assist you in making the application process as easy as possible. Copies of CV templates and statement of intents are available in our office as well as information regarding graduate studies abroad (New Zealand, England, Scotland, Australia, etc.) and general information on the application process. We also have GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, PCAT, and DAT study guides that can be used within the Learning Commons free of charge. 

Feel free to stop by the resource centre for any assistance from our Career Assistants. We will reopen on Tuesday, September 3 and our fall office hours will be from 9:00-4:30 from Monday to Friday.

Best of luck!

Ashley Paolozzi
Lead Career Assistant
4th Year History of Art and Visual Culture (Honours)
More food for thought from other websites and blogs on Graduate Studies:


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