Grad School Applications: Lessons Learned This Semester

Graduate school applications can be monsters—especially if you are a full-time undergraduate, working a part-time job, and trying to enjoy being a senior. Application forms are tedious; listing your honors and awards, previous work experience, academic experience, and writing the essays (of course) can be daunting for even the most seasoned writers. I went through the PhD application process this semester (all of them have been sent, yay!), and I’d like to share a few pointers on how to make this process a little better during your senior fall semester at Rochester:

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  1. Take the GRE, GMAT, or whatever test your dream degree requires at the start of the summer before senior year. I know summer break is sacred (no more studying, please!), but this will give you a really good head start on the application process and you won’t have to struggle between studying for your classes and going over GRE materials at 10 pm on a Tuesday when you’re already ready for bed. Early in the summer is better so you can re-take the test if needed before the fall semester begins.
  1. Ask for recommendations in September to reserve you a spot on your recommenders’ “recommendation letter list.” This is not an official request for a letter yet; you’re just asking them if they would be willing and able to write a recommendation letter for you later in the semester. This requires you to be on top of your game and email them details later when you are certain of your school choices and have started filling out applications. Many application portals will automatically send them requests once you’ve entered them as your official recommenders, and it is your duty to follow-up with your recommenders to make sure they are aware of the deadlines! In your reminder email, include your resume/CV and a draft of your personal statement to help in their writing process.
  1. Use the writing fellows! Not even kidding, they were a huge help for me in trimming, proofreading, and even re-writing my essays. It’s easy to skip over mistakes or poor sentence structure when you’ve stared at an essay for countless hours. A writing fellow will read the essay aloud with you and it is shocking how easy it becomes to point out things that don’t “sound” right. Writing fellows have walk-in hours in Rush Rhees in the evenings, and writing consultants work by appointments. When you’re at 510 words and you need 500 but your essay is already perfect, the Writing Fellows will be a huge asset.
  1. Plan to be done with applications before Thanksgiving. Most PhD applications are due December 1 (or 15), and master’s programs usually have a January deadline. Give yourself a good time buffer in case your test scores or official transcripts are delayed, or any other unfortunate circumstance occurs.

Keep yourself motivated by enjoying senior year, hanging out with friends, and taking interesting classes outside of your major.  If you follow the tips above and plan properly, you won’t have to miss a single senior night!

About the author

Pedro Vallejo Ramirez

I'm a member of the Class of 2016 majoring in optical engineering and computer science, and I was accepted into the GEAR program. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but moved to Panama when I was three years old. I'm an undergraduate researcher in an optics laboratory, an RA, and a Student Alumni Ambassador, president for the Optical Society of America, and a brother at Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

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