Navigating the graduate school application process can be a very overwhelming and stressful experience. Potential applicants are understandably faced with countless questions, such as: “How many schools should I apply to?” “When should I take the GREs?” “What should I include on my CV?” “How do I know if a professor is accepting students?” “When should I ask for letters of recommendation?”
In order to alleviate some of the confusion associated application process, the PIA outreach team recently hosted a workshop titled, Demystifying the Graduate School Application Process, where undergraduate students were able to learn about application do’s and don’t’s from current graduate students who recently went through the application process themselves. Providing diverse perspectives from 3 different areas in psychology Jenna Cummings (Health), Bita Mesri (Clinical), Meghan Vinograd (Clinical) and Leah Lessard (Developmental), shared their knowledge, personal experiences and recommendations on various topics, such as: researching and evaluating programs, requesting letters of recommendation, contacting potential faculty members, and staying organized.
Here are some helpful tips for requesting letters of recommendation and writing your personal statement:
Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Most schools require 3 recommendations, which should ideally come from faculty members who know you well
- Reach out to potential recommenders early (at least 2 months before the deadline)
- Prepare and organize a binder for each of your recommenders that includes:
- Your CV
- Summary of your past research experience
- Summary of your research interests (goals for grad school)
- “Bio” for each school you’re applying to (i.e., application deadline; details about the specific program; professors your interested in working with; why this school is a good fit for you)
- Any additional information you think they would need
- Remember that the goal is to make this process as easy as possible for them!
Tips for Writing your Personal Statement
- Your personal statement is kind of like your CV in narrative format. The goal is to showcase who you are, how your research interests developed, what strengths you possess, how you fit with the program, how the program can help you become a scholar and/or clinician, and what you hope to do with your degree in the future
- Tell a story of your relevant experiences – the skills you gained, what you learned, and how these experiences directed you to the next step
- Clearly discuss what you want to study in graduate school, and why you want to study it at the institution where you’re applying
- Identify two or three faculty you could see yourself working with and explain how your experiences and expertise would add to and further his/her research
- End with saying how this particular institution is a “perfect fit” for you and your research goals!
Above all, the PIA outreach team stressed the importance of organization to avoid getting overwhelmed during the application process. Specifically, stay focused on one step at a time – write your goals down and keep a detailed spreadsheet that includes all application requirements for each school.
While the application process may be long, and at times daunting, this is also a very exciting time filled with incredible opportunities that will shape your future career! Keep an open mind and remember that YOU CAN DO IT!