An experienced college professor will share his insights and experience around five topics: 1) finding the right grad schools, 2) the application essay, 3) letters of recommendation, 4) the campus visit, and 5) identifying an advisor. Each class session will cover the key ideas you need to know to help you find the program that best suits you and launches you into the career you want!
Going to graduate school is a major step, understanding the application and admissions process is key to getting the most out of the experience. This course aims to help you get into the grad school that is the best fit for you.
Knowing the Unwritten Rules
Like so many other endeavors, the application and admissions process for graduate school can be mysterious and opaque. In this class, you'll learn some behind the scenes tips about how admissions committees think and what you can do to best position yourself for success.
Contents and Overview
This course contains 5 lectures and associated textual material. It's designed for anyone, regardless of topics and interest areas.
By the end of this course, you'll have valuable skills that will help you narrow down the list of schools you are going to apply to and prepare your application plan.
a. Introductions: I am the Chair of my Department's Committee that oversees graduate
admissions - have been reviewing applications for the last eight years.
b. You have to be brutally honest about your interests and find several departments/schools that
match those interests.Like the college admissions process, you want to identify safety,
moderate, and reach schools.Many accreditation agencies publish online admission rates (you
can also call and ask how competitive admissions is).
c. Do your research, not just web searches, but connect with alums through your real and virtual
social networks (e.g FB, LinkedIn, your college alumni databases)- ask good questions: 1) what
is this program most well known for, 2) what kinds of jobs are alums doing, 3) what's the vibe
there - casual/formal, structured/unstructured, ...
d. Take some vacation time and visit as many campuses as possible - more on this in the 4th
a. Application has many pieces, the essay is the most important.The admissions committee wants
you to make a compelling case about 1) fit, 2) your capacity to do the work of the program, and
3) your potential to be a successful alum.Let's discuss each in some details
You need to connect your interests to the faculty's interests and projects - it's OK to be
specific, "I spent a year in Costa Rica and would be interested in Prof. Smith's recent research
project in Costa Rica".The most important thing here is to give concrete examples of past
experiences (internships, volunteer gigs, jobs) that you participated and you found meaningful
and that the faculty will see as directly relevant to the work you would do in that
ii. can you do the work
Examples of challenging experiences that you thrived in that might be similar to what you did.
When I was considering grad school, I took a night class at a small local college and aced the
class.I talked about that experience in my own essay.
iii.potential alum success
Here you will need to position your past experiences as part of a trajectory towards success
after grad school - though it is helpful for you to define success.
b. You probably can't find out which faculty members are on the Admissions Committee (in some
Departments/Schools they all are) but look at the writing of at least a small sample.Find
examples of when they write for the public (e.g. op-eds, blogs) what style/tone do they employ?
Be authentic and true to yourself, but do try to emulate that same style/tone.
c. Be revealing, share something about yourself - but not too much.
d. Get help!Show drafts of your essay to friends, colleagues, your letter recommenders.I did
this and one of my former professors was blunt: the essay was terrible, he suggested that I
a. Who will write the letter, do you trust them? Always check the
box that you will not see it.Some letter writers offer to share it (don't ask). Most grad
schools ask for certain types of recommenders, if not try to get at least one from college and
(if you're past college) one from your life past college.
b. Be respectful of your letter writers.Give them ample time, at least 3-4 weeks to write the
letter. Provide them with a list of all the schools you want to apply to, along with a resume
and your essay (it's polite to invite them to offer edits/suggestions).
c. Be sure to let the letter writers know the outcome of your grad application process, they are
critical members of your network!
a. Yes, it's expensive, but so is grad school.You'll be in this location, these buildings for
a long time, it's worth spending some time and money to make sure it's a good fit.
b. Plan ahead: make arrangements with admissions/recruitment staff at least 4-6 weeks prior to
your visit.Then, reach out to faculty who have similar interests and set up at least a few 1-
on-1 meetings (word of caution, if profs are too busy to meet you as a prospective student, that
doesn't bode well for when you are a matriculated student.)Also ask to set up meetings with
c. Some schools do interviews, so they may interrogate you.Don't sweat it, your job is to
interview them, is this the place you want to be.
d. Key questions to consider during your campus visit:
i. Quality of the facilities, are these spaces you would enjoy spending countless hours
ii. Quality of library resources (databases, journals, book holdings in your field, ILL)
iii. Vibe of the place, is everyone wearing a tie or Birkenstocks?
iv. What is it like to live there (you won't be spending all of your waking hours as a
student) - is there a local nightlife, where do most students live? Is there on-campus housing?
What are rents like?
I've left the most important thing for last. A surprisingly little known fact of the grad
admissions process, finding an advisor is the most important to your success both getting in and
getting out (graduating).
a. Who is publishing in your area of interest? (dwell on this)Are they publishing with their
b. What happens to their students, do they get jobs?Google and LinkedIn can help, also asking
c. Meet them, is it a good fit?Do you get along?Are they planning to retire next month? Do
they have funding to support you? Or for summer jobs?
d. We've covered a lot of ground. Recap main ideas of the course.
If you want to learn more about my research or teaching, be sure to follow by iTunes podcast "Cognitive Urbanism" - https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cognitive-urbanism/id950834981
Justin Hollander, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. He is the author of five books and fifty articles, essays, and book chapters. For the last eleven years, Professor Hollander has been reviewing applications for graduate school admission in his Department. Currently, he Chairs his Department Committee that oversees graduate admissions. This experience makes him well suited to offer guidance and advice to prospective students interested in getting into grad school.
You can also learn about Prof. Hollander's research through his iTunes podcast "Cognitive Urbanism".