Sunday, August 23, 2015

The application

There are tens of universities and hundreds of professors working in your area of interest. How do you decide which universities do you want to apply to? You also need to prepare for the standardised tests that are required by almost all the universities. Writing SOPs, making resumes, and arranging recommendation letters, every part of the application requires you to put in your best effort.

Pre-app preparation takes time and hard work. It should start at least 6-8 months before the application deadlines. This means you should start preparing latest by summer for the fall of the term. Summer should be spent shortlisting the universities where you could apply. This means considering all your options  carefully and exhaustively. If you have absolutely no idea which universities would be best suited for you, start by searching the graduate school rankings in your research area. This will probably give you a list of 50-100 universities which you can consider. This should be as good a starting point as any. Visit the department webpages of all these universities and see what kind of work is being done in your area of interest. If you find the work interesting try to find out which professors are involved in that work. Such universities and professors should be added to you preliminary lists of universities and professors. 

Doing the above for all the 100 universities will take about 50-60 hours. You now have a starting point. Next comes the elimination phase. You want to eliminate all the places which you think are not suitable for you from this list. This elimination depends on several factors including but not limited to your previous research experience and GPA, your expected GRE scores, the quality of recommendations you expect to get from your professors, whether factor such as name recognition are important to you, would you be able to live in the said place's climate etc. Repeating the elimination process several times should leave you with your final list of universities to apply to.

Now you should register for GRE and TOEFL and start preparing. Also, start writing your SOPs an making your resume. Writing the SOP is very often overlooked by many applicants (including the writer of this blog) and they do not spend enough time in writing SOPs tailored for each individual university. The basic structure of the SOP is almost the same for every university you are applying to. A lot of effort needs to be put in to write this well. It takes several revisions to make a good SOP. Showing what you write to some people who are already in graduate school is a good idea. Their feedback could be extremely helpful in improving your essay. I would suggest that you do not read anyone else's essay before writing a first draft yourself. You can read others' SOPs while reviewing yours. This will give you the opportunity to present a good representation of yourself without being influenced by someone else.

As for the resume, most of the advice I have seen seems to suggest that the best length is 2-3 pages. You want to list all your achievements and accomplishments precisely and concisely. Make it easy to read. Do not use cluttered formats. I believe keeping the format simple and readable could work wonders.

Asking for recommendations could be intimidating. How do you know whether a professor you have worked with will be willing to write you a recommendation? What if he/she says no? Well, think of it this way; what's the worst that could happen? The professor may say no. But, I think being rejected is a good thing at this stage. This will prepare you for the rejections you will receive from some of the universities. Also, having a professor/supervisor not write a letter is better than them writing a bad letter. So, I would recommend you ask your professors for the letter well in advance so that even if someone says no, you can go to someone else. This is very important. Do not hang around till the last moment for the recommendations. Murphy's law will be in effect at the last moments. Be prepared for that.

This, I hope, would have given you an idea of what should be done to prepare for the application. In the end, you have to remember that you have to be proactive for a major part of the year to prepare for the application. You have to take the application seriously. Please let me know if I have missed anything through the comments. Good luck.

No comments:

Post a Comment