Applying for a Masters Program, Do’s and Don’ts

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applying for master's do and don't

Tips for Masters Program Applications

Graduate Level: The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying for a Master’s Degree

Compared to an undergraduate program, there are a few more hoops to jump through with masters program applications. Candidates must take a standardized exam, depending on the desired degree, request a transfer of college transcripts, seek letters of recommendation, and write a personal essay.

Here are six Do’s and Don’ts to consider during the application process.

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  1. Choose References Carefully:

A great recommendation letter can make all the difference in whether or not your application is taken seriously. If you’re reading this and still have some undergraduate courses left to finish, you ought to start building connections with as many professors as possible. Also, you should only ask a professor to write a letter if they know you well and saw you thrive in their class.

First, get to know your professors by visiting them during their office hours. During this one-on-one time, you can learn more about your teacher. This will begin to build a rapport leading to a thoughtful recommendation. Once the course ends, make sure to keep the professor’s contact information so that you can reach out during the graduate application process. Avoid generic letters at all costs. Facilitate the process by giving your instructor a fact sheet with your skills and experience.

An excellent letter will share specific details about how you thrived in the professor’s class. This may include content about your curiosity, writing ability, teamwork, or consistency.

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  1. Take Tests Early:

It’s crucial that you prepare to take standardized tests a few months before applying to grad programs. If you’re planning to apply in the fall, start studying in early spring and sign up for the exam in the summer. That way, if you’re not pleased with the test results, you’ll have time to retake it before the application process begins.

Depending on your desired program, there are a few different tests for which you may need to prepare. The typical grad school exam is called the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), which is similar to the SAT but computer-adaptive. That means the difficulty of your test questions will adjust on the computer in response to your performance. Prospective business students take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), law students take the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), and medical students take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).

To prepare for these exams, start by reviewing core concepts in math and reading that you learned back in high school. While the math section isn’t much harder than the SAT, you’ll have to brush up on your vocabulary if you hope to score well on the verbal section. To help with this, start creating flashcards with difficult words at least a few months ahead of time. Just like the SAT, spending time and money on a prep course may help boost your score. Tutors teach you exactly how to interpret exam questions.

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  1. Keep Track of Applications:

As you apply to various schools, it can be easy to forget how far along you are with each application. To avoid missing a step, stay organized by creating an Excel spreadsheet. It should contain each school’s name, application deadline, and required courses. Near each row you can also keep a checklist to remember if you’ve sent out transcripts, recommendation letters, and exam results. Once you’ve sent out the applications, waiting for a response can be difficult.

Fortunately, you can check to see that your transcripts arrived safely, and some programs will give you more detailed updates. However, you won’t find out if you’ve been accepted to a particular program until they reach out. It’s best to be patient.

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  1. Forget Any Documents:

If your dream school doesn’t receive everything requested for your application, your packet will end up in the rejection pile. That means everything. Fill out all of the blanks on the general application, ensure that transcripts arrived, and make sure letters are submitted.

For most programs, you’ll need to submit two copies of your transcripts, three or four letters of recommendation, and a graduate school application fee. None of this will be returned or refunded. To obtain your transcripts, get in touch with your undergraduate school’s Registrar’s Office. You can request that they send the documents to graduate admissions directly or have them mail you the transcripts first. However, with recommendation letters, you’ll most likely need to collect each one individually and then send them together with the official application. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this!

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  1. Apply Too Late:

The last thing you want to do is rush through the graduate application process. Give yourself at least a couple of months to draft a memorable essay, gather documents, and request letters from professors. That way, if you aren’t accepted to a desirable program, you’ll still know that you gave it your best.

There are countless horror stories of students missing their application deadlines and regretting it. Blog writer Mrs. Micah shared her experience of applying while taking care of her ailing mother and holding down a day job. While getting her application ready, her mother’s cancer took a turn for the worse, and her grandmother broke her ribs in a car accident. She missed the deadline for a program by a few days. She wrote a letter to the admissions office, explained her situation, and appealed for an exception. In her unfortunate case, writing a letter was the smartest thing she could’ve done. However, the school determined that she would need to remain on a waiting list and reapply if she wasn’t accepted. If she had prepared for the deadline a little earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.

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  1. Seek the Wrong Recommendations:

Finally, don’t ask your friends, family, or spiritual counsel to write you a recommendation letter. Your references should only come from a trusted professor or employer — preferably people working in the same field. If messages come from a biased source, the admissions staff will have no choice but to disregard the praise.

A particularly lousy recommendation might read: “Dear School, I am writing to recommend STUDENT X for your graduate literature program. STUDENT X and I have been close friends for seven years. I consider her to be the most dependable, trustworthy, and creative person that I know. Although I am not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to literature, some of my favorite books were recommended to me by STUDENT X. I can always count on her writing to be eloquent, beautiful, and deep. She would be an excellent addition to your literature department.”

Although it’s evident that this is a weak recommendation, the unreliable perspective, the writer’s lack of knowledge about literature, and the vague description of STUDENT X should serve as an example. They want a respected professor to praise you in vivid detail, using real examples from their courses to paint a picture that’s captivating and trustworthy.

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